Peugeot 407 CoupeJoel A, the prolific tip-sender, sent us this article at Detroit News. Typically, anything that paints hybrids in a negative light is fodder for a comment feud, but this particular piece has some tidbits that are too juicy to resist. The premise of the article is simple. Neil Winton, the author, takes an interest in the diesel engine that powers Peugeot's new 407 coupe. This 2.7-liter V6 is part of a joint venture between Peugeot and Ford, and Ford uses this engine in their Jaguar XJ diesel and Range Rovers. Winton praises the engine as smooth, quieter than a gasoline engine, and environmentally friendly. All accounts from other journalists and PR materials from both Ford and Peugeot confirm this perception of this common-rail diesel six. The engine is able to propel the 407 quite swiftly, while still providing an average 27.6 miles per U.S. gallon. Winton's angle is relative straight forward, what's the deal with Europe getting all these sweet diesels. Here you have an engine co-developed by Ford that would certainly have potential with fuel prices being so high. We'd like to add that PSA Peugeot Citreon should also bring their wares over along with the V6 diesel, but that's purely fantasy in the context of this article.

So, Winton goes on to get the view of hybrids from the Europeans, pulling quotes from PSA?s CEO, BMW AG?s CEO, and Peter Schmidt, editor of Automotive Industry Data. Peter Schmidt?s quote is the best of the bunch, with the rightful speculation that Toyota?s hybrid venture, although impressive, was more of a PR exercise. ?Toyota lacks on fundamental element - image.? Wow, when you look back prior to the introduction of the Prius, was Toyota really thought of as the ?green? automaker? At least in the U.S., that role was unofficially handed to Honda, which was often praised for its low emissions and high fuel economy. No, Toyota was that dependable car company, who made dependably inoffensive, reliable automobiles. Now their hybrid push has given them Carte Blanche (or Verte?) to feed TVs with commercials that question ?what if the air was clean again?? All the while, the Europeans view hybrids as ?niche? and a ?blind alley? that produces ?expensive? vehicles that provide the ?same result? in performance and fuel economy as the diesel alternative. Sure, diesels are not the cleanest when it comes to air quality, but that is easily remedied by additional emissions control equipment. And hybrids do have the ability to run in a zero emissions EV mode, which is advantageous in heavily congested areas and provides a fuel economy advantage in the correct conditions.

So, if these Europeans manufacturers have such negative opinions of hybrids, why do you see BMW and Mercedes working on hybrid models of their own? Winton points out that these manufacturers are developing the technology in alliances, which reduces the overall risk in developing this technology. Additionally, the availability of hybrid models is a gold star for manufacturers who market in politically and environmentally charged areas like California.

Some of you may ask, why not make diesel hybrids? DaimlerChrysler is planning with that idea, but in talking to other engineers the response is rather simple. ?Why would you even bother?? Diesels are efficient on their own, while providing the torque that drivers enjoy. Hybrids derive their efficiency on using stored energy to power an electric motor that compensates for the relatively gutless, but efficient gasoline engine. That synergy along with the ability to operate without the internal combustion engine is what makes hybrids unique. Can you imagine frequently stopping and starting a diesel in this configuration? A diesel-electric (parallel) hybrid would provide serious power, but the fuel economy return may not be nearly as good percentage wise as the typical gasoline-electric hybrids.

So in the end, Winton has a good point. Hybrids have their advantages in urban situations (if only someone would get the clue and make plug-in hybrids for urban duty), but diesels clearly make more sense for the vast majority of the U.S.

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