Saturday, November 24, 2007

Fahrvegnügen and fuhgedaboutit: V-Dub Disses Hybrids, Hydrogen & CO2 Concern

Edmunds Inside Line's Alistair Weaver interviewed Wolfgang Hatz, the head of powertrain for the entire Volkswagen Group. The title of their piece, Mr Engine Fuels the Future, probably tells you all you need to know. Quotations from the interview below; first, my somewhat snarky synopsis.

Hatz, in short: Hybrids are bogus - "a very expensive way to save a small amount of fuel." But because Americans have fallen for the idea, the politically expedient thing for VW to do is make some hybrids. Hybrids' PR payoff is bigger than their environmental benefit. Everyone's paying too much attention to global warming anyway. Low carbon cars don't make the air cleaner. Diesel is more efficient than gas, it just needs good filters. Gas and diesel are here for three more decades at least. Hydrogen makes no sense due to its inefficiency, certainly for the next 30 years. And he wasn't asked about batteries or plug-in hybrids or electric cars.

Fahrvegnügen and fuhgedaboutit.
Will hybrid become the dominant power source in the next few years?
Hybrid technology is a very expensive way to save a small amount of fuel. The cost/benefit analysis is quite on the expensive side, but we're politically pressed to develop hybrids by the U.S. market.

If someone said that every car must be a hybrid, the car industry would be bankrupt quicker than anything else. Even Toyota would have problems if they had to produce hybrids in high volumes. But politically we have to do a certain amount of hybrids.

What about diesel hybrids?
For fuel economy, this is the best option, but it's a very expensive solution.

Is there too much emphasis on carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions?
There is too much emphasis. Politically, it's very popular to say that you're going to ban cars that emit over 225g/km of carbon dioxide in London, but it won't make any difference to the ambient atmosphere. It's more important to make sure that all cars are fitted with particulate filters than to reduce the CO2.

Is hydrogen power the best long-term fuel solution?
Hydrogen only makes sense if it's produced from a regenerative source. If you produce it from electrolysis, the efficiency is just 50 percent. We don't know how to produce or transport it efficiently, which means that it's better to use regenerative energy for other things. I don't think it will be an alternative in the next 30 years. It doesn't make sense.

Gas and diesel will still be around in 30 years' time. Both will survive because we need to extract both the heavy and the light fuels to achieve the maximum efficiency from our oil. We have to use our energy in the best way.