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CONVENTIONAL ENGINES of the internal combustion variety aren’t going away any time soon. These powerplants are getting cleaner, more efficient—and they’ll hold a cost advantage over those of hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and battery electrics (BEVs) for quite some time.
On an overall well-to-wheel basis, the cleanest internal combustion cars already compete with BEVs, especially in regions where electric utilities are predominately coal-fired. (About half of us live in such regions.)
Even as conventional fuel prices rise, there’s a cost advantage of internal combustion. Batteries are an expensive means of storing energy compared with conventional fuel tanks. And, of course, the more battery required, the higher the cost.
PHEVs provide a good example of this. The Toyota Prius Plug-in’s choice of battery size gives it a pure EV range of only 15 miles; call it a PHEV15. By contrast, the Chevrolet Volt’s larger battery makes it a PHEV35, albeit not without tradeoffs of weight and cost.
In particular, these data suggest we’ll be seeing more conventional hybrids than plug-ins, and more plug-ins than pure EVs.
Last, there’s the evolving technology of internal combustion. Direct injection puts the fuel exactly where it’s to be combusted; this precise metering enhances efficiency and reduces emissions. Variable valve timing reduces the inherent compromises of traditional valve actuation. Start/Stop eliminates the wasted fuel of idling. Cylinder deactivation tailors engine operation to the car’s propulsion requirements. And advanced transmissions, 7-speeds, 8-speeds and the Continuously Variable variety, fine-tune engine revs with road speed.
True, these internal combustion refinements don’t come free. However, each of them has been shown to have a favorable cost/benefit ratio.
For a while yet, there’ll be a lot more internal combustion cars being sold than these others. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2012