Peugeot's Diesel Hybrid Aims to Better the Atkinson Diet
by: Martin Schwoerer
One of the great things about the new electric age is the variety of new technologies on the horizon. Instead of the old dichotomy of gasoline versus diesel, the consumer will have a choice of all kinds of batteries, all kinds of engines, and all kinds of approaches. Case in point: Peugeot's 3008 HYbrid 4, set to be sold from early 2011 onwards.
Toyota's Prius uses an extremely clever system involving an Atkinson-cycle engine which is supported by an electric motor fed by Nickel-Metall hybrid batteries. Atkinson engines are very parsimonious but have low torque, while electric propulsion has quite high torque at all speeds. The result, when delivered through a sophisticated energy management system, is high fuel economy at all speeds, little wasted energy through regenerative braking, and enough power.
In Europe however, the Prius is not so popular, because it is considered to be not particularly economical at high autobahn speeds. The verdict among the motoring press: for everyday use, a good Diesel is almost as good as a Prius -- at a lower price, and at lower level of complexity.
This verdict may be the result of national prejudices and of a "wasn't invented here" mentality. It may also mirror weaknesses that the third-generation Prius no longer has. Nonetheless, European car makers think they can do better.
In any case, Peugeot's Diesel-hybrid technology is intriguing. Here's what it involves. A modern, 2-Liter Diesel engine with 163 HP and 300 Nm of torque, connected to a conventional 6-speed automatic transmission feeding the front axle. An electric motor on the rear axle coupled to Nickel-metal hybrid batteries similar to those of the Prius. There is no mechanical connection between the front and rear-axle propulsion systems. They can operate independently of each other or together, in which case they deliver a combined 200 HP and a whopping 500 Nm of torque.
The advantages of this system are obvious. You have 4WD for great traction under all conditions (the Prius has a known traction weakness in winter weather conditions). You have the great autobahn fuel economy of a Diesel engine. You have the silent, zero-emission capabilities of electric propulsion up to a speed of 60 km/h (albeit only for a maximum distance of 4.5 km). Peugeot is targeting a fuel consumption of 3.8 L/100 KM (61.9 MPG US) in the standard European cycle, and CO2 emissions of merely 99 g/KM. All this in a large, roomy family car -- Peugeot calls the 3008 a "tall MPV" -- that delivers excellent performance and AWD.
The Peugeot system has inherent disadvantages, though. Modern, cleanish Diesels are expensive to build. Add an electric system, and you have two sophisticated modes of propulsion that may cost more than the market can bear. In particular, it might be difficult for a not-quite premium brand such as Peugeot to ask for premium prices. But if Peugeot can offer the 3008 HYbrid 4 at an acceptable price, and build the cars at a level of quality and reliability comparable to Toyota, then the market is likely to reward this first example of Diesel-hybrid technology.
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