German Hybrids: Have Your Black Forest Cake and Eat It, Too

March 29th, 2007

The Black Forest may contain trees for as far as the eye can see, but heretofore the local people have been leaving them starved for affection. Alas, the tide seems to be turning, and there is evidence that the people of Germany may be catching on to the pastime of tree-hugging.

Sure, diesel engines have long been de rigueur in Europe, achieving better fuel economy than gasoline-burners. But without proper control those diesel engines are dirty and noisy, and they still consume a lot of petroleum. With Japan and the U.S. offering a burgeoning array of hybrids, including SUVs and even pickups, it’s time for the Europeans to provide some options for the Earth-minded new-car buyer. And sure enough, the European makers seem to be crawling over each other in a craze to produce the ultimate vehicle for the well-heeled tree-hugger.

The most recent buzz is that Porsche is building a gas-electric Cayenne SUV, although it’s not slated for sale in this hemisphere. According to Michael Winkler, the managing director of Porsche Australia, this hoity-toity hybrid should be available Down Under for 2009.

Buyers of this environmentally-friendly luxury crossover can expect fuel consumption at least 15 percent below that of the conventional Cayenne with no compromise of performance. The gasoline-electric powerplant is currently in development for both this vehicle and the Volkswagen Touareg.

The plan for the hybrid Touareg was hatched as an offshoot of VW’s endeavor to make hybrid versions of at least one of its cars, either the Golf or the Jetta or both. After R&D revealed that such an effort wouldn’t yield sufficient profit, they embraced the notion of a hybrid version of their SUV. The current Touareg is certainly not known for its green rating, so a less-thirsty version of it would be most welcome.

A couple of years back, Audi was the first German maker to announce a hybrid SUV when it introduced the Q7 Hybrid Concept at the 2005 Frankfurt Motor Show. That vehicle, said to be more powerful than its conventional version, is now a reality, as it’s set to go on sale for the 2008 model year. The numbers on this one are dominated by a hard-to-fathom 473 lb-ft of torque; other pertinent stats are 0 to 62 in 6.8 seconds, and a 15-percent improvement in fuel economy.

Mercedes is also jumping into the ring, although not with an SUV, having announced at this year’s Geneva Motor Show that it will offer a hybrid S-Class sedan. Once it has a hybrid in place, though, it may be more likely that an SUV with the same technology may be offered in the future.

But the real story here deals with how Mercedes-Benz is going about its research – or, more specifically, with whom. The company has been working in concert with its rival – yes, BMW – as they have joined forces for more cost-effective development of hybrid technology. As can be expected, the two proud powerhouses have no intention of compromising their individuality (or performance, but why would they even worry about that happening) in any final product. Look for those final results to be a Mercedes S and a BMW 7 Series model, rear-wheel-drive beauties with small appetites.

All of this is splendid news for environmentalists, responsible luxury-car buyers, and the industry and world in general. The more choices for lowering petroleum dependence, the better, and there’s no reason to believe that the alternative-fuel movement will subside. Consider this the vanguard of some very wonderful things to come.

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