If governments and local authorities are really serious about reducing CO2 emissions and energy consumption, especially in European cities, then they should only allow cars with a maximum weight of 500 kg (1100 lb) to enter city centers, says Paris-based Senior Consultant, Nicolas Meilhan at consulting firm Frost & Sullivan.
"Substantial vehicle weight reduction and an accompanying change of enabling regulations and norms is the way forward in the quest to reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions," he adds. "Once lighter cars are commonplace, then we should look at converting their drive trains to electric because they will then require much lighter and thus cheaper batteries."
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One reason why today's EVs are so heavy is the quest for extended driving range. However, "80 percent of daily trips in the city are less than 60 km (37 miles) so there is not a single reason to put in a battery which has a larger autonomy than 60 km as you can "refuel" your car every day at home" says Meilhan. The best option is to add a small internal combustion engine range extender to cover the 20% of daily trips involving longer driving distances.
The lightweights are here
Meilhan's belief is that the urban car of the future is a small car, but not necessarily electric. "Today's electric vehicles solve the problem of pollution in cities but they do not address congestion and parking," he says. The future of EVs really depends on appropriate regulations being implemented, such as taxing vehicle weight, size and engine power. Making parking even more expensive for regular cars would also help; €200 [US$263] per month instead of €12 [US$16] per month for residential parking in Paris, for example. "This way you might have a chance to change the car market into an electric one, or at least one that emits less CO2 and consumes less energy, whether it is electric or not," says Meilhan.
The 400-kg Ligier IXO Urban employs a 0.5-L 2-cylinder diesel engine developing 5.4 hp. Fuel consumption is 3.6 l/100km (66 mpg). Top speed is 45 km/h (28 mph).
The Aixam city quadricycle weighs in at just 350 kg (771 lb) and uses a 0.4-L 2-cylinder diesel engine that develops 5.4 hp; fuel consumption is listed as 2.96 l/100 km (79 mpg US). Top speed is 45 km/h.
Interestingly, 50 years ago the average weight of a French car was just 758 kg. This has ballooned to the current 1266 kg, or as much as 10 kg per year for the last 50 years. The main factor behind this increase in weight is passive safety. 300 kg of primarily steel has been added to the typical vehicle to meet Euro NCAP safety requirements. Car dimensions have also increased, as have comfort options, further adding to weight.
Meilhan sees two areas as being weight loss enablers for the city car of the future. Firstly, there should be a shift from heavy and bulky passive safety systems to active safety systems or Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) based on lightweight sensors coupled with appropriate legislation. Further, lightweight city cars that typically travel at much lower speeds of around 35 km/h in urban areas should be subjected to appropriate safety standards. "If you compare a 500-kg car traveling at 35 km/h in city with a 1400-tonne car at 90 km/h on the highway, there is 20 times less energy to dissipate in a collision," notes Meilhan.
AVERE-France, the French hybrid and electric vehicle association, reports that sales of EVs in France reached 5663 units for passenger vehicles and 3651 units for commercial vehicles in 2012, increasing 115% and 117%, respectively, compared with 2011. France accounted for 35% of passenger EVs in Europe in 2012, followed by Norway (15%) and Germany (13%). In Europe, sales of passenger EVs increased 80% in 2012.
Separately, the Automotive Industry Data newsletter reported that new registrations for plug-in cars for the first 11 months of 2011 totaled 22,108 units, accounting for just 0.2% of West Europe's total new car market.
During the first 10 months of 2012, meanwhile, the US registered 38,000 units sold, half of them being Chevrolet's Volt. While the penetration of sales in the US stands at 0.6% for 2012, it is even lower for Europe at 0.2%. The global EV market in 2012 was not expected to exceed 100,000 vehicles.
Renault, though at the forefront in promoting and producing EVs while shunning hybrid vehicles in Europe, is currently not doing well in Europe regarding overall car sales, notes Frost & Sullivan. Renault invested around $5 billion in the development and production of electric vehicles, which prevented them from investing in new models of conventional cars. Whether this strategy pays off and the Renault Zoé attracts much interest remains to be seen, cautions Frost & Sullivan.