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2007 Opel Corsa Hybrid ECOflex Concept

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2007 Opel Corsa Hybrid ECOflex Concept

Has hybrid technology lost its plot? Surely the days of the first Prius and the Insight should refresh the memories of these small battery-assisted oddities, which put fuel consumption as their top priority. But where did the business of maximum fuel economy go? The push for hybrids has strayed from the vehicles that served as the technology's Petri dish. The biggest purveyors of hybrids are in the luxury car segment with Lexus and Mercedes-Benz. Failing that, it's the giant sport utility vehicles and quarter ton pickup trucks.

It may be true then that the biggest and heaviest vehicles on the road might have the most to gain by adopting hybrid technology, but in a sense, just like energy conserving appliances and other green devices, it gives us the mental appeasement that our savings can go towards something bigger, stronger or faster. It's funny then that the latest trend in green technology isn't simply for automakers to go for more hybrids, but to make the most out of what's currently available, such as BMW's Efficient Dynamics or Volvo's C30 Efficiency Concept.

General Motors hasn't seemed to have lost the initial idea, incidentally, especially not its European arm. One car that will be displayed at the upcoming Frankfurt Motor Show under the new ECOflex product initiative is the Corsa Hybrid, a subcompact model that's been converted to run on diesel and electricity.

The Corsa Hybrid is based very closely on the recently introduced Corsa 1.3 CDTI turbodiesel, and with 73 horsepower it's a very efficient vehicle to begin with. On the European fuel economy cycle, it's capable of squeezing 52 miles per gallon out and emits just 6.8 oz/mi of carbon dioxide in the five-door body style. However, with the Hybrid components added, the Corsa is now capable of traveling 63 mpg, and reduces its CO2 emission count to 5.6 oz/mi.

For those that don't believe such a figure is attainable, I recently drove a Mitsubishi Colt DI-D over the course of five days. Driven in the city and on the highway, the little 1.5-liter three-cylinder returned an average of 53 mpg. It did require a bit of alteration in my driving style to achieve this thrifty number, such as slower acceleration, upshifting very early and abiding by the speed limits, but my reward was at the pump. With an even smaller engine and hybrid technology, I have no doubts that the Corsa Hybrid can match the 63 mpg claim.

The hybrid technology that the Corsa employs is not a "full" hybrid system, capable of running on electricity alone, but a mild type that simply assists the engine, sort of like what Saturn has been using in its Vue and in its Aura. It's not the exact same system however, as it uses the next generation of Belt Assisted Starter (BAS) to provide the electrical assistance. While actual output hasn't been released, the electric motor does give the Corsa a bit of an extra push, which is likely to be needed since the diesel motor on its own isn't very powerful. Like all other hybrids, the Corsa also shuts itself off when it comes to a stop, and starts up the second the driver lifts his or her foot off the brake pedal. Oh, and the Corsa Hybrid has a lithium-ion battery, something we've yet to see in a production hybrid. This gives the battery pack the ability to provide more juice, recharge faster and last longer. It's also a sign that GM is onto something for the Volt, which is slated to use this type of battery. Lithium batteries are also less expensive to produce, theoretically, and compared to Nickel Metal Hydride batteries, are friendlier to the environment when produced (nickel smelting is an ugly business).

There are some other changes that have been made to the Corsa in order to optimize its fuel economy. Opel tinkered around with the gearbox and fitted longer gear ratios to help reduce the engine's thirst when traveling on the highway. There are some negative repercussions though; it takes 14.6 seconds to hit 62 mph from stop and tops out at a measly 101 mph, though fuel economy is probably very, very good when traveling even at those speeds. To help drivers make the most of the engine's torque and drive in its most efficient power band, Opel has even shaded off an area in the rev counter in green in order to help driver's become more green-minded and shift earlier.

Edited by PurdueGuy

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