First the good news for those caring for environment: Japanese auto giant Honda Motors Co. on Wednesday introduced India to the first hybrid vehicle-- the Civic Hybrid that runs on a petrol engine assisted by an electric motor.
The bad news: Thanks to a hefty 104 per cent duty that the government levies on imported cars, the hybrid version would cost Rs 21.50 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi), almost double the price of the conventional variant.
The prohibitive pricing may keep out buyers, but Honda hopes it would make a strong statement about the future of the auto industry in the backdrop rising oil prices and concerns of growing carbon emissions.
"We are not looking for volumes here but showcasing our technological prowess. We want the Indian consumers to experience this new technology which surely is the future of cars," said Masahiro Takedagawa, President and CEO at Honda's Indian subsidiary.
A hybrid vehicle is basically driven by a conventional petrol engine with an assisting electric motor that is powered by a battery. Due to the assisting electric motor the petrol engine is smaller but it delivers the same performance with lower emissions and higher fuel efficiency. The Civic hybrid for example has a smaller 1.3 litre gasoline engine (the normal Civic is powered by a 1.8 litre engine) but delivers around 50 per cent higher fuel efficiency.
The car uses regenerative braking as well which ensures that the energy lost when the vehicle is decelerated is used to recharge the batteries powering the electric motor. This also does away with restrictions of range and charging that need to be done in a conventional electric vehicle.
Despite the many advantages of hybrid technology, the pace of growth in India has been slow due to its high cost and lack of incentives. Though the government has reduced excise duties on hybrid cars to 14 per cent earlier this year, import duties remain steep. And Takedagawa said his company "will not be able to manufacture the car here due to technological reasons."