The Plug-In Hybrid Comes to Europe
3 June 2007
by Jack Rosebro
|A recent report from EURELECTRIC envisions a potential PHEV market share in Europe of 8% to 20% by 2030.|
Interest in plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) technology is on the rise in Europe, as evidenced by presentations and discussions at the second European Ele-Drive Transportation Conference, held last week in Brussels by AVERE, Europe’s largest electric vehicle association.
Although a limited number of commercial PHEVs have been offered for sale in Europe since at least 2002, the plug-in hybrid is gaining new status on the continent as a technologically feasible bridge between conventional hybrids and pure electric vehicles, especially in light of looming CO2 restrictions on future passenger vehicles sold within the European Union (earlier post).
The conference included several presentations on plug-in hybrids by researchers from around the world, as well as a plug-in hybrid roundtable hosted by Ron Gremban of CalCars, who was the technical lead for the first PHEV conversion of a Toyota Prius in 2004.
During the PHEV roundtable, Paul Bulteel of EURELECTRIC, an industry association that represents Europe’s electric utility providers, remarked: “We in the European electric industry have realized that the electric car, through the plug-in hybrid solution, can be more than a niche market.” A recent EURELECTRIC report—The Role of Electricity: A New Path to Secure and Competitive Energy in a Carbon-Constrained World—terms the plug-in hybrid “a logical development of the hybrid vehicle,” and envisions a potential PHEV market share in Europe of 8% to 20% by 2030.
Uwe Koehler of Johnson Controls/SAFT echoed Bulteel’s views, noting “We believe that if the electric vehicle has a chance, it will be through the plug-in hybrid.” Koehler left no doubt as to the chemistry of choice: “The only option for plug-in hybrids is lithium-ion. The reason is weight.” Johnson Controls/SAFT was awarded a traction battery contract by a major auto manufacturer in 2006 (earlier post), and will open a lithium-ion production line at its production plant in Nersac, France next year.
However, technical obstacles to the mass production of plug-in hybrids remain. Weight, cost, performance, battery life predictability, emissions and safety testing, and charging availability are all concerns that were raised during the conference. When one speaker asked participants to predict how long it would take for plug-in hybrids to capture a significant amount of the world’s vehicle market, a US researcher opined, “Decades.”
|The battery pack in the Amberjac II. Click to enlarge.|
The UK’s Amberjac Projects, which produces plug-in hybrid conversions of Toyota’s popular Prius, brought two vehicles for comparison—their earliest as well as most recent conversion—to the obligatory ride-and-drive that wrapped up the conference. The latest conversion has a reported all-electric range of 56 km (35 miles), yet has the same storage space, including the tray and spare tire underneath the vehicle’s cargo floor, as a conventional Prius.
Managing director Simon Sheldon reported that Amberjac has sold two converted plug-in hybrid Prius vehicles to Toyota dealers—one in London and one in the Netherlands—which then resold them to customers. The company has delivered seven PHEV Prius conversions so far, and expects that number to triple by the end of the year.
|Micro-Vett’s Bimodale plug-in hybrid passenger van, available with lead-acid or lithium-ion battery packs, next to a Lexus RX400h hybrid. Click to enlarge.|
Italy’s Micro-Vett showed off its Bimodale, a PHEV conversion of an IVECO 9-passenger diesel van, which Micro-Vett has been selling since 2002. The all-electric range of the Bimodale PHEV is 30 km (19 miles) with a lead-acid battery pack and 100 km (62 miles) with an optional lithium-ion battery pack. Alternative-fuel vehicles sold in Italy are eligible for 30% to 65% government support on the purchase price, if the vehicle is purchased by a company. As a result, most privately driven alternative-fuel vehicles in Italy, including hybrids and electric vehicles, are leased.
Other PHEVs on display included Groupe Dassault’s Cleanova II Plus, a converted Fiat Doblo light-duty passenger vehicle/cargo van, which employs a 20 kWh lithium-ion battery pack in series with a range-extending 54 hp flex-fuel engine from Weber Automotive. Future PHEVs from Dassault will be conversions of Renault’s popular Kangoo passenger vehicle/cargo van.
Renault produced about 500 similarly configured plug-in hybrid versions of the Kangoo in 2003, using nickel-cadmium battery packs. Dassault also produces pure-electric versions of the Cleanova, which have been under test by the French post office La Poste since 2005. (Earlier post.) In April, La Poste announced that it would solicit bids for 10,000 electric delivery vehicles for deployment in 2008. (Earlier post.)
A wide variety of electric bicycles were also on hand at the conference ride-and-drive. In terms of raw production, electric bikes have become the dominant type of electric vehicle in recent years, thanks largely to their exploding popularity in China. According to the International Energy Agency, China produced 15 million two-wheel electric vehicles in 2005, and is expected to produce twice that in 2010.
The symbolism of the conference location—close to many EU ministries—was not lost on conference participants; the European Commission is on the brink of developing its next seven-year spending and development plan for the European Union (the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development) for 2007 through 2013. The Commission is expected to adopt a Green Paper on urban transport this fall which will make recommendations on solutions to the growing congestion, pollution, and urban sprawl that have beset many European cities.
AVERE co-hosts the International Electric Vehicle Symposium (EVS) with Asia’s Electric Vehicle Association of the Asia Pacific (EVAAP) and North America’s Electric Drive Transportation Association (EDTA). AVERE created the European Ele-Drive Transportation Conference to provide the industry with a European-based electric vehicle conference during calendar years in which EVS is held outside of Europe. EVS-23 will be held in Anaheim, California this December.
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