September 20, 2005

Daimler Seeks Partners for ‘Mild’ Hybrid Cars

FRANKFURT -- DaimlerChrysler is holding talks with other automakers and suppliers to find partners for "mild" hybrids that boost cars' performance and fuel efficiency, its research chief told Reuters on Tuesday.

The project -- separate from its alliance with General Motors and BMW to develop full hybrids -- could lead to hybrid versions of both petrol and diesel vehicles, Thomas Weber said on the sidelines of an industry conference.

"As the Frankfurt car show proved, we are basically at the center of many discussions," said Weber, who is also in charge of technology at the world's fifth-biggest carmaker.

"One sees that Mercedes-Benz is setting some of the trends, so by definition we are highly interesting conversation partners for those in the supplier industry who deal with this area but manufacturers are speaking to us as well."

Daimler showed two Mercedes-Benz S-class concept cars in Frankfurt that feature mild hybrids -- simpler and less expensive versions of the technology that saves fuel by yoking at least one electric motor and batteries to a standard engine.

A mild hybrid can boost acceleration and make engines work more efficiently in stop-and-go traffic, but costs less than a full hybrid that can add thousands to the price of a car.

A mild hybrid, however, would not offer the same fuel savings as a full hybrid, and cannot run on battery power alone.

Weber said it was important to try to standardize the technology and thus avoid splintering the market. "At least on the component side we have to have standards," he said.


Daimler's two-pronged strategy of developing full hybrids with GM and BMW while developing mild hybrids in house or with other partners shows it is not being dragged reluctantly into the hybrid market, Weber stressed.

Nevertheless, hybrids have limited market potential, especially given the similar efficiency that a modern diesel engine affords, he said.

"In the United States we think the share of hybrids in specific areas will be there, but we also believe that diesels will pass the 10 percent threshold before hybrids do," he said.

"In Europe I personally believe the mild hybrid concept has a chance because in certain circumstances they can offer something beyond the highly efficient drivetrains already available today," he added.

"The share of hybrid in Europe will be just a few percentage points even in the years ahead."

Weber said Mercedes was working on both petrol and diesel hybrids even though the higher cost of diesel engines and hybrid technology has held up diesel hybrids so far.

Extra costs for diesel and hybrid together meant "a mild hybrid in combination with a diesel could perhaps come a bit earlier than the full hybrid with a diesel," he said.

But especially in the luxury car segment interest was present for diesel hybrids as long as they offer fuel efficiency, meet emissions standards, perform well, are fun to drive and can be marketed at a reasonable price, he said.

"People will want to spend money on something special. That is why we see an appropriate market opportunity for a diesel hybrid," he said.

GM is set to start selling full-sized sport utility vehicles with full hybrid technology in late 2007, followed by a Dodge Durango full-sized SUVs amid a range of other models.

Mercedes is eyeing a full hybrid launch shortly thereafter.

"We have not made any comments on (the timing of a Mercedes launch) but in any event before the end of the decade," Weber said.

"It will also depend on the discussions with customers. We want to avoid the situation such as we had with the 3-liter (engine capacity) auto where you develop the technology, make it ready for production and then no one buys it."