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Hybrid alliance ignores RHD markets

SUV hybrid: The Dodge Durango will gain an alternate powertrain.

DaimlerChrysler powertrain chief says hybrid alliance is aimed at the United States

General News logo14 Sep 2006

THE first generation of petrol-electric hybrid vehicles derived from the billion-dollar alliance between DaimlerChrysler, BMW and General Motors will not be sold in Australia or other right-hand drive markets.

Despite claims that the advanced two-mode hybrid system – which will first appear in select vehicles for the US market from late next year – will be superior to technology offered by market leader Toyota, the executive director of hybrid powertrain programs for DaimlerChrysler Andreas Truckenbrodt admitted to GoAuto last week that the system was not engineered for RHD.

"We don’t have plans for that at the moment," he told GoAuto in Melbourne. "We have to say first our focus is certainly the US – and that’s left-hand drive – because the market pull and the market size is just much bigger." Dr Truckenbrodt also said "no decisions had been made" as to whether the second generation of the hybrid system, which is currently in development for vehicles emerging in 2012-13, would be built to include RHD – although he did add that there was some chance that could occur.

There now appears to be no short-term, or even medium-term, threat to the hybrid domination Toyota now enjoys in Australia and elsewhere at the prestige and luxury end of the market with its Lexus brand and models such as the GS450h sedan and the forthcoming RX400h SUV and LS600h limousine.

The first hybrids to emerge from DaimlerChrysler’s unlikely alliance with arch- rivals BMW and GM will be the latter’s Tahoe and Yukon SUVs during 2007 and, in 2008, the Chrysler Group’s Dodge Durango SUV.

BMW has not yet named a specific vehicle, although board member Burkhard Goeschel told GoAuto in July that its first hybrid was unlikely to appear before the end of the decade.

"We will have hybrids in the Chrysler brands and the Mercedes brand – and there will be a Mercedes also before 2010," Dr Truckenbrodt said.

He declined to nominate which Mercedes-Benz vehicles would benefit from the technology, however his acknowledgement that petrol rather than diesel had taken development precedence throws the spotlight on to the S350 hybrid shown at last year’s Frankfurt motor show.

The three manufacturers have each committed at least $US300 million to the development of the transmission of the hybrid system, which like Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive is a "full hybrid" but has unique features such as low- and high-speed modes (hence the two-mode moniker) and four fixed gear ratios for its continuously variable transmission.

"We think we have absolutely superior technology … more practical and real-life fuel economy, (better) towing capacity (and) we certainly have some smart control concepts which we want to apply," Dr Truckenbrodt said.

Investing an unspecified amount to integrate the hybrid system into its chosen vehicles, DaimlerChrysler has ensured that its version will be compatible with front-wheel drive, RWD and AWD – an emphasis that is in stark contrast to an earlier position the company had taken when emphasising that hybrids were merely a stepping stone to fuel-cell vehicles.

"Certainly, the forecast which some people had with fuel cells was quite a bit too optimistic – timing-wise and volume-wise," Dr Truckenbrodt said. "Secondly, the market share of hybrids has been so tiny it doesn’t make sense to really invest a lot of money into something which doesn’t see the road – both economically for us, but also for the environment.

"Thirdly, we have to acknowledge that the competition is out there and we have to be aggressive. We can think what we want about hybrids but if the competition is out there then we’ve got to be able to offer something.

"These are the key elements which are now playing a more important role than they did in the past." He also said tough environmental regulations in the US had driven the change.

"We have regulations in California which unfortunately do not tell you what level of emissions or fuel consumption you’ve got to have to achieve, but ask for a specific technology: hybrids. So if you want to be able to sell vehicles in California, you’ve got to have to have hybrids, regardless of whether you consider this to be reasonable or not."

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