In addition to building and delivering hydrogen fuel cell versions of its Sprinter van (earlier post) DaimlerChrysler is also developing two different diesel hybrid versions: one with and one without a plug-in recharger. A plug-in hybrid is one in which the batteries can be recharged even when the engine is not operating, or the vehicle is not moving, simply by plugging it into a 110 or 220-volt socket.
Both models (plug-in and not) are parallel hybrids—the electric motors can contribute motive power, or they can drive the vehicles on their own in certain conditions. The motors are powered by NiMH (nickel/metal hydride) batteries which are constantly recharged by the engine (acting as a generator) and through regenerative braking. The basic vehicle is a Sprinter 311 CDI (diesel) with an automatic transmission.
Depending upon the operating conditions and driving patterns, the hybrid-drive Sprinters can achieve fuel savings of 10%-50%. When the accelerator is fully depressed for maximum performance, both motor and engine operate together. During normal operation the driver is able to select the required drive unit at the push of a button.
The plug-in version uses an electric motor with an output of 70 kW (93.87 hp) and an NiMH battery with a capacity of 14kWh. This supports an all-electric operating range of up to 30 kilometers (18 miles). The battery recharges from the plug-in to the main powersupply in approximately 6 hours—best done overnight.
Optional equipment allows the plug-in hybrid Sprinter to function as a generator to power tools and machinery in the field.
The hybrid drive Sprinter without a recharging socket has a smaller electric motor with an output of 30 kW (40.23 hp) and smaller batteries with a capacity of only 3 kWh. These allow purely electric operation with a range of 3 to 4 km (1.8 to 2.4 miles). This variant is much lighter weight than the first.
Customer trials of the hybrid Sprinters begin next year.
Although plug-in electric vehicles have been available on the market before, consumers, at least, do not seem to be wild about the concept. Toyota went to great pains in its marketing of the new Prius to affirm that no plug-in was necessary—or even possible. Commercial vehicles may be another story.