The stage is set for a fierce battle at the 2010 Paris Motor Show, which opens to the public on Oct. 2.
In the age of global warming, major global automakers are fighting over which company has the right technology to deliver all the power and style required by modern drivers, while emitting the least amount of carbon.
Peugeot-Citroen, Europe’s second largest automaker, says it has the answer with diesel-electric technology. The company will show a near-production version of the Peugeot 3008 HYbrid 4, a crossover vehicle that uses a 2.0-liter diesel engine to provide 163 horsepower to the front wheels, and an electric motor to supply 37 hp to the rear wheels.
Add it up, and you get a four-wheel-drive wagon-like utility vehicle that offers 200 horsepower while promising better than 60 mpg on a European test cycle. But does it pencil out in terms of economics?
The 3008 hybrid, which goes on sale next spring, will start somewhere around $40,000, compared with about $30,000 for the basic gasoline version. “We’re convinced customers will be prepared to pay more for diesel hybrids because the price-gap is justified by their functionality and fuel efficiency,” Vincent Besson, Peugeot’s product director, told Bloomberg. There are no plans to bring the vehicle to the United States.
By 2020, Peugeot-Citroen predicts that gas-electric and diesel-electric hybrids will account for 10 percent of all new-car sales in Europe. “Hybrids have a big future because they’re much more versatile than electric cars,” Besson said.
Electricity in the Air
Not so fast says Nissan-Renault. The company believes that rising oil prices will instead push Europe’s 4 million annual subcompact buyers—about half of them—to electric cars within a decade.
Renault, Nissan’s sister company, is set to launch not one, but a family of four electric cars in the next two years. The lineup includes a sedan, a mini-car, a city car, and a light commercial van. Renault claims the electric Fluence sedan will be cheaper than the equivalent gasoline car. Mercedes, Tesla, and Mitsubishi are among the other companies displaying electric cars in Paris.
Meanwhile, Toyota apparently doesn’t share the same optimism for either diesel-electrics or pure electric cars. According to Toyota Europe Vice President Michel Gardel, hybridizing a vehicle with an expensive diesel engine is too costly. In Paris, Toyota instead will show a prototype of a small hybrid city-car planned for 2012. (Honda will also unveil the hybrid version of the Jazz—sold as the Honda Fit in the U.S. The Jazz Hybrid will be introduced in Europe early next year.) Get the scale up and the costs down on conventional gas hybrids is the key.
Toyota’s confidence in plain old gas-electric hybrids is supported by reaction to the Toyota Auris hybrid compact. It was introduced to Europe in July, and has already sold out its planned 2010 production of 14,000 cars. Keep in mind that the French government offers a 2,000-euro incentive for hybrids and 5,000 euros for electric cars. That puts the electric-drive vehicles at an advantage over straight diesel.
While each automaker is claiming its solution as the answer, we expect all kinds of mixing and matching of the various technologies.
For example, Peugeot is hinting that it has a plug-in diesel-electric in the works. In other words, it’s the ultimate convergence between electric and diesel-electric and hybrid. We might not see a Peugeot diesel-electric plug-in for a few years. In the meantime, General Motors will be showing the European version of the Chevy Volt—the Opel Ampera—in Paris. The Ampera’s system is built with the flexibility to one day use an efficiency diesel engine to supply energy to its electric drive system.