Peugeot, Mercedes diesel hybrids en route for 2011

The Peugeot 3008 Hybrid4 and the Mercedes-Benz E300 BlueTec both promise over 60 miles per gallon, and it looks like the French automaker will be the first to market.

Peugeot's 3008 Hybrid4 diesel-hybrid car is set to go on sale in Europe in spring 2011, and that would beat Mercedes' E300 BlueTec hybrid to market by a few months. Peugeot

Once again, European drivers will have access to cars with better gas mileage than their U.S. counterparts.

Peugeot announced Tuesday that its 3008 Hybrid4 diesel hybrid car will be available in Europe in spring 2011 and will get roughly the equivalent of 62 miles to the gallon.

Many have been skeptical of a diesel hybrid, since a diesel engine's high torque does not lend itself easily to incorporation with an electric motor. Peugeot tackled that issue by giving the car two separate power trains that can operate solo or in tandem. The two systems are controlled together electronically, but are not in any way connected mechanically.

The 3008 Hybrid4's 2.0-liter, 163-bhp HDi diesel engine powers the car's front wheels, while the rear axle is powered a 37-bhp electric motor with nickel-metal hydride batteries. The car can be completely powered by electricity when going 35 miles per hour or slower. The electric engine also kicks in to recharge its battery when the vehicle decelerates via regenerative breaking. The 3008 Hybrid4 can also run on diesel engine alone, or work both engines in tandem in a four-wheel drive mode or when an extra power boost is needed to accelerate.

Pricing has not yet been announced for the 3008 Hybrid4, which will initially only be produced by two of its factories in France, according to Peugeot.

The diesel hybrid version will likely cost Peugeot more to produce, at least in terms of development. Peugeot did say in a statement that the two-power-train system will make implementation of the electric motor into the 3008 Hyrbid4 and other existing Peugeot models easier.

It's unclear at this point whether the company plans to absorb the new technology cost or pass it on to the consumer. The existing diesel version of the 3008 already starts at about 22,000 euros ($28,000), so consumers should expect at least that for the hybrid version.

Diesel engines already use 30 percent less fuel than their gasoline equivalents. So infusing a diesel with hybrid capability is a big deal to European consumers who pay the equivalent of about $7 a gallon. It's unclear, however, whether it would be a worthwhile deal to Americans whose biggest fear is prices rising to $4 a gallon.

Peugeot's Tuesday announcement is also significant in that it means the French automaker will beat Mercedes-Benz to market.

Mercedes and Peugeot have each made claims of becoming the first automaker to mass-produce a hybrid-diesel car, but with Peugeot now announcing a spring release it seems likely to race ahead of Mercedes by a few months.

Pricing for the E 300 BlueTec diesel hybrid, which Mercedes touted at the Geneva Motor Show in March, has not yet been announced. The German company has said that the car will be available for purchase in Europe in late 2011.

Diesel hybrids have been in the works for years, with a renewed interest showing itself in 2007 as automakers like Mercedes and Audi unveiled diesel hybrid prototypes at the auto shows, and even FedEx announced plans to use them in fleet upgrade. BMW and Volvo also showed off diesel hybrids in 2008, with tentative plans for 2012 releases. Hyundai also announced a diesel hybrid concept at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show.

About the author

In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet, Silicon.com, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.

 

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