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Frankfurt makers herald hybrid heroes

Hybrid hoo-ha: Mercedes-Benz presented one of two hybrid-powered S-class sedans at the Frankfurt motor show last week.

World’s top car-makers rush to reveal their hybrid vehicle visions for the future

19 Sep 2005

LAST week’s Frankfurt motor show opening provided conclusive proof that hybrid power will be the next battleground for Europe’s top car-makers.

Without exception, all of the major European manufacturers wheeled out or announced advanced new hybrid-powered vehicles – including petrol-electric versions of new SUVs that wowed crowds at the last Frankfurt show in 2003.

Perhaps the most exemplary indication of just how serious Europe is taking the hybrid push by Japanese marques led by Toyota and Honda was an announcement by Porsche that the hallowed sports car brand will produce a hybrid version of its Cayenne SUV by 2010.

To be developed jointly with the Volkswagen Group, the system will comprise an electric engine that can operate both independently from, or together with, a petrol combustion engine.

A similar such system will be developed via another joint-venture agreement between BMW, DaimlerChrysler and General Motors.

The traditional arch-rivals last week announced an unprecedented collaboration to produce performance-oriented petrol-electric hybrid technology using their own respective combustion engines.

Companies like BMW believe petrol-electric hybrids will be an interim measure before infrastructure is in place to supply dedicated hydrogen (or "bi-fuel") powered engines.

It says hydrogen-powered conventional engines - such as the 6.0-litre V12 in BMW’s H2R Record Car, which last year set nine records at speeds of 300km/h and above – may be a better solution than hydrogen fuel cell cars. Either way, most makers believe that won’t become reality until beyond around 2020 or when enough refilling infrastucture is in place, but proof that commonplace petrol-electric technology is just around the corner can be found is a number of Frankfurt concepts.

BMW took the covers off a petrol-electric X3 in Frankfurt and has confirmed it will launch a dual-fuel hydrogen-petrol version of its 7 Series in Germany within 12 months as part of its development of hydrogen-fuelled internal combustion engines.

Audi proved how much importance it places on alternative engine technology by unveilling a hybrid version of its Q7 SUV, which also received its world debut at Frankfurt before going on sale here in late 2006.

Audi claims the Q7 "concept study" is an engineering first because it employs an FSI direct-injection engine – in this case a 257kW/440Nm 4.2-litre V8 – in concert with a driveline-integrated electric motor that adds up to an extra 32kW and 200Nm of torque.

Although destined for production, it’s also hoped the hybrid version will play a vital marketing role for Audi’s new Q7 – especially in its largest market, the US.

"For whatever reason, hybrid cars are hip and cool right now, especially in California, where you can also use them to drive in the express lanes," said Audi’s global sales and marketing chief Ralph Weyler.

The Q7 hybrid is claimed to be 13 per cent more fuel efficient than its petrol equivalent and still sprints to 100km/h in just 6.8 seconds.

But even though it sips just 12L/100km it’s not as frugal as the diesel version and – because it weighs 2410kg - is still more than three times as thirsty as a Toyota Prius.

However, diesel is not widely used by passenger car drivers in the US.

"It's not the fuel consumption world champion but it was never designed for that," says Mr Weyler.

4 center imageOver at the Mercedes-Benz stand, the German giant showcased two hybrid concepts based on the brand’s new S-class luxury sedan flagship, which made its public debut at Frankfurt and goes on sale here early next year, initially only in S500 V8 guise.

The S350 hybrid is powered by a 3.5-litre petrol V6 which combines with an electric motor to produce 221kW and 395Nm of torque.

Dubbed "Direct Hybrid", the system was shown alongside a "Bluetec Hybrid" powered S320, which features Mercedes’ new 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 and an electric motor, together delivering 179kW and a muscular 575Nm of torque.

The company claims the S350 is capable of sprinting to 100km/h in a spritely 7.2 seconds, yet consumes an average of only 7.7 litres of fuel.

The S320, meantime, offers 0-100km/h acceleration in 7.5 seconds and burns 8.3L/100km, which also represents a saving of about 25 per cent over their pure petrol and diesel counterparts.

According to Mercedes-Benz, while hydrogen power remains the most meritorious alternative technology in the long-term, "the internal combustion engine will continue to play a major role over the medium term.

"(Diesel and petrol power) will therefore remain a central focus for the efforts of the Mercedes engineers in the coming years.

"The objective is to make still further improvements in fuel consumption and environmental compatibility."

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