People charge the batteries of their mobile phones and MP3 players at home and then use the gadgets throughout the day. How well, then, would the same concept apply to cars? Sophisticated firms are working to find out.
In Korea, Hyundai Mobis is spearheading the push to develop such cars, dubbed plug-in hybrid vehicles, together with its sister corporations at Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors.
“By 2012, we plan to invest a total of 100 billion won in developing components for hybrid vehicles. We are also striving to increase the number of related research staff members from the current 60 to 200,â€™â€™ Hyundai Mobis Senior Executive Vice President Kim Soon-hwa said.
“In order to meet the rising demand for hybrid vehicle parts, weâ€™re mulling the possibility of building facilities specifically dedicated to this endeavor.â€™â€™ Indeed, the annual production of hybrid cars is expected to jump from the current 500,000 to 14 million by 2020.
Hyundai Mobis has a two-phase scheme to prepare for the full-fledged advent of the hybrid era, which is burgeoning both at home and abroad, spurred by global automakers.
The first step is to come up with components, which are provided to first-generation hybrid models such as Avante of Hyundai Motor and Forte of Kia Motors, which basically rely on fossil fuels rather than electricity.
The second phase is to upgrade all the associated components so that they can be used for plug-in electric vehicles, which will dramatically crank up their dependence on electricity to reduce carbon emissions.
They are expected to commercially debut in just a couple of years â€• Hyundai Motor looks to take the wraps off its plug-in vehicles later this year.
“The two main components of presently-available hybrid vehicles are electric motors and integrated package modules, areas in which we have technological competitiveness,â€™â€™ Kim said.
“Both are also used in plug-in models, which will come to town in the not-so-distant future. By sharpening our technological edge in these areas, we plan to churn out parts suitable for plug-in vehicles by 2013.â€™â€™
The integrated package module is located in the trunk, under the floor, in a hybrid car. It accommodates rechargeable fuel cells made of lithium ion polymer batteries and an inverter and converter.
Whether they are current models or plug-ins, hybrid cars have many advantages and prominent among these is that they are cleaner than conventional vehicles powered by fossil fuels.
Greenhouse gases and the resultant global warming have prompted a flurry of governments and automakers turn their attention to eco-friendly cars such as the hybrid models.
As far as eco-friendliness is concerned, there is a much better option available â€• fuel cell electric vehicles that employ hydrogen as its onboard fuel without banking on petroleum or gasoline.
“Our technologies for electric motors and integrated package modules can also be used for hydrogen cars. We are ready to engage in the up-and-coming hydrogen economy,â€™â€™ said Kim, who is in charge of the firmâ€™s module business division.
Hyundai Motor has already showcased a few hydrogen car prototypes during the past few years. The firm is ready to commercially market them when the demand for such cars sprouts up.
Hydrogen cars are equipped with a fuel cell, the electrochemical energy conversion device that produces electricity. Water is the only emission from the exhaust pipe of a hydrogen-powered car.
Competition ahead of the prospective swelling of the hydrogen economy is taking place across the board, and Hyundai Mobis is jockeying to remain ahead of the pack under its alliance with its sister firms at Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors.
On the back of such maneuvering, Hyundai Mobis seeks to double its sales from the current 15 trillion won ($12.5 billion) to 30 trillion won over the second decade of the new millennium.
The Seoul-headquartered company is well aware that the outfit has no choice but to substantially crank up investment in research to attain the grandiose scheme during the next 10 years.
“In order to be better prepared for the exploding market of highly advanced and eco-friendly cars, we are set to generate a blueprint involving as much as 550 technologies including those for plug-in hybrids and fuel cell electric cars, to name a few,â€™â€™ Hyundai Mobis spokesman Park Se-hwan said.
“To achieve this, we aim to jack up our investment in research and development from 35 billion won to 65 billion won by 2015. We also plan to separate the centralized research center into three entities.â€™â€™
The countryâ€™s largest auto parts manufacturer predicts that the doubled sales would be enough to help the firm to join the ranks of the worldâ€™s top five players.
“Recently, U.S. magazine Automotive News ranked Hyundai Mobis 12th among global components producers in terms of 2009 turnover,â€™â€™ Park said. “In my view, this bodes well for reaching our 2020 target of becoming one of the top five global auto parts makers.â€™â€™
Another focus of Hyundai Mobis, which was set up 33 years ago as Hyundai Precision Industry, is the development of high-tech components as the proportion of advanced electronic components continues to rise.
Included in such cutting-edge technologies of the corporation are motor driven power steering, smart cruise control, lane-keeping assist systems and tire-pressure monitoring systems.
These technologies help motorists remain alert and ensure safety even when drivers make minor mistakes.
“All the-top-end systems are already featured in upscale vehicles based on foreign platforms. Since most of them are expected to become the norm for all the cars down the road, we are working on developing indigenous models,â€™â€™ Park said.
“To climb the ladder in the saturated auto parts industry, we are required to have a firm grip on the fast-changing trends and be fully prepared. Under such a mindset, weâ€™re going all-out to nudge past our rivals in the potential-loaded eco-friendly electronic parts sector.â€™â€™
Hyundai Mobis currently supplies after-service parts for a total of 166 models of Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors worldwide. It has 18 supply hubs to offer its products to over 10,000 dealerships in 201 countries.
Included on its customersâ€™ list are such global behemoths as BMW and Daimler on top of Hyundai and Kia. Recently, it provides chassis modules, the semi-assembled main frame of cars that are cranked out at its Michigan factories, to Chrysler.