Analysis
4 Jul 18

Electrification: marketing bubble rather than EV commitment

In addition to "new mobility", the term "electrification" has been used for some years in the PR discourse of just about all car brands. Volvo and Jaguar Land Rover dropped a bomb shell last year by announcing that their portfolio would soon be "all electric".

This naturally led to confusion and wrong assumptions. Soon the story went that Volvo was only going to build electric cars from 2019 onwards. That is, of course, nonsense. With "all-electric" the brand meant that it would not launch any new models anymore that are not equipped with an electric motor. Volvo may be taking the lead in this respect, but many other OEMs will adopt the same strategy over the next years.

In practice that means that most models will still be powered by a combustion engine, but one that gets assistance from an electric motor fed by a small 48V battery. Indeed, this makes them mild hybrids. The electric motor usually takes the shape of a belt-driven starter-alternator, which can give a push, but never drive the car independently.

Mild hybrids, fake hybrids

The question is: are these mild hybrids a.k.a. assisted combustion engines still hybrids? If so, do they deserve the same benefits as true hybrids (such as the Toyota Prius, Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid or Lexus NX300h) or plug-in hybrids?

Logically, the answer should be no: they never drive completely emission free, whereas full hybrids and plug-in hybrids can travel on battery power for anything between 2 km and 50 km. The small electric engine of a mild hybrid reduces the combustion engine’s emissions by up to 8 percent – not bad, but not enough to make a big impact.

But from a legislator’s point of view mild hybrids might just make the cut. If Europe allows car makers to type-approve these slightly assisted combustion engines as hybrids, they could benefit from advantageous tax regimes in some member states.

Walking the e-talk

So mild hybrids are a “quick and dirty” way for OEMs to claim they are electrifying their line-up. But who is really walking the e-talk and going further, i.e. developing full hybrids (HEV), plug-in hybrids (PHEV) and fully electric vehicles (EV)? The following overview should give an idea of what to expect from the major OEM groups in the next few years.

BMW Group

BMW goes for plug in and for fully electric, but it doesn't believe EVs will be profitable before 2020. It’s electric sub-brand BMW i spawned the i3 in 2011, a city slicker that features an optional petrol-powered range extender. The iPerformance badge distinguishes BMW PHEVs from the regular models and features on the 2, 3, 5, 7 and X5 Series. Mini launched a plug-in hybrid Countryman in June 2017. A battery-electric Mini hatchback should launch in 2019, followed a year alter by the BMW iX3. By 2025, 10 more EVs should follow. Mild hybrids have not been confirmed, but are highly probable.

Daimler

Mercedes-Benz is launching its EQ sub-brand of full-electric vehicles next year, starting with the EQC electric crossover. By 2022, the range will include 10 vehicles, from city cars to sedans and SUVs. On top of more conventional petrol plug-in hybrid vehicles, Mercedes-Benz has also announced PHEV versions with a diesel engine in the C-, GLC-, E- and GLE-Class. Mild hybrid powertrains (“EQ Boost”) are already available in the E and S Class, with other models to follow. Smart will become an electric only brand by 2020.

FCA

FCA has long remained silent about its e-plans, but last June it announced that it would phase out all diesel engines and turn to full electric cars and plug-in hybrids instead by 2022. Maserati will launch 8 plug-in hybrids and 4 full-electric cars including the Quattroporte and Levante. Jeep will add 10 PHEVs and 4 full electric cars to its line-up (including the Wrangler and Grand Commander). Alfa Romeo will get 7 PHEVs, including the Giulietta, Giulia and Stelvio. The Fiat 500 will get a mild-hybrid version by 2019, just like the Jeep Wrangler, and a full-electric redesigned model by 2020.

Ford

The Blue Oval has some catching up to do with regard to hybrids and EVs - the Mondeo (a.k.a. Fusion) Hybrid is hardly setting the pace and the electric Focus has died a silent death. At the beginning of the year, Bill Ford said his company will be investing $11 billion by 2022 to have 40 electrified models on the road, thereby spending less on sedans and combustion engines. 16 models will be fully electric and the rest will be plug-in hybrids. The only known model to feature a mild hybrid set up is the new Focus.

Hyundai/KIA

The Hyundai Ioniq and the KIA Niro are the world’s only eco cars that offer three electrified options: hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fully electric. The Hyundai Kona and the KIA Niro will soon be available with a 64-kWh battery powering a 150-kW e-motor, kicking off the OEMs ambitious electrification strategy – by 2025, it wants to have 14 EV models on the road. As for mild hybrids: the South Korean automotive group recently presented the 48V-assisted diesel-powered Tucson and Sportage.

Jaguar Land Rover

Earlier this week we reported that Jaguar Land Rover will be investing £13.5 billion (€15 billion) over the next three years to develop electrified versions of all its nameplates. In the wake of Volvo’s announcement, the British OEM said that from 2020 onwards, all new models launched would have an electric motor. In most cases this means a mild hybrid set up. JLR’s other electrification options are plug in hybrid (already available on the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport) and EV, but no regular hybrids. Jaguar launched the electric I-Pace just a few weeks ago.

PSA

PSA aims to offer electric options on all of its models by 2025, in addition to conventional powertrains. DS, on the other hand, will only sell hybrid or battery-electric vehicles starting in 2025. The hybrid DS7 Crossback E-Tense will launch in the autumn of 2019, followed by its siblings, the Citroën C5 Aircross, Opel Grandland X and Peugeot 3008. A full-electric Peugeot 208 and Opel Corsa are slated for the next year, together with a battery-electric Peugeot 2008. Mild hybrids are set to come by 2022.

Renault/Nissan/Mitsubishi

The Alliance has tonnes of experience with battery-electric vehicles. The Renault Z.E. line of all-electric cars includes the Twizy quadricycle, the Zoe supermini, the Kangoo Z.E. small van and the larger Master Z.E. van. Renault was also the first volume brand to introduce a mild hybrid: the Scénic and Mégane can be had as a Hybrid Assist model. Nissan launched the second generation of its Leaf full-electric car in 2017. Since the acquisition of Mitsubishi, the group also has access to valuable plug-in hybrid knowhow. Renault will offer eight purely electric models and 12 hybrid models by 2022. Nissan will also expand its EV offer and add range-extended models.

Toyota/Lexus

Say Toyota, say hybrid. No other OEM has believed more strongly in non plug-in petrol-and-electric powertrains than Toyota. Last December, the king of electrification avant la lettre announced that it would abandon diesel altogether and electrify its entire line-up by 2025. From 2020 onwards, it will offer 10 purely battery-powered models. Plug-in hybrids and mild hybrids are of lesser importance to the group – the current hybrid synergy drive (HSD) will remain the core of Toyota's powertrain portfolio.

Volvo

The first OEM to rock the boat was Volvo: it announced last year that it would not launch new models with non-assisted combustion engines anymore as from 2019. The first Volvo to be fully electric will be the XC40, which will also be available as a plug-in hybrid, following the example set by its bigger brothers. Rather boldly, Volvo said in April that it wants fully electric cars to make up 50 percent of its sales by 2025. Then again, with China becoming the brand’s number one market, the target seams feasible.

VW Group

Last year, VW Group announced its brands will bring 50 new electric vehicles and 30 plug-in hybrids to customers by 2025. The company estimates that around one in four new vehicles it sells – up to three million units a year – could already be purely battery-powered in 2025. Starting the e-wave is the next VW Golf, due in 2019, which will include a new electric variant and a mild hybrid setup. VW is also working on the launch of its new I.D. electric brand which should hit the market by 2019. Audi offers an e-tron plug-in hybrid of the Q7. The Q5-sized full-electric e-tron model will launch later this year. Skoda's plug-in hybrid Superb has a 2019 launch date, more models will follow.

Cover picture: Fisker E-motion (copyright: Fisker, 2018)

Authored by Dieter Quartier & Benjamin Uyttebroeck

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