Component maker reckons Prius isn't the way forward
13 June 2007

Hybrids might be today’s buzziest green-car technology, but the world’s biggest car-parts supplier, Bosch, doesn’t reckon they’ll rate more than a few per cent of the European car market over the next decade.Painting a grim picture for hybrids in Europe, the chairman of Bosch’s automotive group, Bernd Bohr, predicted that the continuing high cost of hybrids will limit sales, even as far into the future as 2015.“The cost benefit of hybrids doesn’t make sense. They are too expensive and don’t save enough fuel. So who is going to pay for them? Tax-payers or car-makers, because car-buyers aren’t going to,” he said.

Hybrid charge will peter out

A full-hybrid like the Toyota Prius is expensive because it adds high-cost components like a battery and a precision gearbox with complex electronic controller to a car already-equipped with a petrol engine and gearbox.Bosch’s prediction is for hybrids to take no more than five per cent of the 17m-strong European market even by 2015 – worth about 850,000 cars.“That’s not big enough for major economies of scale to get the cost down,” said Bohr.Bosch has about six serious hybrid projects in its labs, with around three committed to production. A larger number are in the feasibility study stage, with no sign of the production go-ahead. “Lots of people are looking at hybrids, but very few are committing now,” said Bohr.Bosch rates hybrids as a ‘bridging technology’ that will help in the development of electric motors and controllers needed long-term to make hydrogen fuel cells a reality.

Mild hybrids make more sense

Fortunately Bohr paints a rosier future for ‘mild-hybrids’, which pair lower cost technologies like stop-start engine controls and combined starter motors/alternators, each technology offering small fuel savings that add together to improve fuel economy by around 15 per cent.BMW’s dramatically effective system as fitted to the 60mpg 118d and forthcoming Mini models is this type of technology.Bosch estimates mild hybrids to become common-place by 2015, with one-in-five new cars being sold with this fuel-saving technology.According to Bosch studies, the biggest impact on global warming will come if mild-hybrids are fitted to the top 50 best-sellers in Europe — superminis and family hatchbacks like the Ford Focus and VW Polo — enough to cover 71 per cent of the market.That could drop overall fleet fuel consumption by 14 per cent; CO2 output by a similar margin from today’s average of 163g/km to 145g/km.Raising hopes for owners of expensive premium cars, no doubt to the irritation of anti-car politicians and green lobbyists, Bosch’s studies also suggest that clamping down on gas-guzzlers will have little effect on overall fuel consumption. “We shouldn’t be fixated on premium cars, because it won’t have much effect,” said Bohr.

Julian Rendell

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