German carmakers wake up to hybrid technology

14th September 2005, Comments 0 comments

14 September 2005, FRANKFURT - Many German car buyers shrug their shoulders at the mention of "hybrid" vehicles. Cars with a petrol engine augmented by an electric motor are virtually unknown in Germany.

14 September 2005

FRANKFURT - Many German car buyers shrug their shoulders at the mention of "hybrid" vehicles. Cars with a petrol engine augmented by an electric motor are virtually unknown in Germany.

In stark contrast to the United States, there are exactly 2,096 hybrid vehicles on German roads out of a total of 45.4 million cars, according to the Federal Office of Transport. This represents a minimal proportion of below 0.1 per cent.

Yet the situation may change. At the international car show IAA taking place in Frankfurt this week, German manufacturers are now entering the race for cars with a double engine beneath the bonnet.

No manufacturer can afford not to, according to Eric Heyman, automobile expert at Deutsche Bank. The new trend is being driven by the high price of petrol and the hysteria about fine dust particles in diesel fuel.

Studies suggest that hybrid motors will attain a market share of up to two per cent in a couple of years. The management consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers predict world-wide sales of approximately one million hybrid vehicles in 2010.

The success of Japanese companies has caused German manufacturers to make a radical change in course. For years the economy motor was scorned, with manufacturers banking on efficient diesel-engined cars.

Since the beginning of the 90s, this has enabled a reduction in the average fuel consumption of commercial vehicles by two litres, to 6.8 litres per 100 kilometres.

Yet hybrid vehicles have found increasing numbers of buyers, particularly in the United States. German brands were left standing by the pioneers, Toyota and Honda.

Toyota has achieved record sales in the United States with its Prius hybrid and plans to sell a total of 360,000 of the model worldwide this year.

The hybrid wave is now in motion and has encompassed all the German brands. At the IAA, DaimlerChrysler presented two S-class vehicle designs with hybrid motors, one a diesel and one a petrol- engined model. Audi intends to offer the new Q7 sports all-terrain vehicle as a hybrid as standard from 2008 onwards.

Even the Cayenne sports car from Porsche will be equipped with a double motor from the end of the decade. Honda and Toyota have now been offering such vehicles for years, whereas the Germans are predominantly only showing prototypes at the IAA.

Amidst the general excitement, the advantages offered by hybrids can easily be exaggerated. In stop-and-go city traffic they are approximately a third more fuel efficient, with motorway consumption higher than in the city.

The main criticism levelled at the hybrids is that the advertised consumption figures do not match the true consumption figure, especially on long runs.

In a recent 5,200 kilometre coast-to-coast trip conducted by Germany's Auto Bild newspaper in the U.S., a Mercedes ML 320 CDI diesel beat a hybrid Lexus RX 400 H. The Mercedes diesel averaged a consumption of 9.1 litres per 100 kilometres while the Lexus hybrid recorded a fuel consumption of 10.2 litres.

Hybrid vehicles convert braking energy in order to recharge the battery, which is then used for an electric drive during travel.

"It is an ideological question," according to Rolf Woller, automobile analyst at the HypoVereinsbank. "Hybrids are not superior to diesel vehicles either in terms of consumption or of exhaust emissions."

According to current estimates, a hybrid uses 20 per cent less fuel than a petrol-engined car - i.e. as much as a diesel vehicle.

"However the development costs for two motors are twice as high," according to Olivier Veyrier, head of Peugeot-Deutschland. "Diesel is the best solution in the medium term."

Yet the purchaser will notice the difference: whereas a diesel is 3,000 euros (3,750 dollars) more expensive than a petrol-driven car, the price difference is 5,000 euros for a hybrid.

Some car makers are settling for other alternatives. Volkswagen is exhibiting a new motor at the IAA, one which "unites maximum power and minimum consumption in a petrol engine."

TSI technology combines a compressor with an exhaust turbocharger, which considerably reduces consumption. Using this technology, the new Golf GT is claimed to use only 7.2 litres of Super over 100 kilometres at 170 HP.

Opel, the market leader in the natural gas segment is banking on the gas-powered alternative with its new small van, the Zafira. Natural gas has the advantage for the consumer that there are already more than 600 gas filling stations and the vehicles will be tax- exempt until 2020.

Already, 8,421 natural gas powered cars have been registered in Germany, which is four times as many as there are hybrid vehicles.


Subject: German news

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