Wednesday, February 18, 2009

2009 Piaggio MP3 HyS hybrid inches closer to production

The 2009 Piaggio MP3 HyS will use an electric motor powered by lithium-ion batteries, to augment its 250cc petrol engine...

Piaggio recently got a loan of €150 million from the European Investment Bank (EIB), which the company said it would invest towards the development of its next-generation two-wheelers, including non-polluting battery-powered electric scooters.

Well, it seems Piaggio are almost ready to take their first steps towards a cleaner, greener future. The company had started work on a hybrid version of its MP3 – the MP3 HyS – three-wheeled scooter back in 2007 and the little trike will soon be ready to go into production. It won’t be inexpensive though – prices are likely to be around €10,000 when this scooter is launched later this year, in Italy and Spain.

Apart from its 250cc petrol engine, the Piaggio MP3 HyS will be fitted with lithium-ion batteries, which will offer a range of about 20km in electric-only mode. However, even when the petrol engine is being used, the electric motor will chip in to help under hard acceleration. Since electric motors produce lots of torque at low RPMs, this ‘help’ is likely to provide a significant hike in performance.

The Piaggio HyS system has been designed as a ‘parallel hybrid’ where the petrol engine and electric motor are ‘linked,’ and work together seamlessly. With its ride-by-wire throttle and advanced electronics managing the engine and electric motor, the MP3 HyS will be able to offer better acceleration, reduced fuel consumption (the vehicle could average up to 60km/l) and lower emissions.

Piaggio’s HyS system also has other tricks up its sleeve – it uses regenerative braking to store the energy generated during braking, which it uses to charge the scooter’s battery. Even otherwise, the lithium-ion battery pack will only take around 3-4 hours for a full charge, via any household electricity outlet.

Riders will have the option to use the MP3 HyS in either battery-only, engine-only or hybrid mode, with the scooter’s on-board electronics managing the interaction between the engine and the electric motor in hybrid mode. Everything is, of course, fully automated – the rider only has to twist the throttle and go.

Will HyS be the future of two-wheeler technology? Umm… we’re not too sure. In fact, we think that probably wouldn’t be the case. Various manufacturers are working on full-on electric vehicles, which wouldn’t have a petrol engine at all and will only run on electric motors powered by lithium-ion batteries. Within the next 2-5 years, we expect mainstream manufacturers to start offering battery-powered bikes that would offer adequate range and performance, which would be vastly better than what’s currently available.

Over the next few years, scooters and small-displacement commuter bikes will move away from the IC engine completely and switch over to battery power, while high-end sportsbikes are likely to still have only petrol engines for at least another decade. So where does that leave HyS and other similar systems? In our opinion, these hybrid systems will be short-lived – they might be around for the next 2-3 years, after which they will fade away and lithium-ion batteries (and later, hydrogen fuel cells…) will take over the world.

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