LYON, France –Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. Ltd. are the global hybrid leaders, together controlling 70% of the market, but a benchmarking teardown of their hybrid-electric vehicles gives a detailed view of the auto makers’ different strategies.

While Toyota has worked to constantly improve hybrid performance, Honda’s strategy has been to reduce cost, says Antoine Chatelain, director of Mavel SA’s Mavtech subsidiary, which recently presented an overview of the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic Hybrid and Insight at the French consultancy’s technical center here.

The ’09 Insight is less hybridized than the ’05 Civic Hybrid, Chatelain says, noting the Civic has electric air conditioning and regenerative braking, which the Insight lacks.

In contrast, the third-generation Prius is bigger than the Insight but has lower fuel consumption and is equipped with regenerative braking and two electric motors.

Although Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co. and Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. all have launched hybrid vehicles, they trail Toyota and Honda by far. Toyota has sold 1.1 million Prius HEVs worldwide, while Honda has delivered 200,000 Civic Hybrids.

Both the Prius and Insight are based on internal-combustion platforms: the Prius on the Auris/Avensis architecture and the Insight on the U.S. version of the Honda Jazz (Fit). The Prius weighs 156 lbs. (71 kg) more than the gasoline Auris, while the Insight weighs 159 lbs. (72 kg) more than a Jazz/Fit with the same engine.

“Toyota is weight-oriented, and Honda is cost-oriented,” Chatelain says. Not counting the hybridization, the changes made to the Prius platform shaved 32.6 lbs. (15 kg) of mass; while changes made to the Jazz platform for the Insight added 30.4 lbs. (13.8 kg).

The two hybrids have a different instrument cluster, rear seat, tailgate, windows and smaller gas tank than conventional gasoline models on the same architecture. The Prius has an electric A/C compressor and water pump, “green” tires, a different parking brake pedal, tailgate and windows. The Insight has a specific crankshaft and HVAC block, and bigger wheels.

Takahuru Echigo, who works for Honda Engineering Co. Ltd. in Swindon, U.K., confirms reduced cost was a key goal in the Insight’s development but notes performance also was a factor.

Power density nearly has doubled since 1999 when the first Insight was introduced and costs are down 60%, he says. The electric motor of the new Insight is 15% lighter than that in the Civic Hybrid, with power density increased 24%.

INRETS, a French research academy, projects the number of hybrids sold annually could reach 1 million in 2011, 2 million by 2014 and 5 million by 2020. In 2007, sales totaled 500,000 units.

Percentage of
Materials Usage
Materials Prius 1 Prius 3 Insight Avg. Car
Aluminum 11 12 10 10
Plastics 10 11 12 12
Ferrous 62 60 64 62
Other 17 17 14 16
Source: Mavel SA

“The growth of sales should be principally in mature markets, where clients have higher buying power,” says Jean-Bruno Monteil, director of material studies at Mavel. “Awareness of environmental issues is less in developing countries, and the complexity of hybrid drive discourages buyers in emerging markets.”

Mavel also believes virtually all European cars will soon have stop/start capability.

“Stop/start is not very expensive, and hybrids are expensive,” says Mavel’s Jean-Michel Prillieux. “Stop/start is not a hybrid. Cars have had electricity on board for years, with starter motors and headlights. Stop/start is a new electric feature, like ABS (antilock braking systems or EPS (electronic stability program technology).”

In Europe, gasoline hybrids have fierce competition from diesels. The Insight has a carbon-dioxide emissions rating of 101 g/km.

The Ford Focus Econetic with a diesel engine is rated at 115 g/km, and an industry engineer says it costs only about €20 ($30) to convert a conventional 1.6L diesel Focus into a higher-mileage version with a plastic underbody shield, better engine oil and environmentally friendly “green” tires.

The cost to consumers to save a gram of CO2/km is cheaper with a mild gasoline hybrid, such as the Insight, rather than a full hybrid Prius.

In Germany, a Civic Hybrid costs €23,000 ($34,312) and emits 110 g/km of CO2, while a conventional Civic is priced at €20,050 ($30,584) and emits 154 g/km, costing hybrid customers €67 ($100) for each g/km reduction.

A gasoline Toyota Auris costs €19,000 ($28,340) and emits 154 g/km of CO2, while a third-generation Prius is priced at €25,000 ($37,290) and emits 92 g/km, costing hybrid customers €97 ($145) for each g/km reduction.

Mavel’s benchmarking studied the materials used in the cars in detail, and because it has torn down dozens of vehicles, it is able to compare the hybrids’ material usage with an average midsized European car.

The Insight uses 64% ferrous material, more than an average European car. The third-generation Prius is the leader in aluminum use, at 12%. The Prius has an aluminum hood and tailgate as part of its weight-saving strategy, says Bernard Thiebault, Mavel’s director of automotive body benchmarking.

Hybridization has little impact on the bodies of the hybrids, the executive says, noting there is no impact on passive safety but slightly additional weight for battery fixation. The principal design changes to improve performance are aerodynamics on both cars, and mass reduction on the Prius.

Juan Manuel Pedrero, marketing manager for the Spanish consultant, Robotiker Tecnalia, says the U.S. and Japan are ahead in developing electrification technologies, but after a slow start, Europe is pushing hard with a €93 million ($139 million) budget to support cooperative projects next year.

The projects are to be aimed at developing sustainable surface transportation and a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020.

A European Union document states: “The 2010 call places greater emphasis on breakthrough research aiming at radically new approaches able to respond to societal need in a time horizon of 2015-2020,” when the transport system no longer will be completely reliant on fossil fuels.