These days, carmakers are driving through tough terrain to comply with India’s Bharat Stage VI (BSVI) emission rules, which kick in from next year. Several auto makers say hybrid drivetrains will help stem compliance costs, but are wary about investing in a technology that could be eclipsed by zero-emission electric vehicles, which may become ubiquitous as early as 2030.
One of the largest global automakers with a significant presence in India, however, is making a tentative bet on hybrid transmission, a technology area in which cost effective solutions have proved elusive.
The car manufacturer, which has refused to be identified by name, has asked a Bengaluru based startup to build hybrid transmission for use in its existing compact car lineup. The idea behind the move is to develop a hybrid that is cheap enough to replace diesel variants that are likely to turn expensive when BSVI rules apply. Adarin Engineering Technologies, which specialises in hybrid and electric drivetrains, spent seven months developing what it calls the Motomatic Hybrid Transmission. It then built a prototype fitted with this hybrid drivetrain to prove it worked.
“Carmakers need hybrids to increase efficiency and also meet BSVI (emission rules), but…we can’t really afford those systems in India,” said Saurabh Markandeya, chief technology officer, Adarin. Markandeya and wife Kajal Shah, both of whom worked for Tata MotorsNSE -0.92 % before starting Adarin in 2013, initially tried selling their technology to manufacturers of tractors and large commercial vehicles, but did not meet with much success. The decision to miniaturise the technology to work in compact cars, however, worked. The startup then built an early prototype using a Tata Nano, proving that the car was easy to drive and efficient at the same time.
A top executive from the global carmaker, who took part in a test drive, asked Adarin if it could extend the technology to the company’s compact car models. The carmaker is currently running tests to validate if Adarin’s hybrid gearbox is able to meet efficiency targets before a commercial deal is signed.
HOW IT WORKS
Adarin’s continuous variable transmission doesn’t utilise belts like a conventional automatic gearbox. It is, instead, driven entirely by gears. In effect, the automatic transmission is 95% efficient, vastly improved from the 85% efficiency levels automatic gearboxes offer currently.
To supplement the gasoline-powered engine, Adarin’s gearbox comes with dual electric motors — while one provides drive, the other acts as a generator for the battery pack that’s capable of rapid charge and discharge. This means the carmaker can use an existing gasoline engine, without setting up a hybrid solution separate from the gearbox. Adarin has designed and developed the solution completely in-house, including the motors and battery pack, and sought four patents for the hardware. “…with our solution, the engine can run at its most efficient speed. If the engine is producing more power than required, it can charge the batteries by turning the generator, and if it’s making lower than required power, the electric motor can fill in for it,” Markandeya said.
By tapping a startup for this technology, the global carmaker has saved on huge upfront development costs. Moreover, this will also help it recover for longer the money it spent on developing and manufacturing gasoline engines.
If the technology is affordable, it could become a viable alternative to small diesel models that are likely to be phased out as BSVI rules kick in, says Vinay Piparsania, consulting director for automotive at Counterpoint Research. “There’s no doubt that hybrid is the halfway house,” Piparsania says. “It provides an option for both technologies to co-exist until such time EVs are ready and some of the other infrastructural issues are sorted out.” Hybrids today are taxed on par with luxury petrol and diesel models, with a 28% Goods and Services tax rate and a 15% cess, making it highly expensive.
“Higher tax incidence for hybrid would kill clean and green-friendly Hybrid Vehicle technology,” says Shekar Viswanathan, vice-chairman and whole time director, Toyota Kirloskar Motor. “India needs to promote hybridization to achieve smooth electrification shift. More hybrids we sell, greater are the chances of electric succeeding. Because when the cost of battery drops, the cost of the vehicle will automatically drop as well.”