Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Plug-in Nigeria: A look at Hybrid Vehicles for Nigeria

Hybrid electric vehicles are the rage today, Nearly every automaker is working on the concept as part of their product development portfolio. This has been driven much by the push for more environmentally friendly vehicles. The Toyota Prius has become the poster child of this movement due to its trailblazing success. Even upcoming Chinese automakers have jumped on the bandwagon.

the biggest reason for hybrids recent popularity is that they solve the short range problem of Full EVs and increase the operating efficiency of internal combustion (IC) engines. Batteries have been the bane of EVs due to a combination of heavy weight, low capacity, and most especially high price. But in Hybrids, the battery requirement is lower avoiding most of the shortcomings.

Hybrids are still more expensive than their IC engine counterparts because of greater degree of complexity. So why should Nigeria bother about them when most peole cannot afford them?

This is where it gets interesting. Nigeria is a land of generators due to its lack of stable Power supply. a unique microcosm has developed. So you ask what do generators have to do with hybrids? Before I answer that first there are two kinds of hybrid electric vehicles, Series and Parallel. A parallel hybrid used both electric motor and IC engine to power the wheels. Power can be switched between the two or they can work together. This is the type of hybrid most automakers are developing and currently offering. such as the Prius.

A series hybrid on the other hand, used only the electric motor to drive the wheels. The IC engine is used in generating electricity for the electric motor. This is the type of system used by the upcoming Chevrolet Volt and Fisker Karma, some city transit buses and all diesel electric trains.

parallel hybrids have been favored for cars because they offer greater efficiency for varying driving conditions. Series hybrids have been favored for hybrid buses because of simplicity and their nearly 100% operation in stop and go traffic. A place where series hybrids excels in efficiency due to regenerative braking.

Now back to the question. You see those generators can provide on-board electricity to charge a small set of batteries( Lead Acid preferably for their robustness and low cost) Which in turn drive the electric motor. No gearbox necessary. A few things make this a perfect situation. Close to 90% of Nigerian driving is in stop and go traffic ( city traffic) maximizing the series hybrid system efficiency. and there is a flood of generators to supply this demand.

The icing on the cake is the ability for the generator in the car to provide electricity for your home when parked. while a hear exchanger attached to the exhaust can provide all the hot water needs.

This is a situation where the lack of steady electricity supply would be a blessing in disguise, many of these parked series hybrids could be used to form a mini power grid.where people with the cars can sell electricity to other homes generating revenue that can pay back the cost of the vehicle. this alone provides the economic incentive to purchase such a vehicle. The vehicle now becomes a multipurpose utility device serving both as transportation and power generation. This convergence of utilities could do for hybrids what the smartphone did for the PDA.Combining a phone and a PDA has finally allowed the early questionable utility of the humble PDA to survive.

This is Plug-in Hybrid Nigerian style. While majority of the developed world see Plug-in hybrids being supported by the electricity infrastructure, Nigeria does not have such, so these hybrids would become our version of democratized electricity infrastructure.

One major advantage is that since cars require a catalytic converter to operated, the usual pollution of the dirty generators that serve most Nigerians can be reduced. also the increased efficiency of hybridization would reduce the vehicle pollution. That way we can have our mobility and much needed electricity with reduce pollution on both fronts not to mention put Nigeria on the automotive production map.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Joule Elecetric Car ( South Africa's big leap)

At the 2008 Paris Auto Show, Optimal Energy, a privately-owned South African company based in Cape Town that specialises in optimal solutions for urban transport launched the "Joule" on a world stage. It is the first African Electric Vehicle. Following the current trend of electric cars like Tesla roadster and GM Volt, the Joule puts Africa on the EV map. The car is a six-seater Multi-Purpose Vehicle(MPV) with two rows of Three seats.

It was designed by Keith Helfet, the designer of the 1993 Jaguar XJ220 supercar. The similarities in the two designs is obvious especially the front end. The car is powered by a front wheel electric motor and Li-ion batteries placed in the floor which can be charged in Seven hours and give a range of 200km. Upgrades could also be made to the battery pack for increase range. The car is expected to be manufactured in the Guateng province with sales starting at the end of 2010.

This is an exciting development. The interesting thing is they decided to launch the car in Paris. This means that the company has plans to export the car. I know with the cost of electric components and expensive Li-ion batteries, this car would be out of range for most South-Africans except the elite, but it would have a price advantage on the world stage.

Press release below.

Joule is Africa’s first battery electric engineering masterpiece from Optimal Energy. The silent passenger MPV is manufactured as a standard six-seater which complies with UN-ECE safety standards offering an optimal, no-compromise, and zero emission urban driving experience.

Joule is as beautiful and elegant as it is stylish with a classically timeless appeal set to transform the face of the urban transportation landscape. Developed from the outset as an electric vehicle, Joule delivers optimal design, maximum interior space and a minimal exterior and environmental footprint.

* Maximum 400km Range
* Regenerative ABS Braking system
* Steel space frame and side impact protection
* Two dynamic drive train options
* Excellent vehicle handling and dynamics
* Sports-like acceleration from standstill
* Optimal interior space with minimal exterior footprint

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Innoson: Leading the way for a Nigerian car

It's great to hear that despite the hurdles involved with producing a car in Nigeria this company is moving ahead. The Sun new story goes in dept into this pioneering company. With the new automobile factory nearing completion, innoson is set to change the way Nigerians look at buying new vehicles. Bringing the price of the mini buses and mini trucks(pictured above) to be manufactured to under ₦1 million. The vehicles would be assembled in the new factory in Nnewi from CKD(completely knocked Down) imported from China's Wuling Auto. But they would wear Innoson badges. Innoson is looking to make local content near 30% with some parts being made in-house.

The sight of this would bring much needed momentum to the Nigerian manufacturing arena and produce tremendous development for the local parts suppliers. Although the car is not entirely made in Nigeria, it is a good step to strengten the industry besides even the established car manufacturers assemble cars with parts from all over the world. The world average for local content is about 60% which can be reached with time. The initial factory capacity would be 20 vehicles per day increasing with time.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Building a car industry in nigeria

After reading an article on Lanre's blog on building a Nigerian car, it got me thinking. A snippet from his post

Taking these dynamics into account, it would be a colossal waste of money to try to buy a Nigerian car for the following reasons:

1. The demand for cars is insufficient
2. The support industries are absent
3. It is not the place of government to pursue such an undertaking.
4. The car and the industry cannot be globally competitive.

Even with the coming of consumer finance, I doubt we in Nigeria buy 100000 new cars a year. This is clearly not the kind of numbers that can sustain and industry. With global production of about 25 million cars per annum, the Nigerian market may not figure significantly with amy major manufacturer.

I agree with his observation and after a quick research on the annual car sales in Nigeria, the figure came in at 84,398 for 2007. A relatively low figure compared to other upcoming car manufacturing nations like south Africa with 612,707 and India with 1.99million for 2007. The problem is that those numbers are just for new car sales. Nigeria does have the market for cars, but used cars dominate the market and finding solid figures is a problem. This disparity between the used car and new car market shows that there is an opportunity. it could also point to the low availability of financing to drive new car sales.

The relatively low new car sales combined with the inadequate infrastructure also illustrates why Peugeot Association of Nigeria is having a hard time competing with imports and have themselves started importing fully built vehicles as it is cheaper to import a car than it is to build one in the current Nigerian situation.
At the end of the article he suggested;

we should look to leveraging our low cost base and any other economies of scale we enjoy and look to the production and export of car components along the lines of how South Africa has created a niche for its self in the export catalytic converters. This can happen with the support of government through the Nigerian Automotive Council.

This is definitely doable, finding something that we are good at or can take the most advantage of and using it as a basis for our automotive infrastructure would go a long way in making Nigeria ready for the industry. there are already makers of car components in Nigeria especially in the east, the products just have to be raised to world standards and then pricing advantage would help the products make inroads into the international market.

Hope is not lost on building a Nigerian car though we don't have to make cars in the millions. If the numbers of used cars are taken into consideration, one can deduce the true market for a Nigerian car. The car should be cheap enough that it would steal sales from the used car market and make a good export to neighboring countries. Just as the innovative Tata nano is going to steal sales from scooter and motorcycle sales thereby expanding the car market. Thats why I say there is a market for a Nigerian car. If it is made right it would be affordable for most of the population creating a market on its own.

If henry ford looked at the market numbers when he decided to make the model T, there would not have been such a car as the market did not exist at the time. But the market sprouted once the right product was there fulfilling a need.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Tata Nano: A 21st century Peoples Car

The recent introduction of the Indian Tata Nano has created a sensation in the international media for cheap cars for developing countries, some good, some not so good. Regardless it does go a long way to illustrate the possibilities when one focuses on designing cars specifically for that kind of market.

At $2500 (approximately ₦300,000), the Nano is by far the most affordable brand new car in the world. That in itself is an achievement, something many of the contemporary automakers ridiculed at first. But the real success of Nano is the numerous patents filed for the car. The car is not just cheap it is packed with innovation. A true modern day Citro├źn 2CV. Tata in the process of designing the car has created new techniques for manufacturing that can be put into their conventional line-up.
Cost saving measures like making use of a single wiper, using similar mecahnisms for the doors and dorr handles, making a self made 2 cylinder engine, strategic location of manufacturing facilities and suppliers shows how little improvements add up. for comparison the second cheapest car in the world is almost twice as expensive. this shows the power innovation. It is so revolutionary that it is receiving respect from western carmakers.
Tata has managed to create a vehicle that follows the principles of the historic people's cars from ford model T to the VW beetle. and answered the question revelant to the 21st century. Nigeria can follow the same route. It does not have to be a cut and paste pattern. The lessons learned from Tata just have to be implemented with respect to the market and culture of Nigeria.