While there are a wide variety of alternative fuel vehicles on the market today, experts still attempt to predict how these types of vehicles will fare in future markets. Recently, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released a report called The Cars of the Future, which examines how well alternative fuel vehicles will sell over the next 25 years. According to their projections, alternative fuel light-duty vehicles could hold a nearly 50 percent market share by 2035.
In order to understand this prediction, it is important to know what types of vehicles are considered alternative fuel. The EIA has used the following alternative fuel vehicles to make this future sales forecast: flex-fuel, mild hybrid, hybrid gasoline/diesel electric, plug-in hybrid electric, gaseous, electric and fuel cell.
In its report, the EIA states that in 2008, alternative fuel light-duty vehicles held a 13 percent market share with 80 percent of these vehicles using flex-fuel. It should come as no surprise, then, that the EIA predicts that flex-fuel will continue to dominate the alternative fuel vehicle market but that the United States will see an increase in mild hybrid electric vehicles on the market.
The EIA defines a mild hybrid as a vehicle that uses “a gasoline engine with a larger battery and electrically powered auxiliary systems that allow the engine to be turned off when the vehicle is coasting or idle and then be quickly restarted. These vehicles are recharged using regenerative braking but do not provide electric traction to support motive power to the vehicle.” In other words, the vehicles cannot operate in electric-only mode. The Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid is one example of a mild hybrid available in today’s market.
Following just behind the mild hybrid electric vehicles are those that have a full hybrid electric system. The report shows that by 2035, hybrid electrics will have about a 10 percent market share, which is what General Motors CEO Bob Lutz predicted. However, when combining the mild hybrid and full hybrid figures, the total market share for all hybrid models is predicted to be closer to 22 percent.
The remaining vehicle types discussed in this report will only account for about 7 percent of alternative fuel vehicle sales in 2035 if this forecast holds true. Fuel cell, fully electric, and gaseous-powered vehicle sales are expected to be minimal, at best.
In discussing their forecast for future alternative fuel vehicle sales, the EIA notes that improved fuel efficiency among traditional gasoline-powered vehicles will impede the sales of flex-fuel, hybrids, and vehicles powered with other alternative technologies.
However, the EIA is also quick to point out that a 25-year forecast is highly uncertain, at best. There are many factors that will play into how these types of vehicles perform in a future market including advanced technologies, financial incentives for purchasing alternative-fuel vehicles, and of course the oil market itself.