The Indian automotive industry, along with other countries around the worlds is moving away from Internal Combustion (IC) engines. India is promoting the use of electric and hybrid vehicles to save the air. Although infrastructure for the use of such vehicles is at a nascent stage, an increasing number of new car buyers are considering electric vehicles.
Hybrid vehicles are a good alternative too, but what is shying away customers is the prices post-GST, that have made hybrid vehicles expensive. But one company, nestled away in the industrial area of Bangalore, Whitefield, has come up with an ingenious solution to turn any vehicles to a hybrid one. Wait, what?
That's right, Altigreen, a startup based in Bangalore has come up with something called the Hybrid Power Intelligent Exchange Drive (HyPixi) system, that can turn any vehicle that uses a traditional IC engine into a hybrid vehicle. The retrofit – HyPixi – is approved by ARAI, and tests have proved an increase in mileage and reduction of pollution.
DriveSpark recently had an opportunity to speak with Shalendra Gupta, the Co-Founder and CFO of Altigreen, to know more and clear doubts that most of you already have. Let's get on with the conversation.
Firstly, why choose to go for a hybrid system instead of something fully electric?
Everything we do is electric, our systems, research, development, and what ever we have created is all-electric. Let's start from a few years ago, 2011 - 12, when we started, we realised that we needed to do something about air pollution because a significant number of people are dying due to air pollution, while 25 percent of air pollution is attributed to road transport.
When looking at such figures, the first thing that comes to mind is to convert everything to electric. But, think of it, if we convert all vehicles to run on electric power, we will be responsible for more pollution than what IC engine vehicles are now producing.
That's because 85 percent of all electricity produced in India is from coal, even as per the latest (FY 2016 - 17) government statistics. This is an extremely polluting source of energy. Then, combining other factors, it turns out that electric cars are not green. We are shifting the source of pollution from a car's tail pipe to a place where electricity is being generated.
While the long-term proposition still stands valid as road transport has to be electric, we have to think about other factors too, such as where we get electricity from. Hydropower is a renewable source, so is wind and solar power, but we have a long way to go. When they take on a prominent role, then we can say electric cars are green.
Another issue is charging infrastructure. Take a taxi company for example that has 1000 electric cars in its fleet. Where can the cars be charged? Will all the drivers have a parking spot in his hose to charge the electric car? How can the vehicle be charged overnight? If a person buys an electric car and can't charge it, there's no use. We needed a system to reduce pollution immediately, hence the idea of converting vehicles to hybrids.
Coming to the HyPixi, a hybrid device such as this would need approvals from authorities. How did that go about?
Yes, the HyPixi needed approvals from authorities. We were instrumental and worked with certification agencies to create standards, under which the approvals would take place. Agencies took our inputs and from other places before the government gave us the approval for retro fitment. Our systems have undergone almost 55 different tests; individual parts have been tested.
The HyPixi is now approved under the central motor vehicle rules, which allow us to sell the product in the market. The HyPixi system is approved by ARAI, by us, and our customers.
Retro fitting anything to a vehicle does add on weight as well. So how much extra weight does the HyPixi add on?
When you compare the weight addition of the HyPixi in comparison to the entire vehicle is negligible. The entire system weighs the same as an average person (60 to 80kg), and the system has been designed to distribute the weight across the car. We also own patents on how to position such a system correctly in a vehicle so that it does not impact any other component or system in a vehicle.
The HyPixi system uses lead acid batteries at the moment. Does that bring in the concern regarding acid spillage that might do damages?
People could have a concern regarding acid spillage. An important factor is that lead acid batteries have been around for a long time. They have constantly been improved on too. Today, a lead acid battery can be recycled (especially in India) and have also come to a stage where there is no spillage.
One of the tests the batteries underwent was a nail penetration test - a long nail is hammered through the battery to see what happens. They were safe. Exide, our battery supplier, has undergone such tests and they also provide us with warranty for their use in HyPixi. I can strongly say that there's no spillage and the batteries are safe.
The entire system (HyPixi) was tested on a defence track as they test new vehicles to see if the batteries have moved or tilted. Our design is planned accordingly, and the tests proved that the batteries did not even move a fraction of a centimetre in any direction.
That said, there are limitations to lead acid batteries; however, we are not restricted. Our technology goes beyond lithium-ion batteries as well. But again, lithium-ion batteries have severe limitations, such as overheating and the necessary cooling system. We, however, are trying to leapfrog lithium-ion batteries to super capacitors, which are currently being tested.
Can the HyPixi power a car in pure electric mode?
On a retrofit basis, no. An extremely high engineering talent is required to develop this product. When you pop open the hood of a diesel car, there's hardly any space in the engine bay. In a motor, power is the function of space, and more power requires bigger volume. We have worked hard to increase the power level to a point where we can add value to the vehicle. It is not feasible to make the HyPixi drive the vehicle on its own on a retrofit basis.
We are working with OEMs to reposition certain components in the engine bay to accommodate motors of different sizes which can help give the car pure electric driving propulsion before the IC engine kicks in. We are also working with an OEM (name cannot be revealed!) to come up with a fully electric vehicle.
How did OEMs welcome HyPixi?
Some OEMs did give us the vibe as to how a small startup such as us can improve a vehicle that has been build with a lot of R&D over many decades. There are some OEMs who did recognize the value of HyPixi and worked with us. To clarify thoughts, OEMs approached us not the other way around.
We are happy that one OEM in three categories has come to us, despite having big R&Ds. This is turning out to be a great partnership. We are developing the electric side of the vehicle, and they are bringing their experience gained over decades, which will surely result in some good vehicles.
Can the Hypixi be fitted on a vehicle straight? Will I need any certificates?
Yes, the HyPixi can be fitted straight on, post a basic inspection to see if the vehicle is BS-III or BS-IV, kilometers the vehicle has run, and a few more things to ensure the vehicle can take this mod. The HyPixi comprises four essential elements including a wiring harness that bolts on. Regarding certificates, we have already done all the necessary paperwork with related authorities.
So when a vehicle needs to be fitted with HyPixi, the installer would give you a set of papers that would need to be filed with the concerned RTO, which needs to be endorsed with your vehicle's certificate of registration.
Can the system be used to give vehicles a boost in power?
Yes, it can, but not with the current setup. A system to boost a vehicle's power needs a different set of certification, and we are currently working with an OEM on precisely that, to help the car be more performance oriented.