You could be forgiven for overlooking the Peugeot 3008 Hybrid4 when it was unveiled in August 2010. It looked just like any other 3008, for starters, and its use of a hybrid drivetrain would likely have proved unremarkable to many. After all, the likes of Lexus had been ploughing the now-rich hybrid SUV furrow in the UK with its RX since June 2005.
There was, however, one stand-out claim about the 3008: according to Peugeot, it was the ‘world’s first diesel-electric car’. This distinguished it from preceding production hybrids, such as the Toyota Prius or aforementioned Lexus, which featured petrol engines. The concept made good sense on paper; a stout diesel would deliver good performance and efficiency, granting long range on motorway trips, while the electric motor would further boost its economy and reduce harmful emissions.
Under the bonnet of the Peugeot was a 161bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre diesel engine which drove the front wheels through a six-speed automatic gearbox – while drive to the back wheels was provided by a 36bhp electric motor powered by a 1.1kWh nickel-metal hydride battery. This motor could assist the engine, provide all-wheel drive and also propel the car on its own; fully charged, the battery could keep the 3008 ticking along on electric power for around 2.5 miles at low speeds.
All in, the combined output was 197bhp along with a useful 369lb ft of torque. This allowed the Peugeot to sprint from 0-62mph in 9.1sec; more importantly, the drivetrain initially permitted a claimed average of 74.4mpg and CO2 emissions of 99g/km. Such low emissions served up a plethora of financial benefits, making the car a tempting proposition to many.
Seemingly unbeknownst to Peugeot, however, the concept wasn’t a new one – as Audi had unveiled a diesel-electric hybrid production car back in 1997.
A RESPONSE TO RISING URBAN POLLUTION
Diesel had never been a strong contender for automotive hybrid applications. The engines tended to be more expensive, heavier and less refined than the petrol alternatives. Some markets weren’t huge fans of diesel, either, lessening its suitability further.
During the 1970s, however, rising concerns about pollution and efficiency led to numerous companies developing hybrid concepts. Among them were a series of ‘Duo’ prototypes, produced by Audi from 1989 onwards, which trialled hybrid systems that could be used should conventional cars be banned from urban areas in the future.
One of these was an A4 Avant-based hybrid, the third of the Duo concept line, which was unveiled in October 1996. It featured a turbocharged 1.9-litre diesel coupled to a manual transmission with an automated clutch and, you guessed it, an electric motor.
The Duo wasn’t as powerful as the 3008, with the combined output being 117bhp, and so performance was quite pedestrian; Audi claimed a 0-62mph time of 15.6 seconds. However, the hybrid Audi had a then-impressive all-electric range of 31 miles and, reportedly, could average 79.4mpg.
Audi’s diesel-electric hybrid wasn’t some far-flung technological showcase, though. Tests were carried out in early 1997 and, later that year, a production version was revealed.
WEIGHT AND COMPLEXITY TAKES ITS TOLL
In order to grant the Duo decent all-electric range, and make hybridising it worthwhile, Audi had outfitted it with a substantial 10kWh battery. This lead-acid battery pack weighed a whopping 320kg, though, which pushed the weight of the Duo to over 400kg more than a conventional diesel A4 Avant.
The complexity of the car also drove its price through the roof, with Audi suggesting that each cost twice that of its diesel counterpart – although, at the time, the Duo was reputedly only offered to commercial operators on expensive monthly leases. The hefty costs, and unremarkable real-world economy resulting from its excessive weight, subsequently led to few taking up the offer of Audi’s forward-thinking Duo. Unsurprisingly, and unfortunately, similar issues also troubled Peugeot’s later modern take on the concept.
Another blow to Audi came in the form of the Toyota Prius, which featured a far more refined hybrid powertrain. Consequently, despite initial reported plans to build upwards of 500 a year, Audi decided to cancel the Duo after just 60 had been built; advancing conventional engine technology also meant the company wouldn’t return to hybrids in earnest until 2010.
The Duo’s achievements were many, regardless; it was arguably the first production diesel-electric hybrid car, it arrived in Europe before the Prius and other associated technological highlights included solar panel-equipped carports to recharge its battery. Yes, the Duo was also a plug-in diesel hybrid – beating Volvo’s ‘world first’ diesel V60 Plug-in Hybrid to that particular post by 15 years.
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