Maruti Suzuki bets on hybrids over EVs in a clean shift

Maruti Suzuki India Ltd., the automaker that sells every other car on the country’s roads, believes electric vehicles are not the answer to reducing carbon emissions in the world’s third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. at least not in the immediate future.

India’s largest automaker sees vehicles powered by hybrid technology, natural gas and biofuels as presenting a better path to a cleaner future than electric cars, considering the nation generates around 75% of its electricity. from dirty coal, President RC Bhargava said in an interview.

“Talking about electric cars without looking at the green of domestically generated electricity is an inappropriate approach to this problem,” Bhargava said in an interview from his home in Delhi last week. “Until such time that we have a cleaner electricity grid, we need to use all available technologies, such as compressed natural gas, ethanol, hybrid and biogas, which will help reduce the carbon footprint and will not drive any technology.”

Those views put Bhargava at odds with several of the world’s biggest automakers, including No. 2 player Volkswagen AG, which is forecast to unseat Tesla Inc. as the leading electric carmaker as soon as 2024. Toyota Motor Corp., which sells the most cars worldwide, is also pouring money into electrifying its lineup, but believes in hybrid technology as a logical intermediate step as the industry develops stable battery supply chains.

India’s shift to electric vehicles is also much slower than other major markets like China and the US, despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pledge to turn the South Asian nation into a net-zero carbon nation by 2070. Arthur D. Little estimates that by 2030, electric passenger cars will account for only about 5% of total electric vehicle sales. Further progress on the two- and three-wheeler front will bring the total number of battery-powered cars to about a third.

Charging electric vehicles with clean energy and reducing reliance on coal is difficult in India, the world’s second most populous country with some 1.4 billion people. The nation was forced to import millions of tons of coal after electricity demand soared amid scorching summer temperatures and a surge in industrial activity after the pandemic.

Signage is displayed at a charging station operated by Energy Efficiency Services Ltd. (EESL), a joint venture between four state-owned power companies: NTPC Ltd., Power Grid Corp., Power Finance Corp. and REC Ltd., in New Delhi . , India, on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020. (Bloomberg)

Maruti plans to launch its first hybrid car under a partnership between parent Suzuki Motor Corp. and Toyota within 12 months, Bhargava said. Hybrid cars are also a better alternative to electric vehicles since India lacks proper charging infrastructure, he said.

Maruti will also move “aggressively” toward cars that run on compressed natural gas because they are cleaner than gasoline or diesel models and cheaper than electric vehicles, making them a viable option for low-income consumers who want upgrade from a two-wheeler. he said. Although compressed natural gas is a fossil fuel, it is one of the cleanest burning fuels in terms of emissions.

As chip availability improves, Maruti expects to sell 600,000 compressed natural gas cars in the year ending March 2023, up from 230,000 units in the previous fiscal year. Maruti currently has nine compressed natural gas models and plans to introduce more variants of this type.

Using biofuels to power passenger cars is another alternative, however the investment to make it commercially viable is lacking, Bhargava said.

There are also problems with biofuels, with their prolonged use in cars potentially extremely damaging to the planet’s limited farmland.

India currently blends gasoline with 10% ethanol, which is derived largely from sugarcane, while about two-fifths of America’s corn and soybean crops end up burned in engines. Indonesia’s expected consumption of 10 billion liters of biodiesel this year will consume almost a quarter of its palm oil harvest.

But India has a huge advantage when it comes to generating biogas, considering it has the world’s largest cattle population and the main feedstock for biogas is cattle manure, Bhargava said.

Maruti is working with the government and oil companies to boost biogas production, he said, adding that the government should give incentives for its production and create supplier development projects to improve the collection, transportation and storage of manure from villages. .

Developing cleaner alternatives will mean Maruti and its suppliers will have to beef up their engineering capabilities, Bhargava said. Maruti plans to hire more engineers, he said, declining to specify the percentage of workforce expansion.

“Electric vehicles are not going to be a big part of car sales, regardless of what other manufacturers say or plan,” Bhargava said. “The ability to get green transportation will take time in India due to the nature of our electricity generation.”

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