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German Hybrids: Coming Thick And Fast

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by John Voelcker February 2009

Just five years ago, only Toyota and Honda offered hybrid gas-electric vehicles—the Prius and Insight, respectively. Now, there are more than a dozen carmakers—including Audi, BMW, Mercedes, and Volkswagen—that offer, or have plans for, hybrids. Here's a roundup of news just over the last few days about hybrids coming from the homeland of Rudolph Diesel.

Audi Q5 Hybrid
At last month's Detroit Auto Show, Audi announced that it would offer a Q5 Hybrid. Hybrid versions of the Q5 and Q7 have been on and off the table several times in the past year. Now, it's back on. The new small sport utility goes on sale in the US next month with a gasoline engine; the hybrid will follow for 2011. Audi still strongly prefers diesels to cut consumption and emissions, since they cost less to develop and build than hybrids. Its lukewarm attitude surfaces in a quote from Wolfgang Hatz, head of powertrain development for the VW group. "We have to do hybrids to show people that we are able to do them," he said, noting the Q5 would compete with the Lexus RX450h. We'll see if Audi takes its hybrids seriously.

BMW 7-Series ActiveHybrid
The maker of "ultimate driving machines" will offer a mild hybrid sedan, the 7-Series ActiveHybrid, to face off against the Mercedes-Benz S400 BlueHybrid. Like the Benz, it will use a lithium ion battery pack to add stop-start capability to its V8 engine, for about a 15 percent bump in fuel economy. BMW is now just finishing up with prototype testing.

BMW X6 ActiveHybrid
With a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8, BMW's X6 "sport utility coupe" has always been a huge gas-guzzler. To raise its fuel economy by up to 20 percent, BMW will fit the Two-Mode Hybrid system it jointly developed with General Motors, Daimler, and Chrysler. Coming this fall as a 2010 model, the fast, heavy, and oddly shaped X6 ActiveHybrid still won't break 20 miles a gallon, but it gives BMW a competitor for archrival Mercedes-Benz's ML450 BlueHybrid (see below).

Mercedes-Benz ML450 BlueHybrid
Germany's largest luxury marque already said its S400 BlueHybrid—which uses its battery and motor just for stop-start ability—is headed for the US this fall. It will pair that with a full-hybrid version of the ML sport utility built in Alabama, to use the GM/Daimler/BMW/Chrysler Two-Mode Hybrid transmission. (It also offers a diesel, the ML320 CDI Bluetec.) Now spy shots of a prototype vehicle have appeared on the web. With luck, Benz buyers will never know this is the same system used in such plebeian vehicles as the Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid pickup truck.

Volkswagen Touareg V6 TSI Bluemotion (prototype)
As part of a slew of clean-car announcements, VW released details of a hybrid Touareg it's now testing. When the big sport utility is completely redesigned for 2010, it will add a hybrid variant to the current gasoline and diesel offerings. A 38-kilowatt electric motor is mounted between the supercharged 333-horsepower V6 engine and a new 8-speed automatic transmission. The company claims all-electric running up to 30 miles per hour, and 26 miles per gallon in combined city/highway driving, a 17 percent increase. It also claims equal performance to the V8 version and towing capacity up to 7,100 pounds, besting even GM's full-size Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid.

Copyright ©2009 HybridCars.com

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