High petrol prices stir debate on alternative fuels
9 September 2005, MUNICH - The recent massive hike in the petrol price has renewed the debate on alternative fuel systems from hybrid to hydrogen but experts differ on when and what concept will eventually dominate the mass market.
9 September 2005
MUNICH - The recent massive hike in the petrol price has renewed the debate on alternative fuel systems from hybrid to hydrogen but experts differ on when and what concept will eventually dominate the mass market.
"In the long term I believe in hydrogen," says Stefan Krause of the BMW board of management. "But it will be some time before we enter a hydrogen economy".
The hybrid concept - a combination of petrol engine and electric motor - is being touted as an interim solution, mainly in Japan and the United States.
Sales of hybrid vehicles have sharply increased in the two countries while Europe is lagging behind mainly because of the higher number of diesel cars on European roads, according to German car market specialist Professor Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer.
"The number of diesel cars in the United States and Japan is insignificant. European manufacturers at the same time have no hybrids on offer," points out Dudenhoeffer.
Deutsche Bank car analyst Eric Heymann is convinced that European manufacturers have missed the boat on hybrid technology. "Toyota has a huge advantage in this sector," he says.
The German automobile club (VCD) recently gave the Toyota Prius hybrid top marks in an eco-ranking list. "German manufacturers are falling behind on environmental technology," VCD boss Hermann-Josef Vogt said.
A Volkswagen spokesman rejects the argument, saying that the hybrid only has a fuel consumption advantage in specific traffic conditions in comparison with the diesel.
"We know very well why we have not yet introduced a hybrid. But should the technology or the market situation change we can react very quickly," he says.
On the medium-term Volkswagen is placing its bets on synthetic fuels produced from biomass.
The main criticism levelled at the hybrids is that the advertised consumption figures do not match the true consumption figure, especially on long runs.
Where the hybrid scores is in stop-and-go city traffic. In a recent 5,200 kilometre coast-to-coast trip conducted by Germany's Auto Bild newspaper in the U.S. a Mercedes ML 320 CDI diesel beat a hybrid Lexus RX 400 H.
The Mercedes diesel averaged a consumption of 9.1 litres per 100 kilometres while the Lexus Hybrid recorded a fuel consumption of 10.2 litres.
BMW's Krause argues that at present the number of hybrids sold is small in comparison to the total market "but competition is going to be there at some stage and then we are going to be involved".
On the U.S. market the hybrid is not in competition with the diesel. Especially in California the Toyota Prius has become fashionable.
Car specialist Dudenhoeffer is convinced that by the year 2010 some 1.2 million hybrids will be sold in the United States annually.
Toyota, the clear market leader, last year sold 50,000 hybrids in the U.S. Its rival Honda also has a large market share. German manufacturers meanwhile still hope that diesel cars will become more popular in the U.S. as motorists realise their fuel consumption advantage compared to petrol engines.
In the long-term most of the European manufacturers are placing their bets on hydrogen although it remains unclear how it will be produced and what technology will be used.
Volkswagen believes that it could take up to 20 years for the technology to be ready for the mass market. VW is currently testing a Touran HyMotion van using hydrogen in combination with a fuel cell.
Mercedes says it has 180 registered patents regarding fuel cell technology. BMW is experimenting with a hydrogen combustion engine in its H2R vehicle. Opel is placing its bets on the Zafira CNG natural gas vehicle.
A growing number of European motorists are meanwhile converting their cars to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). LPG gas costs less than half the petrol price and petrol drive is still possible with the flick of a switch when the gas tank in the spare wheel recess is empty. It has the added benefit of reducing Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emission by 80 per cent with no loss to engine performance.
For the producers it will be decisive what concept the customers eventually choose. The VCD for instance criticised VW's decision to stop production of the Lupo car that has a consumption of three litres per 100 km/h. But VW points out that public demand for such a vehicle was big but that sales in fact remained poor.
Subject: German news