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November 23, 2006

RESEARCH ANALYSIS: Prospects for hybrids in Europe constrained by diesel

While petrol-electric hybrids such as the Toyota Prius are proving popular in the US, prospects for the vehicles in Europe are constrained by the established role of diesels in providing similar fuel economy benefits at lower cost.

While petrol-electric hybrids such as the Toyota Prius are proving popular in the US, prospects for the vehicles in Europe are constrained by the established role of diesels in providing similar fuel economy benefits at lower cost.

That is one of the key findings of a research report on the global light-duty engines sector published by just-auto.com.

The report notes that while improvements in economy of up to 15% are claimed by petrol-electric hybrids, the additional complexity of hybrid powertrains drives up their cost. Thus to the calculating consumer, it may be some time before a hybrid’s superior fuel economy offsets its higher first cost.

The argument closely parallels that for and against the diesel engine, which likewise costs significantly more than its petrol equivalent by virtue of needing to withstand higher internal stresses and of its more complex, ultra high pressure fuel system.

But the report says it is an argument that the diesel seems largely to have won in Europe, partly because pump fuel prices (including tax) are so high, magnifying the benefit of its superior economy, and partly because the technical development of diesel powertrains has overcome almost all the operating drawbacks of which they were once accused.

However, the report also says that the logical conclusion is that a diesel-electric hybrid should offer the best fuel economy of all.

PSA Peugeot Citroen has suggested that so long as the purchase price margin of a diesel-electric hybrid over a conventional diesel is about the same as the diesel’s margin over a petrol powertrain, then the consumer will see the diesel hybrid as economically viable and a hybrid sector can flourish.

The French company has set itself the target of achieving this by 2010.

Report author Jeff Daniels said: “It seems unlikely that hybrids in Europe will take off until diesel-electric hybrids are commercially available. But it remains to be seen whether they can be offered at the right price.

“PSA’s analysis suggests that a target premium for diesel-electric hybrids over diesels is around 2,000 euros – a figure that it is believed the consumer will be prepared to pay.”

For more details of the full just-auto.com report, ‘Global market review of light-duty vehicle powertrains – forecasts to 2014’, please click here.

Dave Leggett

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