Auto Expo review: diesel, electric cars dictated trends

Electric and electric hybrid cars still stuck in concept stage

By Aniruddha Bhattacharjee
Published: Thursday 19 January 2012

The recently concluded year’s Auto Expo (January 7–11) was particularly descriptive of trends in the Indian automobile sector. Auto giants showcased their latest fuel-efficient products and philosophies, but traditional mindsets and preferences for increasingly fuel inefficient compact SUVs were obvious. Fuel-cell cars and electric hybrids are still stuck in the mould of concept models, while the consumer market marches steadily towards increasingly diesel-centric technology. A snapshot view of the major trends at the motor show:

1)    Private vehicles (Cars and SUVs)

  • Renewed emergence of petrol engines: Turbocharged but smaller capacity petrol engines seem to be the flavour of the season. As was witnessed in the show. Tata forayed into the segment with its sporty 138 BHP Indica Vista, powered by a turbocharged 1.4 litre petrol configuration. The recently launched Hyundai Eon features a similar power plant. The 1 litre, 3-cylinder Eon has garnered positive enquiries with a class leading (claimed) mileage of 21.1 km/l. Ford Motors Corp unveiled its much-talked about compact SUV—Ford EcoSport. The specially developed city-level, soft-roader was launched with a 1 litre 3-cylinder petrol configuration; although rumours are a diesel variant may also be offered once registrations for the car open next year. But the EcoSport’s EcoBoost engine— a family of turbocharged, direct injected six-cylinder and four-cylinder gasoline engines— is a strong indicator of some manufacturers finally doing something to reduce their carbon footprints.
  • Continual expansion of diesel entrants: Surging customer demand for higher fuel efficiency and lower running costs per kilometre means manufacturers are happy to bring in diesel powered counterparts to their well established gasoline product range. Industry sources say some popular petrol variants may even be phased out altogether to boost sales further. Also, it’s easy to identify a strong consumer shift towards compact or full-size SUVs. These larger cars seem to be gaining aspirational value at an exponential pace. Every manufacturer is working furiously to flood this segment of the market. Many exhibitors are reporting several booking orders at the Expo itself, even though the prices of the more popular models—the Toyota Fortuner, for instance—run well into premium sedan territory.

The major new launches in the diesel segment were:

Maruti Suzuki Ertiga: This multi-utility-vehicle (MUV) will be powered by the 1.4 litre K series VVT engine (petrol) from Maruti or the Fiat 1.3 MJD diesel. Given recent trends, expect the 1.3 litre unit to sell in greater numbers. Automotive Research Association of India further rates the petrol variant at 16.02 km/l and the diesel at 20.77 km/l.

New Chevrolet Tavera:
The face-lifted Chevrolet gets a new 2.0 turbocharged diesel engine sourced from International Cars & Motors Limited (ICML). Importantly, the engine is Bharat Stage (BS) IV complaint, which allows it to be sold in all the metro cities.

Renault Duster: A mid-sized compact SUV that interestingly offers both petrol and diesel (presumably the 1.5 dCi) versions. The size of the vehicle unfortunately will force attention towards the diesel variant.

Ssangyong Rexton: The Rexton joins the compact SUV bandwagon with a 2.7 litre turbocharged common rail diesel (CRDi) engine. It puts out 181 BHP of power and 402 Nm of torque. Interestingly, the Actyon Sports – a full size pick-up with a Euro 5 complaint diesel unit – sees no launch in the Indian market.

Renault Pulse: The re-badged Nissan Micra only comes with Renault’s 1.5 dCi diesel engine. A hatchback that’s only offered as a diesel—a clear indicator of the trend expected for the segment? 

Skoda Rapid: Skoda’s new compact sedan has offered both petrol and diesel variants. But a member of Skoda’s promotional staff confided that the diesel variant clearly enjoys better drivability. Expect fuel efficiency figures to be around the 15 km/litre.

2)    Fully electric and electric-hybrid technology

A recent blog by an auto expert reported that major manufacturers do not see volume sales of electric and electric-hybrid technology driven vehicles rising for another ten years. What is striking is that there is ample demand for such options, but market economics is holding back manufacturers from making the transition. This year’s Expo reflected the same amply. Apart from a miniscule number of relatively affordable offerings, electric and electric-hybrid cars continued to tease consumers.

Nissan Leaf: A well regarded, fully electric family hatchback. High retail prices—rumored at around Rs 12,00,000—will limit its market impact. This may be the perfect opportunity for the government to offer subsidies and promote the growth of the zero-emissions market.

Chevrolet Beat Electric: Showcased as part of a country-wide demo initiative, the 270 kg, 300 cell lithium-ion battery pack can power the Beat for nearly 130 km under usual driving conditions. The effort was part of Chevrolet’s strategy of highlighting its commitment towards introducing zero emission cars into the country.

Tata Manza Diesel-Electric Hybrid:
Features a 3-cylinder, 1.05L 64 BHP Dicor unit mated to a 45 KW / 60 BHP electric motor. Unfortunately, no details were announced as to when the car might hit the production floor.

Mahindra Reva NXR: Mahindra’s most exciting prospect on offer yet, but prices and specifications are yet to be finalised. Mahindra officials stated that they are actively scaling up the infrastructure for the REVA by installing electric stations all over the country. They also expressed confidence in the state and central governments’ support in mainstreaming electric vehicles.

3) Electric two-wheelers

HeroElectric launched its smart new lineup of low maintenance, easily recharged AGM VRLA battery fitted fully electric scooters. The motors are rated at 250W (for extended range) and 800W (for speeds upto 45 km/hr). Also showcased was the charging mechanism for these scooters. The set-up is simple—simply select the appropriate DC charger and let the scooter charge for 6-8 hours. 

TVS Motors showcased the highly anticipated concept—the Qube. It is designed to be operated in two configurations: a petrol-electric hybrid powered by a four stroke, 100cc petrol engine, mated to a lithium-ion battery run motor; and a purely electric or purely petrol run unit, as per the conditions of usage and power output required

TVS claims the Qube consumes 35 per cent less fuel, emits 35 per cent less CO2 and even reduces hydrocarbons and nitrogen dioxide emissions by a commendable 30 per cent.

4) Commercial vehicles:

Hanging on to BS-III: All major Indian players—Tata Motors, Ashok Leyland and AMW—expressed a surprising level of satisfaction with their current offerings. Asked if any of their latest light commercial vehicles (LCVs) or heavy commercial vehicles (HCVs) complied with the latest emission norms, they stated that they were happy to continue with a product range that is yet only complaint with BS-III norms. That’s worrying, given the flak BS-III has attracted for its marginal improvement over BS-II. It is also well past its expiration date of April 2010. Unfortunately, what it means for the market is prolonged pollution. Not complying with the latest standards lets manufacturers pump out diesel-guzzling vehicles that operate without diesel particulate filters (DPFs) and selective catalytic reduction technology. The toxic effects of particulate matter (PM), nitrogen dioxide and unburnt hydrocarbons are well documented and cannot be ignored any longer. But the exhibitors were evidently unperturbed by the issue; they were quite content in waiting for BS-IV and higher norms to be mandated by law before they would consider upgrading their technologies. Given India’s record on enforcing emission standards, it could translate into any number of years.

Inefficient as ever: New commercial buses did not fare any better. The latest entrant to the category – MAN Buses – launched its luxury liner AiroBus. Again, environmental commitment has been given a slip as its engine is only BS-III compliant. The trend continues with SML ISUZU which again offers two inter/intra city luxury buses with engines only good enough to breach BS-III standards.

5) Glimmer of hope

Volvo 7700 Hybrid: It is the world’s first commercially viable diesel-electric hybrid. Developed by Volvo in-house, the 7700 consumes 37 per cent less fuel and produces 50 per cent less emissions under actual operating conditions.

8400 low-floor city bus: Perhaps the only commercial city bus that is Euro-IV complaint. The buses are equipped with technology that reduces emission of nitrogen dioxide significantly.

Tata Fuel Cell Starbus: The Starbus is developed as a silent, zero-emission city bus run entirely on compressed hydrogen. Stored onboard, the hydrogen combines with atmospheric oxygen to produce water and electric power. Tata rates the fuel cell pack at 114 HP and claims the bus will reach a top speed of 70km/hr. Recharge time is minimal.

Also See: Auto Expo 2012 makes a green statement


Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.