The world’s two biggest manufacturers have joined together in a shock move to jointly develop hybrid powertrain technology that will be used in a range of front-, rear- and four-wheel-drive vehicles within three years. General Motors and DaimlerChrysler are both currently off the pace in terms of environmentally friendly petrol-electric hybrids, but the new link will speed up the process of getting the drivetrains to market, as well as cutting development and production costs thanks to vastly improved economies of scale.
Existing hybrid systems such as the Toyota Prius’s offer massive benefits in heavy city traffic, but little advantage at higher speeds when they have to revert to the petrol motor. The new system is called ‘two-mode’ hybrid technology, and uses a second set of gear ratios attached to a second electric motor for better results at motorway speed. The first models from both manufacturers to benefit from the petrol-electric system will be the big gas-guzzling US-market 4x4s, where the best economy savings can be made. Fuel consumption for heavier 4x4s with V8 engines is around 25 per cent better with the hybrid system, which is why the next Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon will be the first models to benefit, followed by the Dodge Durango. The companies haven’t forgotten Europe, though. ‘We are prepared for all the markets in the world if customers ask us,’ said a spokesman. The first European application will be on the next Mercedes-Benz S-class (right) in five years’ time.
The link-up will help GM and DaimlerChrysler make up lost ground on Toyota, which set the standard with the Prius, and will extend its hybrid power offering in 2005 with the Lexus RX400h.