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India's tryst with hybrid cars: Why battery-powered drives are the way forward

Conventional fuels like petrol and diesel are not just getting more expensive but are also non-renewable and detrimental for the environment. Experts though say before a country like India goes electric, the country needs to popularise hybrid cars. Here's why.

India's tryst with hybrid cars: Why battery-powered drives are the way forward
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New Delhi: With petrol and diesel prices reaching new highs and environmental concerns adding fuel to the proverbial fire, the need for electric vehicles is being felt like never before. While many rightly say electric vehicles can drastically change the way Indians commute and help in bringing down adverse impact on the environment, a significant proportion also highlight the need for massive infrastructral investment at the ground level to support such vehicles.

In such a scenario, hybrid vehicles are being seen as the most viable variant till the time the country can actually have a fully functional support system for all-electric drives. Fully hyrbid vehicles continue to make use of conventional fuels but also have an electric motor that can power the vehicle over considerable distances. And contrary to commonly-held notions, these do not require any special skill sets from the person in command.

So, what are hybrid cars, what are the benefits of owning one and how easy is it to drive?

Cars like the Toyota Camry Hybrid have been around for some time now. The car has decent sales figures as well. And there's good enough reason for that.

The Camry, for instance, has a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine has been detuned to produce 160bhp and 213Nm of torque. The Hybrid Synergy System in this car makes electric and petrol motor work in tandem - taking the output to 205bhp and 270Nm of torque. And the batteries get charged - not from a wall unit like in the case of Teslas abroad - but mainly through re-generative braking technology.

What this essentially means is that the battery draws energy from braking - kinetic energy is not wasted but returned to the electric motor. The battery also gets energy from the petrol motor.

The car has three drive modes - Normal, Eco and EVO, and it is in this EVO mode that the car operates solely on electric power.

The advantages of all-electric motor:

* Silent
* Increases fuel efficiency
* Smoother drive

Conditions required for engage electric drive in Camry:

* Speed less than 45kmph
* No constant acceleration
* Sufficient charge on batteries
* Proper coolant temperature

How best to drive a hybrid then?

While the Camry drives like any other automatic luxury sedan, if you are trying to get the maximum bang from the hybrid motor, keep a light touch on the pedals. Toyota calls it the glide technique but in simpler terms, gradual acceleration on the Camry hybrid is even more advisable for efficiency than in conventional cars.

What is holding back the hybrid boom in India?

Cars like the Camry hybrid are not meant for the average car buyer in India primarily because the cost at which it comes. Touching almost 40 lakhs, the hybrid unit is not just for those looking for a smoother drive and are environmentally conscious but for those who can actually afford to buy it.

Here is where experts are urging government agencies to step in and provide solid incentives to both manufacturers and car buyers to opt for hybrid units. Currently, though, electric vehicles fall in the 12 percent GST slab while hybrid vehicles are in the highest slab of 43 percent. Companies like Toyota, Maruti Suzuki and Mahindra and Mahindra have all protested against keeping hybrid vehicles in that particular tax slab and maintain that the advantages of using a hybrid car is negated by the asking price.

Taking hybrid cars to the masses in a price-sensitive market like India, say many, will require lowering prices considerably. This, in turn, is likely to help India achieve its dream of going all-electric by 2030.