A niche that Peugeot is aiming to fill is that of the diesel-hybrid. The company announced last year that its program was going ahead and it invited AEI to drive early prototype vehicles using a parallel hybrid systems. But costs of diesel-hybrid technology have always been a very difficult hurdle, and the challenge continues. Although the program remains in place, its potential market positioning has changed.
Working with the French Agency for Industrial Innovation, PSA completed a precise cost analysis to establish commercial viability of a diesel-hybrid. Meanwhile the European Commission was concerned that if PSA received French government aid for the project, it would constitute unfair competition.
“So we have decided that we would not be capable of reducing the cost sufficiently for lower-priced vehicles and have rescheduled our target,” revealed Pascal Henault, PSA Peugeot Citroën Group Director of R&D. “We will offer it in cars in a higher range than forecast; that will be the Peugeot 308 upwards. After that, maybe we could cascade it down through the ranges. But the program is still on target for 2010-2011.”
He said the company supports this strategy despite the cost: “some people can afford it,” he said.
PSA is also pursuing other hybrid applications to help maintain its claim of having the world’s lowest CO2 fleet-emissions average for its car range—something that has become a marketing race.
“We have achieved 140 g/km in France and 141 g/km across all our European markets,” Henault claimed. “And we will meet the emission requirements for 2012.”
The application of micro-hybrid (stop-start) systems is part of this strategy. “We plan to produce 1.1 million cars with micro-hybrid technology by 2011 and close to 1.6 million by 2012,” he said.
Peugeot and Citroën both are introducing low-rolling-resistance tires, low-friction bearings, and optimized transmissions to complement the hybrid applications. Henault regards six speeds as sufficient for the needs of all the company’s models.
Henault also sees diesel-gasoline convergence technology as being a significant development for the future, although the problem remains of very-low-temperature—below -20°C (-4°F)—starting in relation to reduced diesel compression ratios in a gasoline/diesel convergence power unit. PSA's collaboration with BMW on gasoline engine development, including turbocharged direct injection, may be a significant element of this.
“A lot of work is being done on converging the two systems, and we are trying to make a gasoline engine work without spark plugs,” he said. But Henault admitted that it will be at least 10 years before PSA has a convergence engine, widely known in the industry as homogeneous-charge compression igntion (HCCI), ready for production.
PSA does not want such an engine to run on special fuel; the use of conventional fuel would ensure the continued use of existing infrastructure.
Regarding fuel cells, Henault is very cautious. “We have too many major barriers; the fuel cell is very expensive, and continues to be as the cost of platinum rises. Also, it may be possible to reach 1000 hours of operation on the test bench, but not in transient systems. As for the carriage of hydrogen in tanks at 700 bar—"it’s a pain in the neck,” he asserted.
Henault believes fuel-cell technology will not be introduced on a massive scale in the near term. He said hydrogen still must be made available at a very economic price. “Today it is a dream,” he said.