Green Car Fans: Don’t Count The Gas Engine Out Quite Yet

greencar-reportsEditor’s Note: EarthTechling is proud to repost this article courtesy of Green Car Reports. Author credit goes to John Voelcker.

Plug-in electric cars get a lot of press, perhaps more than their current sales might warrant.

It’s clear to industry analysts that the proportion of plug-ins among new cars produced will grow, slowly, over the coming years and decades.

But don’t count the gasoline engine out just yet.

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image via Mitsubishi

The rate of electric cars migrating into the fleet–not to mention projections for diesel adoption into the U.S.–are the topic of much debate.

But for the next decade or more, the vast majority of the world’s auto production will continue to have gasoline engines.

In Europe, roughly half of all new passenger cars are sold with diesel engines–but it’s the only major market in the world where that’s the case.

Natural gas may represent 1 or 2 percent of total production as well, but heavily concentrated in a few countries–of which India is by far the most populous.

Hybrids + electrics: 15 percent or less in 2025?

Estimates of plug-in share range from 1 percent to 3 percent of a total global production of perhaps 100 million vehicles by 2020.

Even adding in hybrids, electrified vehicles of all sorts are likely to make up only 15 percent of global production by 2025, according to a recent survey of auto-industry executives.

U.S. auditing firm KPMG released its 14th annual survey of global auto executives last Friday, covering 200 C-level executives in automakers around the world. Of those, 22 were from North American companies.

U.S. executives were the most optimistic about electrified vehicles; almost half (45 percent) said hybrids and plug-ins together would make up more than 16 percent of sales by 2025.

Engines offer most opportunity

Of all respondents, 71 percent believe the optimization of combustion engines will offer more efficiency and reduction in carbon emissions than any electrification technology.

“Today’s combustion engines can continue to offer consumers the fuel efficiency and performance they desire,” summarized KPMG auto industry leader Gary Silberg, “and what’s clear is that the internal combustion engine is not going anywhere anytime soon.”

Cars 10 years hence will be lighter, more aerodynamic, use far smaller and vastly more efficient engines, and likely incorporate a variety of efficiency technologies: active grille shutters, fuel shutoff, start-stop systems, and more.

Note the kicker, though: That 71-percent response applies only to cars of the next six to ten years.

That’s a short time for an industry that renews each of its underlying vehicle architectures–costing perhaps $1 billion each–only every seven years.

Silberg adds that car companies “will also intensify investment in electric technology, fully appreciating what is at stake in a very competitive industry.”

Placing different bets

Over the next five years, said survey respondents, hybrid systems will get more investment than plug-in electric cars.

Asked which alternative technology would get the biggest investment, 26 percent said their companies would prioritize plug-in hybrid systems; 17 percent say it’s pure hybrids; 13 percent say range-extended electric cars like the Chevy Volt; a surprising 11 percent said hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles; and only 8 percent tapped battery electric vehicles.

In other words, “automakers are placing bets across the board, and large bets at that, especially hybrids,” added Silberg. Natural-gas vehicles were not included on the survey.

Our own bet

In coverage of  Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt sales, the author of this piece noted that he placed his own bet on the future mix of vehicle technologies.

Electric-car advocate Peder Norby contends that by 2020, conventional gasoline-engined vehicles will be less than half of total U.S. sales.

He believes battery electrics, range-extended electric cars, plug-in hybrids, regular hybrids, diesels, and natural-gas vehicles together will exceed 50 percent of the U.S. market.

This author disagrees; there’s a dinner riding on the outcome.

What do you think? Who’ll win the bet? And are the auto-industry executives right that gasoline engines will predominate over the next 10 years?

Leave us your thoughts in the comments below.

  • Joe Murtaugh

    It depends on if one cares if future generations survive.

  • Bryan

    Most peopel care about the future generations actually. But how deeply ? More than their current progenys’ health and education… ? …Not likely.

    Whether you win your bet depends on the relative cost of fuel. Those with large disposable incomes can buy nifty new low emission vehicles. Most of the worlds consumers in 2020, world wide, US included, don’t have the ability to indulge that luxury. it is feasible that the price of oil will raise steadily above US200/bbl consistently. if that happens, fuel prices will not double, but it would become a sound business decision to reduce consumption by buying low emission vehicles and then I think most Americans will pass the IQ test and change thier buying habits for cars.

    • phor11

      Even if there weren’t a premium for buying electric vehicles, Americans would still be buying gasoline vehicles. Not because of an IQ problem, but because the range and recharge times for battery/electrics simply aren’t viable for their lifestyles. Buying an electric with a ~70 mile range and 6 hour recharge would mean an enormous change for most who have no access to public transportation, drive their kids all over for extra-curriculars, and want to be able to take a vacation or drive to see family at least once a year.

      Price isn’t the determining factor for most of them, freedom of movement is.

      That’s why I think battery/electric has absolutely no chance against hydrogen in the long run (unless of course there is a major breakthrough in battery or capacitor tech). Current battery tech simply isn’t conducive to the transportation sector in the US.

      • Bryan

        Indeed Phor11 has made one good point:. an EV does not meet most people’s needs with regard range and recharge. Unfortunately, that is not being discussed. the “bet” was with regard low emision vehicles, of which pure EV was only a component.
        BTW, a $200/bbl price was only a guess, calculated as a tipping point. My point is really about relative costs of competing technology and demands on disposable incomes.
        In Oz petrol costs ~$1.35 per litre. Fuel cost in 1 year: 16000 km. ~AUD$2400 for 11lph petrol vehicle.

        Or ~$1500 for diesel car at 6lph & AUD1.50 /l. so I would save fuel costs of $900 per year, .Will I turn over my car to diesel or hybrid for $900 p.a. saving ? No. 😐 . Which is why a price differential will drive peoples choces only if the price is consistently significantly different. However, if the petrol price is closer to european prices, guess what more diesels than unleaded petrol !
        In fact, it would be nice to see a graph of petrol engine share of new car market against average cost of fuel for each country. At present Unleaded has 85% of the market. less than . so there are 2 near extremes in western democracies.
        Another question ? Why are the purchase prices for diesel engine vehicles consistently at least AUD3000 more than equivalent petrol version ? Surely economies of scale and competition would reduce this, but the differential looks arbitrary. I suspect manufacturers are maintaining extra margins on diesel because their continuing sales are relatively smaller for diesel cars.