중앙데일리

Q.What is a hybrid vehicle?

A.Hybrid cars are thought to reduce the damage to the environment.

May 21,2009
Hyundai Avante LPI
With the current hype about “green growth” spreading across the country and increased interest in products that are kind to the environment, hybrid cars seem to be everywhere.

Not only are they now a key survival strategy of the automobile industry, but they also figure prominently in the government’s “green growth” policies. Hybrid vehicles will be commercially available in Korea starting in July.

Ford’s Escape, left, and Kia’s Forte LPI [JoongAng Ilbo]
Although these eco-friendly vehicles have been around for more than a century and have gained popularity around the world for more than a decade, it was absolutely impossible to spot such vehicles in Korea.

With the government offering a tax cut of as much as 3.3 million won ($2,640) to people buying hybrid vehicles starting in July, it won’t be long before hybrid vehicles become a familiar sight on Korean streets.


Mixing energy and technology

All vehicles are powered by fossil fuels, whether gasoline, diesel or liquefied petroleum gas, or LPG.

The biggest problem with petroleum-based fuels, however, is that they pollute the environment with carbon dioxide emitted from exhaust pipes. Carbon dioxide is one of the main contributors to climate change and global warming that is threatening the planet we inhabit. In addition, the world’s oil deposits are quickly drying up, which is raising the price of fuel.

Although hybrid vehicles were not initially developed because of a need for an environment-friendly product, they are now a leading product promoted in efforts to reduce damage on the environment. The use of hybrid vehicles is also expected to reduce consumption of petroleum fuel.

A hybrid vehicle is by definition a form of transportation using a mix of energy sources and combining different fuel technologies.

The most widely recognized form of hybrid vehicle today is the hybrid electric vehicle, or HEV, which combines a conventional gasoline-fueled system with an electric motor running on batteries. As the vehicle runs partially on electricity, it emits less pollutants and provides better fuel efficiency than conventional cars that run on gasoline.

Hybrid history

The world’s first hybrid vehicle appeared more than a century ago.

The Mixte developed by Ferdinand Porsche in 1901 combined a gasoline-fueled engine and a small electric motor. With a top speed of 50 kilometers per hour, the vehicle broke several speed records.

Development of hybrid vehicles has continued since then, but hybrids made through the 1990s were no match for conventional petroleum-fueled vehicles in terms of speed and convenience.

The hybrid vehicle we are familiar with today was first introduced in December 1997 by the Japanese auto giant Toyota. The company’s hybrid car, the Prius, was the brainchild of Takeshi Uchiyamada and it revolutionized the industry.

The car adopted a continuously variable transmission, which allowed both the gas and electric engines to be engaged at all times.

Honda, another Japanese automaker, soon followed Toyota with its own hybrid car, the Insight, in November 1999.

But sales of the two eco-friendly models didn’t pick up until the second version of the Toyota Prius was released in 2003. Later, as other major automakers including General Motors, Ford and Nissan jumped into the game, competition in the hybrid vehicle market started to heat up.

Enter the Europeans

In Europe, automakers such as Audi and Volkswagen have focused in recent years on developing diesel-fueled vehicles into eco-friendly cars.

But even these European carmakers are starting to follow the hybrid trend.

Volkswagen is currently developing the Touareg Hybrid, which is scheduled for release in 2011. The vehicle combines a direct-injection engine and hybrid gas-electric system. The Audi Q5 Hybrid is expected to make its global debut next year. BMW is currently testing the prototype of its Concept 7-Series ActiveHybrid, which is equipped with a lithium ion battery pack on top of a V8 engine.

But first, BMW will release its X6 ActiveHybrid this fall. The vehicle is said to get 20 percent better fuel economy than its gasoline counterparts.

Korean hybrids

Not to be left behind, Korean companies are also starting to get into the act.

Until now, none of the five Korean car companies - Hyundai Motor, Kia Motors, GM Daewoo, Ssangyong Motor and Renault Samsung Motors - has developed hybrid vehicles.

Hyundai Motor, the country’s biggest automaker, will release its first hybrid vehicle, the Avante LPI, in July. Kia Motors will start selling its hybrid car, the Forte LPI, in September. These cars are to be the first LPG hybrids in the world.

To promote the sale of hybrid vehicles in the local market, the Korean government is offering a tax benefit that will last until the last day of 2012.

Under the plan, people who buy hybrid vehicles will be offered an array of tax breaks. These include exemptions from taxes on consumption (up to 1 million won), acquisition (up to 400,000 won), registration (up to 1 million won), value added tax (130,000 won) and a 200,000 to 400,000 won deduction on the purchase of government bonds.

If all of these tax breaks were added together, one could save more than 3 million won on the purchase of a hybrid car.

Hybrids in the world

The world’s hybrid market is growing rapidly. According to a study by Fourin, a Japanese automobile survey firm, 496,244 hybrid vehicles were sold in the United States, and the Japanese and European markets last year. This is an exceptional growth from the 163,000 units sold four years ago.

The hybrid vehicle market as a whole is expected to reach 3 million units by 2015.

The U.S. is the largest consumer of hybrid vehicles, according to the study. It accounts for 63.2 percent of the three major markets, or 314,000 units.

Japan is the second largest with a market share of 22.1 percent, or 110,000 units. In Europe 73,000 hybrid vehicles were sold, or 14.7 percent.

When hybrid vehicle sales in the slowly growing markets in Australia, Canada and India are included, the total number of hybrid vehicles sold last year amounts to roughly 530,000.

Japanese and U.S. car developers dominate the hybrid vehicle market. Japanese automakers, particularly Toyota, account for over 80 percent of the market, while Honda has a 10 percent market share. Ford and General Motors have only 3.9 percent and 2.5 percent of the market share, respectively.



By Lee Ho-jeong [ojlee82@joongang.co.kr]



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