Volvo, a brand synonymous with safety, also has concerns for a greener environment. Cars like the upcoming Volvo XC60 or the S90 or the XC90 are perfect examples of a safe driving experience. In fact, the technology used in the new XC60 could become a yardstick for other manufacturers to follow. However, concerns with the rise in pollution levels globally especially in India has led to a shift in thought of 'will thediesel passenger vehicle be a dominant player in the future?' A recent discussion with Hakan Samuelsson, CEO, Volvo Cars with Autocar Professional revealed that diesel engines would not be the future for passenger vehicles. An insight of what Volvo would do in the future was briefly witnessed at the 2017 Geneva Motor Show. "Europe had legislation that allowed NOx levels of diesel engines to be high, but it is safe to say those days are over. We have to make a diesel engine with same NOx as a petrol engine, and while that can be done, it will be more expensive, which is why in the long term it's a negative thing," said Samuelsson at the auto show. “To cope with the 95g/km CO2 requirement, so until 2020 diesel will continue to have a very important part to play. After that twin engine (hybrid) and all electric cars will become more favorable cost-wise, and when the requirement comes down below 95g/km, I am quite sure the diesel engine cannot help us,” he added.
So, what would be the future of passenger cars as diesel engines, particularly in India, are the key contributor to any manufacturers' sales in almost every segment. In fact, some SUVs are offered only with a diesel engine as they incur a lower running cost in larger vehicles. The future according to the Volvo Cars CEO will be electric vehicles, however, the transition will not be immediate and a step-wise approach would be taken by all car companies. First hybrids will come into play where making a petrol car more affordable in terms of running cost, with the help of electric motors would take place. Once the petrol engine is no longer needed and electric vehicles can be used as the solution for mobility, they would dominate the automotive industry, worldwide. The challenge for Volvo Cars isn't there as their current range of platforms like the Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) platform is compatible with electric cars and getting the no emission mobility would not be a task.
Other carmakers are also considering flexible platforms, but here lie a couple of challenges! Taking the global automotive industry into account, the acceptability of electric vehicles is low as the oil and gas industry is heavily dependent on the demand from consumers. If a car which has no emissions is affordable and can fill in the daily needs of a conventional engine, would there be the need of a conventional engine? Needless to say, there wouldn't be a need. However, one example which became a proper electric car mobility solution in the mid-1990s was the Ford EV1 (1996 to 1999). A car that had decent range, sold like hot cakes in US, but was later scrapped by the American carmaker in the interest of other, related industries. If the popularity of this electric vehicle would have been done right, the concern for a greener future amongst the industries and the political jibe that a good product had to face, even developing countries like India would have started to get electric mobility solutions or at least hybrids by now.
Moving from a global to a local arena, India lacks not just the infrastructure but the right set of rules. Firstly, the Motor Vehicles Act is not just dated, but pre-historic. Some amendments keep on happening every now and then, but a complete revision considering that now India is getting onto the global platform is a concern. Revising a complete act would take its time, but taking too long will keep India on the backfoot in the automotive sector. An appalling example is FAME or Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electic Vehicles where a hybrid or an electric vehicle can get a discount of Rs 29,000 for two-wheelers and Rs 1.38 lakh for cars. Take the example of a luxury sedan like the Honda Accord Hybrid or the Toyota Camry Hybrid. Both are cleaner counterparts when compared to their respective petrol only options. But, after the FAME discount they still set you back by a considerable amount, Rs 42 lakh for the Honda Accord Hybrid and Rs 37 lakh for the Toyota Camry Hybrid, on-road in Delhi. Why would someone think of buying a hybrid over a diesel car which has a lower initial cost? The challenge here is a larger scale of localisation of components used in electric cars apart from the infrastructure needed and acceptance for a potential customer. However, the current Road and Transport Minister, Nitin Gadkari is planning some crucial steps for mobility solutions. Some steps will take longer than others, however, when considering the affordability part of an electric or hybrid vehicle, it still remains questionable.
Take another example of the Mahindra e2O Plus, an all-electric vehicle which costs Rs 6.86 lakh, ex-showroom Delhi. For that amount, one can consider a hatchback powered by a diesel engine and save cost but not the environment for future generations. So, only if the same car costed comparatively lesser than its diesel rivals, potential buyers would consider it. Another hiccup, along with the localisation of components, infrastructure and acceptability in a buyers' mind, the stereotype of electric cars being sluggish is also prevalent. A Tesla Model S has a claimed zero to 100 kmph figure of 3.2 seconds under the 'Insane Mode'. Need there be more explanation! Coming back to what Volvo Cars CEO stated, there was another mention at the 2017 Geneva Auto Show about autonomous cars that will be a part of the company's product portfolio by 2021 along with fully electric cars. According to Hakan Samuelsson, the autonomous solution can travel 'unsupervised' which would be more productive for the driver who could finish up a pending presentation. When will it come to India is a question that begs to be answered particularly for a cleaner environment. Our country is a cost sensitive market and until the time these technologies are not affordable and can penetrate the industry on a mass-market level, popularity of electric or hybrid or autonomous vehicles will be negligible.