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IL Special Report: Inside the New Diesel Hybrids

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IL Special Report: Inside the New Diesel Hybrids

Date posted: 02-03-2006

PARIS — French automaker PSA Citroén has confirmed that it will have two diesel-electric hybrid vehicles in production by 2010. Inside Line had the opportunity to talk with executives behind the new cars and take a prototype out for a spin.

The European love affair with diesel power looks set to continue with the announcement that PSA Peugeot-Citroén will have two diesel-electric hybrid cars on the market in four years. The cars promise to cut fuel consumption by 28 percent compared with a conventional diesel.

According to PSA Executive Vice President of Innovation Robert Peugeot, a diesel-electric hybrid offers a number of advantages over a gas-electric hybrid, such as the Toyota Prius.

"The performance of a gasoline hybrid is similar to that of a standard diesel engine," says Peugeot, "but it's much more expensive to produce. Only by combining hybrid and diesel technology can we achieve a major improvement in fuel-efficiency, without compromising performance."

In contrast to the stand-alone Prius, PSA's diesel hybrid system will be incorporated into its existing lineup of compact cars. PSA has also opted to use a parallel hybrid system in place of the split transmission setup favored by Toyota. A parallel system is simpler and more cost-effective, but it makes it harder to harmonize the electric and internal combustion motors.

The PSA Hybride HDi system mates the 90-horsepower, 1.6-liter HDi engine familiar to European customers with a 23-kilowatt electric motor. The gearbox is an automated manual, with a computer-controlled hydraulic actuator taking the place of a clutch and gearstick.

The raw figures lend weight to Peugeot's argument. The C4/307 Hybride HDi's average consumption of 83.1 miles per metric gallon represents a 28-percent improvement on the standard HDi. The Prius achieves 65.7 mpg in the same conditions and emits more carbon dioxide — 104 g/km versus 90 g/km for the C4/307.

Inside Line had the chance to drive the car on a private test track near Paris. Several modes are available to the driver. In "SEV," the car is propelled solely by its electric motor and can achieve around 40 mph with a range of about 3 miles. The "dynamic" option harnesses the potential of both power plants and compromises economy in favor of performance.

The standard mode will be the most popular. At low speeds, such as in stop-and-go city driving, only the electric motor is used and the car is near silent. If greater acceleration is required, the HDi engine intervenes with impressive smoothness. Despite a 242-pound weight penalty, the hybrid car also outperforms its conventional sibling.

The only concern surrounds the gearbox, which is unacceptably jerky. Peugeot promises that improvements are on the way.

The company also accepts that the technology is currently too expensive. "We are a mass-market manufacturer and we need a three-fold reduction in costs to make the hybrid viable, but we are confident this can be achieved."

In Europe, customers will be expected to pay a premium of around $1,500 for a hybrid car, compared with a standard turbodiesel. That would still make the Citroén C4 around $7,000 cheaper than the similarly sized Prius.

These cars could be huge news in Europe where diesel models account for 50 percent of sales, but once again, the U.S. seems to be missing the diesel boat.

What This Means to You: The future may belong to diesel, but that fate might take awhile to sink in around the States.

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Link: http://www.edmunds.com/insideline/do/News/articleId=109163

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This may be one of the best hybrid ideas yet, and it makes the most sense. Diesels are very refined and of high quality now days, adn they're insanely efficient for their size.

Remember the Opel Astra Diesel Hybrid at the 2005 NAIAS?

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