19 January 2016

Electric cars won’t kill off petrol and diesel power, Mercedes-Benz insists

Electric cars might be grabbing the headlines at motor shows around the world, but petrol- and diesel-powered internal combustion engines in cars might just outlive us all.

The drawn-out death of the internal-combustion engine (ICE) will not happen in the lifetime of anybody with a driver’s license, Daimler’s head of development has insisted.

“Will the end of internal-combustion engine come? We will not live to see it,” Daimler’s Director of Development, Dr Thomas Weber, insisted last week.

“It will change dramatically, but it will still exist. The end game is not black and white for internal combustion engines,” the most senior engineer in the world’s oldest car company said.

Weber has committed to delivering 10 plug-in hybrid Mercedes-Benz models this year, its GLC-based production hydrogen fuel-cell car next year and its first full-sized production electric car the year after, but that doesn’t mean his engineers are finished with petrol and diesel power.

While they will exist long into the future – up to 50 years into the future of the car industry – they’ll be barely recognizable, but they’ll still be there.

“It becomes a power pack and it remains for a long period of time,” Dr Weber insisted.

“They will be downsized and beltless, with integrated start-stop for example, but they will be there because they will need to be there.

“The electrified versions of ICE will use the engines only in the optimum point of the rev range. No more 6000rpm or 7000rpm ranges. They will only run in the few hundred rpm where they work at the most efficient.

“If we run our combustion only in a smaller rev range and do the dynamics of the drivetrain, with electrification we can overcome all the critical areas where the emissions are bad.”

Amongst the reasons for the prolonged tenure of burning fossil fuels in a greener age, Dr Weber included the practicality of global refueling infrastructure, on-board power boosting and the potential still left in ICE development.

“The efficiency of the diesel is better than the petrol by 10 percent still. That’s why we still have the diesel, and plus there is the heavy commercial vehicle side,” he said.

“We are coming from below 30 percent (thermal) efficiency for petrol engines and shooting for 35 percent. We are far above 40 percent efficiency in the Formula One engines.

“Sixty percent (efficiency) of fuel cell vehicles will be possible and it’s the efficiency that is why we want to go in this direction.

“But it also shows that if you do it right, there are enough opportunities to further improve the efficiencies of internal combustion engines and that shows me, as an engineer, that we should stay with this.”

Another core reason for his insistence on the future viability of internal-combustion power is that drivers in the world’s developing countries don’t have the same access to renewable power sources.

Even Germany itself only has seven hydrogen refilling stations (as at the end of 2015).

While it has a growing renewable sector, it shutdown its nuclear plants in the wake of the Fukushima disaster and draws the majority of its electricity from burning dirty, brown coal, which runs at odds with the clean image of electric cars.

“There is an infrastructure for these fuels (petrol and diesel) globally and the efficiency of this technology can be dramatically higher than today. Even if you are dreaming on the battery side, so why should we skip this car?

“We can’t rely that the whole world will be able to drive battery-electric vehicles at the same time. That’s an infrastructure reality.

“Emissions-free driving should be our ultimate goal but it will take a long period of time to realise it completely.”

Extracted in full from Motoring.