The Freedonia Group forecasts the global market for hybrid and electric vehicles (HEV) to nearly triple in size through 2026 to 30.5 million units. Advances in technology will be a key driver of this rapid growth, though a number of challenges remain to full commercialization of HEVs, including:
- a lack of charging infrastructure in many parts of the world
- safety concerns about thermal runaway resulting in vehicles catching fire
- concerns about the driving ranges of HEV batteries
While some issues – like lacking charging infrastructure – will require government investment to truly address, tech innovation on the supplier side is helping to mitigate other challenges to mass adoption. Below, we highlight three areas where HEV manufacturers have focused their development efforts.
While EVs run on battery or fuel cell power alone, hybrid vehicles can use a variety of technologies, including:
- full hybrids, which use both an electric motor and an ICE to propel the vehicle
- plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), which can operate for an extended period on electric power before battery depletion causes the vehicle to switch to conventional fuel
Each technology possesses comparative advantages and disadvantages, such as differences in vehicle range capabilities and the degree to which they depend on charging infrastructure, although consumer preferences and regulatory compliance concerns have caused some types of HEVs to experience more rapid market growth than others. For instance, sales of plug-in hybrids are expected to decline due to decreased regulatory support for these vehicles, which are proving to be less sustainable than originally thought. In fact, sales of these vehicles are expected to be negligible by 2031.
Batteries & Energy Storage
The primary battery types utilized in HEV production are lead-acid, nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH), and lithium-ion (Li-ion). The battery of choice varies by vehicle application:
- Lead-acid batteries are the technology used in conventional cars. They are present in some hybrid vehicle designs and are still widely used for auxiliary power in most EVs.
- Ni-MH was the dominant technology for hybrid vehicles in the 2000s and early 2010s. These products have rapidly diminished in importance as Li-ion batteries have gained share, but Ni-MH batteries still find use in full hybrid vehicles.
- At present, Li-ion batteries are the primary technology used for powering BEVs and PHEVs.
The high power density, superior performance, and lower weight of Li-ion batteries make them attractive in many HEV applications, but their high costs have inhibited faster incorporation of these batteries historically. Technological improvements (including to address thermal runaway concerns) and falling materials costs have dramatically reduced per-kilowatt hour Li-ion battery costs, allowing for their greater application in HEVs.
Additionally, some firms are developing battery alternatives to Li-ion batteries that promise greater safety, longer driving ranges, and other benefits, with solid-state technology receiving considerable attention. Other Li-ion alternatives under development include:
- lithium metal batteries – which offer lighter weight and ability to hold twice the amount of energy of Li-ion batteries, but typically have much shorter lifespans
- lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries – which cost less and use neither nickel nor cobalt, insulating producers from supply issues related to these metals, but historically have the disadvantage of offering lower vehicle range
Trends toward autonomous (“driverless”) vehicles have implications for the development of HEVs due to overlaps in technology used in both vehicle types, particularly electric and electronic systems. Innovations in HEV systems have the potential to benefit autonomous vehicles, and vice versa.
There are a limited number of autonomous vehicles currently in use, with others under development. Faster adoption of autonomous vehicles is restrained by:
- the high costs associated with driverless vehicles as autonomous technology (e.g., electric sensor technologies, including cameras, radar, and LIDAR) remains under development
- safety concerns, particularly in light of recent casualties during the testing of autonomous vehicle technology
- nascent regulations regarding autonomous vehicle use
Technological limitations also restrain advances in autonomous vehicles. For example, while an estimated range of 250 meters is necessary to ensure safe detection of obstacles at highway speeds, most mechanical LIDAR sensors currently on the market have a range of only 60 to 100 meters, making them inadequate for mass production at present.
Safety concerns regarding the operation of autonomous vehicles, including autonomous vehicles’ ability to recognize and react to hazards and other objects on the road, have promoted movements to regulate the operation of these vehicles before use becomes widespread. Nevertheless, the future of autonomous vehicle regulations remains unclear, with the US Department of Transportation indicating that it might waive some vehicle safety rules in order to permit more driverless cars to operate on US roads as part of a broader effort to accelerate development of self-driving vehicles.
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About the Author: Peter Kusnic is a Content Writer with The Freedonia Group, where he researches and writes studies focused on an array of industries.