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Industry Report

Industry reports, briefs and video-clips issued by Samsung Economic Research Institute

Environmentally-friendly Vehicles

Environmentally-friendly Vehicles

LEE Won-Hee

Aug. 7, 2008


Welcome to our video program. I am Won-Hee Lee from the Technology and Industry department.

Environmentally-friendly vehicles are vehicles which can travel further with less fuel and emissions. These vehicles reduce fuel costs and air pollution, and are beneficial for both consumers and the environment.

Today, we are going to look at the rapidly growing environmentally-friendly vehicle industry.

Environmentally-friendly vehicles can be classified into three categories; zero emission vehicles, partial zero emission vehicles, and alternative energy vehicles. Zero emission vehicles are electric vehicles and fuel cell vehicles which produce no evaporative emissions. Partial zero emission vehicles are vehicles whose emissions are 90 % less than those of conventional vehicles. All hybrid vehicles belong to this group. Alternative energy vehicles include vehicles which use alternative fuel supplies like bio diesel, bio ethanol, and hydrogen.

Let's take a close look at some typical environmentally-friendly vehicles like hybrid vehicles, fuel cell vehicles, and electric vehicles.

First, an electric car powers its motor by using electricity stored in its battery pack. Though this is one of the most advanced technologies among zero emission vehicles it has significant weaknesses.

If the size of the battery is increased to attain more engine power and mileage, the car becomes inefficient. It also takes as much as four to eight hours to fully charge the battery, while vehicles can travel only about 300 Km on a single charge. This is why electric vehicles are barely viable, as they are useful only for short distance driving and lag well behind other vehicles for other purposes. However, technological breakthroughs in electric vehicles like lithium ion batteries and the government's plan to establish electricity charging stations have made them more attractive.

Tesla, a US startup, succeeded in developing an electric sports coupe in July 2006 whose top speed reaches 210 km per hour . This model takes just 4 seconds to reach 100 km per hour.

Nissan, Mitsubishi, and GM also said they are planning to launch electric car production in 2010. India and China have also joined in development efforts for electric vehicles.

China's “Miles Electric Vehicles” is projected to roll out electric cars at a price of about 35,000 dollars in 2009. This company won the prize for best technology in electric vehicles in 2007. Meanwhile, the REVA, an electric car developed by REVA Electric Company in India, sells better than any other electric vehicle.

Hybrid vehicles use both traditional internal combustion engines and electric motors. They use electric motors while driving in town, when driving is at low-speeds and stops are frequent. Hybrids use internal combustion engines during high speed driving, raising mileage and reducing emissions. Currently, the Honda Civic Hybrid and Toyota Prius are the most economical hybrid vehicles. They can travel 23 to 25 km on a liter of gas. Also, more and more large-sized vehicles like the Lexus RX 400H, LS 600H, Benz S600L and BMW 760Li are adopting hybrid systems. However, there remain many areas to be improved in large-sized hybrid vehicles. Their mileage and horsepower is still low in comparison to their high prices.

The most advanced hybrid type is the plug-in hybrid. Plug-in hybrids differ from existing hybrids in the way of charging the battery. Plug-in hybrids can charge the battery pack by using an external electricity outlet. This plug-in hybrid can travel about 100 km on a charged battery. In addition, if the battery discharges, the battery can be recharged by using the internal combustion engines. Furthermore, the fuel costs of plug- in hybrids are just one fourth of that of gasoline vehicles.

Lastly, fuel cell vehicles are a significant paradigm shift from conventional power systems, which have lasted for 200 years since the Industrial Revolution. They power motors by utilizing electricity generated through catalytic action between hydrogen and oxygen. However, though these technologies have many advantages, there are still many obstacles before these vehicles can be commercialized. The biggest problem is the massive cost required to construct hydrogen filling stations. In order to replace fossil fuel completely, 80 trillion won needs to be invested on a worldwide level every year. In addition, high costs for catalytic action and short working life spans are also a critical issue. Due to those problems fuel cell vehicles will not be commercialized anytime soon. However, experts forecast that 50,000-dollar fuel cell vehicles may be available by 2015.

In the past, “environmentally-friendly” meant “high cost,” but now it means profit on the consumer side. Though it will be impossible to change the social infrastructure of over 200 years in one day, continuous development of innovative technologies will eventually change the shape of our life. Now, environmentally-friendly vehicles are at hand for us to use in our daily lives. This is the path that our car industry should take for the future.

Thank you for watching. I'm Won-Hee Lee.

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