Do mild hybrid cars & PHEVs make more sense than EVs in India

Why car companies do not consider bringing PHEVs to India when models like the Toyota Prius PHEV & Hyundai Ioniq PHEV are already available abroad?

BHPian govindremesh recently shared this with other enthusiasts.

Hi All,

The Honda City e:HEV review thread got me thinking – if there are benefits in a hybrid car due to the traction being largely electric in most of the driving scenarios, why not have a larger battery pack in the same setup and increase the EV only range to a few 10s of kilometers?

We can assume that the City e:HEV gets the same powertrain that the European Jazz e:HEV gets, a 0.86 kWh battery pack. This is barely enough to power the car for a few kilometers in EV only mode, which means even in bumper to bumper traffic, the engine still needs to run to charge the battery. Given the small size of the battery, the engine would need to cycle on-off multiple times over a 20 KM city drive, in intense summer (as the aircon will also be drawing an electrical load), not the most efficient way to operate compared to a full EV.

On the other hand, those on the forum (self-included) who thought this was a bad attempt by Honda when Tata already has a cheaper EV that can do 200 KM on a single charge, should take a look at this news.

With certain states in the country struggling to meet the existing demand, a huge electrical load imposed by a surge in EVs is going to be a massive nightmare for our power supply networks. For reference: grid load management due to the EV revolution is a hot topic in developed countries.

The high cost of buying an EV aside, the current challenges of installing EV chargers at home have been discussed by a BHPian on this thread. 15A sockets might work (as GTO mentioned), but a practical EV for India would need at least a 60 kWh battery (delivering a real range of 300-350KM). The thought of fully charging such a vehicle for an impromptu outstation trip using a 15A socket would be a major deterrent for many car owners.

As for public charging, oil companies may be promising a fast charger at every fuel station, supplemented by charging network providers claiming to expand their network quickly. However, none of them can guarantee the power supply.

So EVs are expensive and charging infrastructure might only be ideal in the next 5-10 years. e:HEVs are great but Diesels offer a similar fuel economy and factoring in the cost of purchase, would be on par with e:HEVs. So what could offer the best of both worlds?

Enter the PHEV: Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle. These are hybrids that have bigger batteries (>5 kWh), which can be charged easily using a 15A socket. They can go anywhere between 30-50 KM on a full battery and when you run out of it, the engine kicks in to charge the battery and provide (electric) power for traction.

A few possible driving scenarios where a PHEV could be beneficial:

  • Home <–> destination within city <25 KM: Car operates purely on EV. Plug the car into a 15A socket at the office and return home on EV mode again.
  • Home <–> destination within city >25 KM: Car runs on Hybrid mode. The engine kicks in to charge the battery after it drops below a certain level. Because the battery is larger, the engine can continuously run at its most optimum operating point till the battery reaches ~90% charge. Fewer engine cycles, better efficiency.
  • Home <–> destination outside city/suburban of >30 KM: Car runs on Hybrid mode. The engine runs at an optimum speed to power the generator which powers the traction motor. Additional electric load can be met from the battery pack (assuming it’s charged). The battery is recharged with strong regenerative braking. Because the battery is large enough to provide sufficient electric boost, the generator’s load will see minor fluctuations, hence the engine operates around its most efficient point.
  • The highway scenario will be exactly the same as the e:HEV system operation, with the advantage of having a larger battery to store/draw energy from when required, resulting in a lower load for the IC engine.

While this is largely theoretical and might be offset by the additional weight of the battery, I think PHEVs still make sense in our country where a majority of the car owners commute in city traffic with average speeds of <30 kmph and distances <30 KM (one way).

The high-level business case

From a car buyer’s perspective:

  • No need to install an expensive home charger.
  • No need to upgrade the connected load at home (and deal with the bureaucracy). For apartment owners- It would still be easy to route a connection for a 15A socket than a 7KW charger from your mains (or have an agreement with your owner’s association to pay a fixed amount to install and use a common 15A outlet in the parking lot.)
  • No worry about range anxiety or fear of your destination charging station being occupied.
  • Low initial investment compared to BEVs.
  • Electrical load requirement for charging could be offset by solar panels, for people living in an independent/row house.

From a car manufacturer’s perspective:

  • Ability to target both segments of customers- the one with low or in-city running and the ones who have frequent long-distance running- with a product that’s within budget for a lot of car buyers.
  • Keep service centers happy since there’s still an IC engine to service and maintain in these cars.
  • Low R&D costs because such products already exist abroad.

Two mainstream manufacturers in India, Toyota and Hyundai, already have PHEVs abroad (Prius PHEV & Ioniq PHEV). Then there are products from the German big 3 that have similar PHEVs. The one that comes immediately to my mind is the BMW 330e with a 12 kWh battery.

The products exist outside India, and companies acknowledge that the EV transition has started in India. This makes me wonder, why have these companies not considered bringing PHEVs to India? (Especially Hyundai & BMW who already brought their BEVs to India).

Looking forward to thoughts from fellow Bhpians

Related Thread (Plug-in Hybrids for India?)

Here’s what BHPian amalji had to say about the matter:

Exactly my thoughts. If I get an option between plugin hybrid, hybrid, petrol, diesel and EV, I’ll pick up plugins any day. The Toyota RAV4 Prime ( plugin hybrid ) can run close to 100 kms on pure EV mode which means all your daily drives can be covered on EV mode and petrol kicks in only during outstation trips. It’ll help bring down the urban pollution levels as well.

Maybe as battery prices come down, I’m hoping that for bigger vehicles at least, it’s going to be more of plugin hybrids than strong hybrids.

Here’s what BHPian jitin had to say about the matter:

I don’t think that the battery size significantly influences a hybrid’s efficiency. Consider this – you have a phone with a 1,000 mAH battery. You use it for 10 hours, charge it for 100 minutes then use it again for 10 hours. Now say that the same phone has a battery size of 100mAH. You would use it for 1 hour, charge it for 10 mins, and then again use it for one hour. In the end, after using it for 10 hours you would still have spent 100 minutes charging it – no difference. What actually matters is the ratio between the charging and discharging speeds. Plugging and unplugging might be inconvenient when using a phone, but that switching happens automatically in a hybrid. The advantage of the smaller battery is that it would cost less and would weigh less at the same time.

Now consider that you have the same 1,000mAH battery, but you wished to use it in the 45 to 55% band to elongate the life of the lithium-ion battery. In this case, you have “artificially” turned the 1,000mAH battery into what is effectively a 100mAH battery, and you would charge it for 10 minutes after using it for an hour just as with the 100mAH battery.

I suspect something like this happens to some extent for the battery in the Honda City hybrid. The battery weight and size do not add up for a 0.8kWH battery, and it is possibly a somewhat larger battery designed to run in a smaller band to increase the battery life, as the battery has to go through a really large number of charge-discharge cycles within this range. The battery cost too seems to be on the upper side of Rs. 1 Lakh based on some Malaysian articles.

The battery also functions as a kind of a “capacitor” in the hybrid mode where it absorbs any excess electrical energy being generated by the engine when the driver’s foot is light on the throttle, and in turn, releases that stored energy when the driver’s foot is heavy and the output motor needs more power. For this purpose as well, probably the smaller design capacity of 0.8kWH is sufficient (as you can only coast for so long without depressing the throttle on normal roads).

Honda could have however gone the PHEV way by adding a slightly larger battery, and at that point adding a provision for charging via a slow electrical point could not have been too difficult or costly. Then this battery could have served both purposes – being run in a narrow band for regular petrol-based hybrid use (like it is now), and a wider band when charged outside and used as a plug-in hybrid. An EV range of even 25km could have covered a significant portion of the daily commute for many people in a country like India. And such a battery because of its small working capacity cannot take much time to charge even via a basic 6A socket, so no need to increase your home’s sanctioned load or make special electrical arrangements like you might need to with a regular EV.

Here’s what BHPian carthick1000 had to say about the matter:

Answer is very simple. Compliance Engineering.

OEMs want to keep their combined fleet CO2 emissions low [esp. in the EU (<95g CO2/km)]. Otherwise, they have to pay hefty penalties per car sold. This is the driver for even making PHEVs by OEMs in the first place. Otherwise, no OEM even cares to make PHEVs. They are complex powertrains (not good for reliability) and have poor packaging (less usable space). Think about it: When driving in Electric-only mode, ICE is deadweight and vice versa. Such a level of inefficiency comes only from compliance engineering.

If India becomes so strict in emissions regulations, then we might see OEMs rushing with their PHEVs.

Same story goes for the half-assed attempts to make EVs by even some of the best German OEMs.

Check out BHPian comments for more insights and information.

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