New research undertaken by the U.S. Department of Energy has found that hybrid cars are significantly more fuel-efficient in India and China than they are in the U.S., a result that has prompted the Government of India to “take note” of the study as the country is “on the brink of experiencing an explosion in the sales of personal vehicles.”

Recent papers published by the DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California discovered that the same road conditions that can make driving so frustrating in India, including heavy traffic, aggressive driving style, and few highways, “makes them ideal for saving fuel with hybrid vehicles.”

Lead researcher on the study Anand Gopal described the traffic in India as “pretty slow, pretty crazy, always congested,” which in technical terms implied frequent starting and stopping, considerable time spent idling, and low percentage of time spent on highways. Yet each of these patterns of traffic helped hybrids save additional fuel.

Berkeley Lab scientists Samveg Saxena, who also worked on the project, explained that hybrids achieved this fuel saving though regenerative braking, the option to turn off the engine when the car is stopped or in low-power condition, and additionally the hybrid system itself, comprising the electric motor and the batteries.

When the scientists, simulated drive cycles in two Indian cities, New Delhi and Pune, based on published studies and the Modified Indian Drive Cycle, they obtained “engineering results [that] were a little surprising,” that driving a hybrid would achieve fuel savings of about 47 to 48 per cent over a conventional car in India and about 53 to 55 per cent in China.

Contrarily in the U.S. hybrids are rated to produce a fuel savings of about 40 per cent over their conventional counterparts, the scientists noted, despite which hybrid and electric vehicles currently have a tiny share of the market in India and China and are seen as a higher-end product.

The Indian government has not missed the importance of these findings, and Ambuj Sharma, Additional Secretary of India’s Department of Heavy Industry said, “This research performed by Berkeley Lab has helped us understand in much better detail the real-world value of electric vehicles to India… and has given a greater impetus and importance to the National Mission on Electric Mobility.”

The Government in 2013 launched a national plan with the goal of getting six to seven million hybrid and electric vehicles on the road by 2020, and has already begun working with the Berkeley Lab to further analyse their results.

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