Potential of Diesel-Hybrids Is Limited by High Cost
Peugeot announced this week that it sold out the first run of its 3008 Hybrid4 Limited Edition diesel-hybrid in just nine days. Is this a sign that hybrids using an efficient diesel engine, instead of a gas engine, are ready for prime time? Not at all.
Yes, a diesel-hybrid can boost fuel-efficiency past the level of today’s most gas-sipping hybrids. In fact, hybrids designed to achieve at least 80 mpg were shown as best-case fuel-efficiency models under the U.S. government’s 1990s program—the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles. Those models were never put into production.
Ever since Peugeot unveiled a concept version of the 3008 HYbrid in Paris in 2008, the automaker has said the diesel-hybrid will produce just 99 grams per kilometer of CO2, while delivering 200 horsepower. The car’s 2.0-liter diesel provides 163 horsepower to the front wheels, and an electric motor supplies 37 hp to the rear wheels.
The problem is that diesel-hybrids move the wrong direction down the hybrid cost curve. Toyota, Honda, Ford and others are seeking to reduce the cost of hybrids as a way to deploy the technology to as many models as possible, at the lowest possible cost to consumers.
The next wave of hybrid and electric cars should not be positioned as expensive and exotic vehicles—geared only to the most motivated early adopters. Yet, the Peugeot 3008 HYbrid—a vehicle that measures in length between a Honda Fit and Honda Civic—is selling for about $58,000. With diesel-hybrids, the extra cost of the hybrid system and the diesel system are doubled up. The company sold out in nine days, but the total run of 3008 HYbrids offered in 11 different European countries was 300 units—the same scale as several pilot programs for fuel cell, plug-in hybrid and electric cars.
Peugeot is not alone in talking about future diesel-hybrids. Mitsubishi, Volvo and Daimler have all shown prototypes. Dr. Christian Mohrdieck, Daimler’s director of battery drive development, told HybridCars.com last week that Mercedes will bring a diesel-hybrid market in the next couple of years.
That means we should expect more press releases about new concept diesel-hybrids and low-volume production cars. These should be viewed with interest, but not a lot of hope for a scalable green strategy—especially when viewed next to the hundred of thousands of gas-powered hybrids and the many thousands of electric cars that will be sold in 2011.