MAIN STORY: Is your car becoming a liability? Is the unpredictable fuel price surprising your pocket? Or, maybe you’re worried that your car is contributing to carbon emission.

Even if these do not concern you, you would want a car that is just sleek and smart. That much is certain.

Auto industry worldwide has evolved and the manufacturers best know what drivers really need. Driving now is not just manoeuvring but doing so with some fun. The environment element is also gaining increasingly prominence.

Electric vehicles are here. Battery range has, however, created a sort of anxiety when it comes to making purchase decision. It’s the hybrid car that wraps environmentally-friendly synergy drive minus the range anxiety. So says the hybrid car dealers.

A hybrid vehicle uses two or more distinct types of power such as internal combustion engine and electric motor.

How does a hybrid automobile work?

It combines the power of a combustion engine with the electric motor. Most hybrid cars are fuel-electric hybrids.

In the Bhutanese roads, hybrid cars are just a handful despite tax breaks the government provides for the hybrid and electric vehicles. The hybrid brands here are cars like Toyota Prius, Prius C, Camry, and Honda Insight.

Honda vehicle dealer, Dhejung motors, sold seven units of Honda Insight between 2010 and 2011. Since then, however, they haven’t bought any new hybrid cars. In fact, Honda has not manufactured any new hybrid car after it first product-Insight.

“It’s difficult to market these hybrid cars in Bhutan due to its higher initial cost, it’s too expensive for a small car,” Dhejung Honda, sales manager said. “Not many people seem to be concerned about the environment.”

Sonam Dorji, a businessman, aspires to drive a hybrid car one day. More than the environment, he is into the economical aspects of savings from fuel.

“My friends told me that the fuel saving won’t be substantial given the higher initial cost,” he said. “But this is not going to influence my decision.”  In fact there are lot more to look for in hybrid cars.

Be it road performance, safety, or compatibility with latest gadgets, hybrid cars are built smart.

For instance, if you are drunk and driving a Mitsubishi outlander PHEV, press a button and you will reach home safe. The forward collision mitigation (FCM) button will activate an alarm when you approach closer to another vehicle.

Likewise, Toyota Camry has three-zone temperature controls for driver, front seat passenger and rear seat passengers, emitting nano-particles coated with water layer.

There are also features like automatic speed adjustment. Set a speed and drivers can just let their foot go from the accelerator, the car will still travel at the speed set.

In all hybrids, drivers can regulate the use electric motors and combustion depending on the need. When the battery runs low, the fuel power will take over the car and help recharge the battery on its own.

State Trading Corporation of Bhutan Limited (STCBL), the authorized Toyota dealers, promises a mileage of 35 KM a litre out of its Prius C.

So, driving a Pruis C from Thimphu to Phuentsholing will cost you five litres of petrol.

The PHEV- one step ahead

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) is more advanced than hybrid vehicle, where drivers can charge the battery from a home socket and also fuel it like other cars.

There is good news: Mitsubishi outlander PHEV is here. It is no ordinary car.

The front wheels are driven by a conventional 2.0-litre petrol engine plus an electric motor and the rear wheels are turned by another electric motor. In other words it is an electric four wheel drive SUV, very suitable for Bhutanese roads.

Most of the time, the petrol engine works like a generator recharging the batteries that power the electric motors. Electrical power is also generated when the vehicle brakes or decelerates. When more power is needed, perhaps for overtaking, or when the batteries run low, the engine also drives the front wheels. At a high speed, the engine provides most of the power.

The Outlander is also capable of running on electric power alone for up to 40km. If your journeys are short and the engine has had little opportunity to recharge the batteries, they can be fully recharged from a domestic electrical power socket or quick chargers that has been recently launched in the country.

Travelling long distance? Drive the outlander for 40km on electric power and when the battery runs low, the car switches to fuel mode and in an hour recharges the battery again preparing for another 40km electric drive.

It gives a mileage of 1.9 liters per 100km, the most efficient. You can do a round trip to Phuentsholing with just five to six liters of petrol.

Even as the government promotes clean transport, takers of both electric and hybrid vehicles are handful, sadly and car dealers a having difficult time marketing. There is only one reason causing this situation-the higher initial price that might even net off the fuel savings in short-run. Environment alone is not reason enough to promote these technologies.

There are hopes that global evolution in technology could cut the production cost and thus lower the market price.

Tshering Dorji

Additional reporting by 

Thinley Zangmo