With the current ravenous appetite for all things green showing no sign of abating, hybrid technology is proving popular.
Made famous by Toyota, Lexus and Honda, the hybrid is no longer just the preserve of new cars.
In August, Fleet News reported on a new retrofit hybrid system for the Ford Transit from Somerset firm AshWoods.
But a rival firm already has a competing device on the market, and it boasts impressive credentials behind its name.
Formula One success
The name Connaught came to prominence in the 1950s when it was emblazoned across the first British racing car to win a Formula One race since the war.
It then faded into obscurity until 2002, when two motoring industry professionals, Tony Martindale and Tim Bishop, had the idea for a niche four-seat sports car.
They resurrected the name and set about creating the Type D, a V10-powered machine due for launch very soon.
During development of the Type D the green issue was looked at.
While working on the problem of how to reduce emissions without reducing driving fun, the notion of a hybrid system was arrived at.
“But there was a dilemma,” explains Connaught’s operations director Geoff Matthews.
“Putting in a heavy battery would negate the lightweight philosophy of the sports car.
“So instead of a battery, we started looking at super-capacitor technology.”
Think of super-capacitors as short-acting but high-power batteries.
They can give a short-term boost to an electric motor as an aid to the traditional combustion engine.
Progress on the car continues, and has included the creation of a brand new engine. But an unexpected aside came out of the idea.
Mr Matthews said: “The eureka moment came when someone said ‘why don’t you put that lightweight capacitor system in a Ford Transit?’.
“The weight is the big thing. We’re not intruding on load space as the super-capacitors only weigh about 12kg.
"The whole system is only about 50kg. An equivalent battery pack to do the same would be about 350kg.”
The notion quickly gathered pace and the system was fitted to rear-wheel-drive Transits.
Seven vehicles fitted with the hybrid system are being trialled by
Tesco.com and a total of 20 are currently in the marketplace.
The super-capacitors, charged by regenerative braking, are linked to a 15bhp electric motor which runs from the main engine crankshaft pulley to add and recoup energy when needed.
A belt-driven CVT (continuously variable transmission) system means the power output is tripled.
Work is under way to develop a system that outputs five times the 15bhp put in.
Fleets can now have a system fitted to their Transit in a day, at a cost of £2,750 + VAT.
Mr Matthews says the system will not invalidate the donor vehicle’s warranty, and Connaught supplies its own warranty for its product.
The firm estimates a fuel saving of around 15% on a combined cycle, but data from Tesco has suggested that on an urban stop-start cycle, which will provide the best results from the system, the savings could be up to 29mpg.
Independent verification of the results is in the pipeline.
“Until we have complete and absolute verification we’re working at a 15% combined figure,” Mr Matthews says.
“Constant speed runs will not show anything – hybrid works through regenerative braking which recharges the battery and then aids acceleration.”
“Super-capacitors can now be charged and discharged two to three million times, which we estimate is 150,000 miles without servicing. Battery packs last only about 50,000 miles.”
At the moment only the Transit is catered for by Connaught, but work is under way to develop systems for other vans as well.
The front-wheel-drive Transit and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter are top priorities.
Connaught’s CEO Tony Martindale says he hopes to have systems approved as OEM post-production installations by manufacturers within the next six months.
If that can happen, he says, the firm could produce 4,000 systems per year.
Connaught is also talking to Transport for London about having converted vans included on the PowerShift register, making them exempt from the capital’s congestion charge.
And the future looks bright for the technology.
“No matter what fuel you use – petrol, diesel or hydrogen – you will always use hybrid technology,” Mr Martindale says.
“Vehicles of the future will be using regenerative power – it’s the way forward. Hydrogen isn’t going to be free and you will want to use as little as possible.
"The hybrid system is an auxiliary fuel rather than an alternative fuel.”