Hybrid challenges ahead

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Hybrid challenges ahead

The development of technologies for green cars - environment-friendly vehicles - has suddenly emerged as an impending issue, sparked by U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent announcement of new standards for fuel mileage and greenhouse-gas emissions.

Obama said automakers must raise the average fuel efficiency of cars sold in the domestic market from the current 10.5 kilometers (6.5 miles) per liter to 15 kilometers (35.5 miles per gallon) by 2016. Starting that year, Korean car exporters must meet the requirements to sell in the U.S. market. The fuel efficiency requirement for passenger cars will be more stringent than that for trucks: Passenger cars will be required to meet 16 kilometers per liter on average.

The problem for Korea is whether its auto producers will be able to meet the requirement in time. This is not optional; it must be achieved.

Should Korea fail to reach this target, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to say Korea’s auto industry will face bankruptcy. After all, we currently export 900,000 units to the U.S. per year.

Worryingly, experts say meeting the new standards is not that simple. The best fuel efficiency for a Hyundai Motor vehicle is 12.5 kilometers per liter. In the next seven years, the fuel efficiency has to be improved by around 4 kilometers per liter.

The carmaker may consider reducing vehicle weight but the ultimate solution, experts say, lies in developing green cars, including hybrids.

The fuel efficiency of hybrid vehicles produced by Japan’s carmakers now stands at 30-40 kilometers per liter. If Korea develops similar vehicles and exports them to the U.S. along with ordinary gasoline-based vehicles, it won’t be hard for the country to lower the average fuel efficiency of cars shipped there.

However, Korea lags Japan, the U.S. and Europe. One problem is that Korea’s first hybrid vehicle, set to go on sale here in July, has a fuel efficiency of 17 kilometers per liter, less than half that of its Japanese counterparts.

In addition, the Korean hybrid will be based on liquefied petroleum gas, unlike in Japan, where gasoline is used, or in Germany, where they use diesel, because Japan and Germany hold patents for those technologies. And since the U.S. doesn’t currently have LPG stations, exports of Korean hybrids to the country do not seem feasible.

But Korea shouldn’t give up just for these three reasons. We need to embrace the new U.S. fuel efficiency standards as a stepping stone toward dealing with another challenge. We must start making utmost efforts to produce quality hybrid cars through the coordinated efforts of the government and the corporate sector.

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