While the buzzword at the current Frankfurt Motor Show appears to be ‘electrification’ and the claims and statements made by various manufacturers sound unexpectedly bold, there may be reason to stop and think about how far advanced the technology really is.
While it is clear hybrid tech is having a big impact on the industry and carmakers, including Mercedes-Benz, Renault, BMW, Volvo and Jaguar Land Rover who are all investing significant amounts into developing electric vehicles, their promise is to ensure electrified versions are available alongside their diesel and petrol cars.
The question is, what exactly does ‘electrified’ actually mean? It can, of course, refer to vehicles powered by electric batteries. At the same time, it can also refer to hybrids, which can arrive in a number of different guises.
One such example is a plug-in hybrid with a large battery capacity that can partly run on electric power, even though a petrol engine will also be installed. The Toyota Prius uses a strong electric motor along with a diesel engine, without having to be recharged.
Mild hybrids, that combine small electric motors with conventional engines, are cheaper to manufacture than full hybrids and would also allow carmakers to meet their commitments. It will also mean that the production of such zero-emission cars will help meet the carbon-dioxide targets that have to be met by 2021.
However, it isn’t just EU regulation that has made many of the manufacturers rethink their long-term strategy.
The Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal exposed not only the German manufacturer but hidden practices across the industry and highlighted that diesel cars were responsible for higher levels of pollution than previously thought.
“We’ve got the message of course. Consumers want clean vehicles. People want clean air, and we want to make our contribution,” said VW Group CEO Matthias Mueller at the Frankfurt show.
While plans for electrification were underway before the VW scandal, it is likely to have increased the need for the industry to be seen as changing their ways.
One of the biggest obstacles to overcome is lack of infrastructure, with only 7,300 electric car charging points currently found in the UK and approximately 2 million at a global level.
With industry experts estimating that by 2040 there are unlikely to be any non-hybrids left on the road, a significant amount of investment will be needed to ensure charging infrastructure is available to meet growing demands.