What is the outlook for hybrid cars vs. electric cars?

With the automobile industry shifting away from vehicles that run exclusively on gasoline, the debate remains over whether hybrid or electric vehicles are the best approach. We turned to our panel of Zintro experts and asked them to share their opinions. Here’s what they had to say:

John Christian, chairman of the Oregon Electric Vehicles Association, monitors fluctuations in the electric drive industry on a daily basis. Christian’s expertise has led him to predict that “in the next five years there will be an increase in demand for hybrid vehicles as the car buying market comes to accept the addition of electric power as a viable component in car design.” Due to increased confidence in electric vehicles, as well as the small but rapidly growing number of realistic electric vehicle cars and trucks available for sale, Christians understands that consumers question the need for a complex and expensive fossil fuel system when there are other viable options. Further, Christian believes that within five years battery technology will be able to provide cars with over a 200 mile range, ending fears that electronic vehicles are unsafe for long distances. More than just quelling fears, Christian knows that these changes in charging infrastructure will expand to the level where “everyday experience of friends, co-workers, and family members that do drive all electrics will reveal the fact that almost no one uses these public chargers – since they have a full (EV) tank every morning.” However, Christian says that the biggest challenge facing growth in the electric vehicle market is the lack of individuals willing to share their experiences with electronic vehicles. As Christian points out, “it’s going to take increased exposure to understand their overall value in order to accurately evaluate how that would impact your life if you did decide to switch.”

Peter Cook, with more than twenty years of worldwide experience in the automotive industry, says that infrastructure is of primary importance, because without it all forms of alternative energy propulsion systems will struggle. Cook points out that the definition of a hybrid car – contrary to popular opinion – is by no means fixed. For this and many other reasons, Cook explains, “hybrids are unlikely to be anything other than a bridge to a true alternative to fossil fuels and as such will show in the next few years to be a technological dead end.” Cook identifies that a major driver for many original equipment manufacturers (OEM) is the politics that stem from carbon dioxide emissions. As Cook says, this has caused hypocrisy within the auto industry over the creation of “ludicrous ‘micro hybrids’ that are basically no more than start stop systems that enable them (OEM’s) to claim that vehicles have low emissions in cities simply because their engines are not running at stop lights.”  Cook believes that presently, the only practical options for the electric vehicle industry is either low range electric vehicles or hydrogen vehicles, which have insufficient infrastructure. First and foremost, Cook knows that experts need to start producing quality technology that can actually be trusted by consumers, accompanied by a set of internationally accepted standards that can be applied to that technology in a way that provides credibility.

Richard Marks, with more than 35 years of experience in the automotive industry and president of Eco V Company – a consulting firm for electric vehicles – believes that it is difficult to say which car has a clear advantage because it is dependent on many variables. Explaining that the main driver for alternative types of vehicles will be the rising price of gas, Marks says that plug-in hybrids will likely be the next step towards offering more electric drive freedom and range. These hybrids typically require the same level of service and trade-in periods as gas vehicles, allowing a smooth transition for an OEM. On the other hand, electric vehicles do not adhere to the current automotive business paradigm because these vehicles can last without service needs for at least 10 years, until the battery pack is replaced and the cycle continues. Resistant to a type of vehicle that disrupts the business of selling and servicing cars on a routine basis, OEM’s are resistant to accepting electric vehicles. Like Christian and Cook, Mark also feels that the main issue for electric cars is the batteries and energy storage devices, which not only are very expensive but also have  “no common packaging standards for battery module sizes,” causing them to  “remain expensive which limits growth.” Although OEMs across the world are developing a unique battery package, making these replacements and upgrades costs a lot of money. Marks wisely imparts that at the end of the day, the United States “needs a National Energy Policy because one of these days there will be a war in the Middle East or oil supply will be cut off or something and the US will grind to a halt and then Congress will react.” As always, the issue centers on an individual’s pocket book.

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