It’s important to establish mild hybrid first. The next logical step is parallel hybrid and EVs.
Driving the new Maruti Suzuki Ciaz petrol, one number is sure to attract your attention—the average fuel-efficiency figure displayed on the speedometer screen. On the highways, it will likely hover around 20kpl, and in urban traffic it’s unlikely to drop below 16-17kpl.
Good fuel-efficiency is a function of many things—a car’s aerodynamic body, use of light-weight materials, fuel quality, driving habits, etc—but in the Ciaz it’s also due to an extra lithium-ion battery, and this car is not a hybrid in the conventional sense.
Unlike a Toyota Prius which is a parallel hybrid vehicle, the Ciaz is a mild hybrid.
Parallel hybrids use both an electric motor and internal-combustion engine to power the wheels. The Ciaz mild hybrid gets features such as torque assist, brake energy regeneration, idle engine stop-start and gear-shift indicator. Both technologies are aimed at increasing fuel-efficiency.
“When we launched the first-generation SHVS (Smart Hybrid Vehicle by Suzuki), it was a single-battery technology, which has its limitations. We wanted to move to the next step of mild hybrid—the two-battery technology”, says CV Raman, Senior Executive Director (Engineering), Maruti Suzuki India. “Electrification of the fleet is important for us”.
This second battery is placed under the passenger seat. When you apply brakes, the energy thus produced charges the battery, which, in turn, assists the idle engine stop-start function, provides the engine some torque (pulling power) and assists during acceleration.
This battery is expensive. “There is a significant cost increase, especially because we are importing the lithium-ion battery. It is our commitment towards electrification and the mild hybrid technology that we are trying to demonstrate here”, Raman adds.
This technology, he says, can be incorporated into any Maruti vehicle. “We just need to find the space to install the battery and the motor; need to study packaging”.
So, does this point to the fact that Maruti is entering the parallel hybrid technology?
“That is a progression”, says Raman. “It’s important that we establish the mild hybrid technology first. The next logical step is hybrid and electric vehicles”. Maruti has already announced it’ll launch an electric vehicle in India by 2020.
For making hybrids successful and popular, it’s important to have the battery technology and the battery to be made in India. The joint venture between Suzuki, Toshiba and Denso is a step in that direction—to manufacture lithium-ion battery packs in Gujarat, India, by 2020. “Then we need to improve other parts of the motor. The ISG (Integrated Starter Generator) motor is important. Bigger motors for a parallel hybrid require even better power electronics and battery management systems. All of that needs to be localised for anyone to launch a full hybrid at a price the customer accepts”, Raman says.
Partial electrification of the fleet and technologies such as mild hybrid will also help the company meet BS-VI and CAFE norms (corporate average fuel economy—targeted at reducing the carbon footprint of the auto industry). “We are currently working on BS-VI (by 2020), and by 2022 the CAFE norms will be made more stringent—emissions to be reduced from 129gm/km to 113gm/km. So we have to carry out even more improvements in emissions reduction and fuel-efficiency. Technologies such as mild hybrid, electric and CNG will help us meet CAFE norms”, Raman says, adding, “CNG, in particular, has a big future in small cars where affordability is important”.
Maruti already has seven models powered by CNG, and as far as carbon dioxide emissions are concerned, CNG reportedly has 20% lower emissions than petrol.
One of the reasons Maruti has introduced the mild hybrid technology in a petrol vehicle could be BS-6 norms, which will increase the price difference between petrol and diesel vehicles vastly, thus affecting sales of the latter. From the current about Rs 1 lakh, the price gap might increase to Rs 2 lakh—the diesel, to meet more stringent norms, will need a special filter (DPF) and other peripherals in a vehicle will also change.
When you drive the new Ciaz petrol, another graphic will attract your attention—one that shows that when you apply brakes, the motor starts to store energy in the lithium-ion battery, and when you accelerate, the reverse starts to happen and the powers flows from the battery to the engine (in a parallel hybrid, it goes both to the engine and the wheels). The mild hybrid technology might have had its share of criticism, but until we localise power electronics and battery management systems, this technology makes sense for a market such as India—the cost and complexity of the tech added to the car is not path-breaking, but the fuel-efficiency benefits for the customer are real.