And European manufacturers, spurred on by fleets and local authorities with environmental targets to hit, are gearing up to rival the current Japanese domination of the market, a study by international market consultancy Frost & Sullivan claims.
By the end of the decade, Frost & Sullivan predicts that 'mild' hybrid electric vehicles such as the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic IMA and offerings from other manufacturers – notably PSA Group and Renault - will reach 3% penetration of the European market. By 2015, the rate is expected to be about 8% to 10%, with the majority of hybrids being mild systems, where electric motors are used at slow speeds and then switch to petrol as velocity increases.
Julia Reuter, research analyst at Frost & Sullivan, notes: 'We are confident that European vehicle manufacturers will follow the mild hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) route. While research and development outlay in the full hybrid powertrain sector is substantial, the European market is more focused on carbon dioxide rather than reducing emissions of oxides of nitrogen. This makes full hybridisation a less prominent issue than in other markets, such as Japan and North America. Market participants are following diverse strategies and are choosing different degrees of hybridisation in order to develop the most effective solution for the European market.
'PSA Group is considering the progressive introduction of three hybrid levels (mini, mild and full HEVs), while Toyota is expected to target the market mainly with full hybrids and both Renault and Fiat Auto's development is concentrated on mild hybrids. Reuter added: 'Ford of Europe is vying for the role of fuel economy leader and sees mild HEVs as an important enabling technology, whereas Volkswagen regards 15% of fuel economy the optimum degree of hybridisation.'
The report claimed that Opel (Vauxhall) and Daimler- Chrysler are developing hybrid configurations which are set to launch during the second half of the decade, while Honda's Civic IMA is poised to lead the European mild HEV market until at least 2005.
It added that the UK is the 'most potent force in the adoption of hybrid electric vehicles', with France and Germany lagging behind.