Honda and Toyota continue to vie for supremacy in the world of hybrids, and have big plans to expand the number of models they sell in Europe, based on the architectures and concept models on show at the Geneva motor show.
Toyota showed off the Prius+, a seven-seat version of the Prius V it revealed at the Detroit motor in January, plus a hybrid version of the next Yaris supermini, badged Yaris HSD (Hybrid Synergy Drive) Concept. Both will become production reality in 2012 aongside a plug-in version of the current Prius which we have already driven.
Honda had its new twin-motor hybrid platform, also first seen at Detroit, which it'll use to underpin a range of mid-range vehicles.
Although Honda isn't saying what these will be, research and develoment chief Tomohiko Kawanabe would not deny that the CR-V crossover and a replacement for the FR-V compact MPV were the sort of cars that might benefit from it.
However, he also said that the company is looking at other ways of expanding its hybrid range, and a more powerful version of the sporty petrol-electric CR-Z coupe could not be ruled out.
Hybrid demand is growing
By the end of 2012 Toyota will have five hybrids on sale in Europe - Auris, Prius, Prius plug-in, Prius+ and Yaris. Some will retain today's nickel-metal hydride battery system, while others will have the more efficient, smaller but more expensive lithium-ion set-up being trialled in the Prius plug-in .
'Lithium-ion has merits in terms of compactness and energy storage, and it is needed to give a longer range on battery power alone,' said Guillaume Gerondeau, the vice-president in charge of product for Toyota Motor Europe.
While today's Prius has a maximum range of only two miles on pure battery power, future plug-in models will be able to manage six times that.
'The Yaris hybrid will have lithium-ion batteries and its use of space (packaging) has been optimised around this', said Gerondeau. 'Until now, cost and packaging were the two big negatives of small hybrids,' he said, 'but now we have appropriate solutions.'
He is unperturbed about electrifying a car that is already economical with petrol or diesel power, claiming that CO2 will be even lower (less than the 89g/km of today's Prius) while other emissions will also be reduced.
'Demand for hybrids is growing,' he said. 'More and more customers are putting powertrain technology as their first priority. According to our research, in 2006 it was 4%; in 2008 it grew to 8% and in 2010 it was 16%.'
Toyota will add even more hybrids when new-generation models start to appear after 2013, and has pledged to have a hybrid version of every car it sells by 2020.
Kawanabe says the new Honda twin-motor hybrid system is designed to overcome the limits of the company's current IMA (Integrated Motor Assist) fitted to the CR-Z, Insight and Jazz.
'It is designed to achieve better fuel efficiency with a smaller battery than IMA. We will have a range of 10 miles in EV [electric vehicle] mode and start extending this as the battery becomes bigger.'
Kawanabe says the twin-motor set-up will give the performance of a 2.5-litre conventional engine with lower fuel consumption and emissions. It is likely to be too big for use in an uprated CR-Z, but he believes it would be 'a good idea' to increase the power of the hybrid sports car and admitted that Honda is 'seriously thinking about' how it could be done.