Electric vs Hybrid cars

Mar 30, 2012 | Energy and Carbon, Environment, News | 0 comments

What probably impressed me most about the recent Energy Show at the RDS in Dublin was the number of electric and hybrid cars being displayed. As well as the Toyota Prius (hybrid technology), there was the Opel Ampera (again hybrid) and the Nissan Leaf (electric) plus offerings from Renault.

I suspect that we now witnessing the competition of two technologies for dominance; is the car of the future going to be electric (i.e. 100% battery) or hybrid (i.e. a car with a battery and an internal combustion engine).

Similar battles of technology have been seen before, for instance the battle for dominance between rival video recording formats. The winner in that battle was the one with the longest recording time not the most sophisticated solution. Change the phrase ‘longest recording time’ for ‘longest range’ and you may see where I am coming from. The Betamax and VHS video recoding formats were introduced in the mid 1970s. Most experts agree that Betamax was the superior technology, however VHS won out by the late 1980s with the last Betamax machine being produced in 2002. Why did VHS win? Betamax could only record up to 60 minutes whilst VHS could record up to 180 minutes. 60 minutes is not long enough to record a movie so its practical real word application was limited.

The similarity of the Betamax/VHS battle with the electric/hybrid battle is striking. The claimed range for the Nissan Leaf is 175 km, enough to allow you to drive from Dublin to Waterford, Athlone or Belfast but not Cork, Galway or Limerick without recharging. A rapid charge takes 30 minutes and is available at Nissan dealers, but only during opening hours. The hybrid however allow you to switch to the engine thus extending the range; the Opel Ampera’s range is claimed at more than 500 km. Whilst the all electric car is the purer option (no tail pipe emissions), does it have the range for practical real word applications; the hybrids are available and are not for all practical purposes range limited. Will this battle go the same way as the battle of video recorder dominance.

All range and charging data from manufacturers’ web sites http://www.opel-ampera.com/index.php/mas/home, http://www.nissan.ie/vehicles/leaf/. For Betamax vs. VHS see http://www.mediacollege.com/video/format/compare/betamax-vhs.html