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Already driven: Hybrid engine from Piaggio

Already driven: Hybrid engine from Piaggio
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Roberto Colaninno let himself be carried away:» In decades, «exclaimed The otherwise cool Piaggio President in front of around 200 journalists from all over the world enthused, 'we will remember that we were there on this historic day!' The reason for the unusually emotional appearance was the first public presentation of the house's hybrid scooters .
A combination of gasoline and electric motor is supposed to drastically reduce consumption and exhaust fumes in the scooters. The technology is not new: Toyota has already sold a million Prius hybrid cars worldwide and has since become the world's largest car manufacturer. Piaggio now has the ambition to bring the first hybrid two-wheeler onto the market - and with it, quite a chance, like Toyota, to significantly increase its sales. No wonder that 64-year-old Piaggio boss Colaninno got lost with such prospects.

But the hybrid scooters called HyS are still in the prototype stage and are therefore under special protection. Only a handful of journalists - including MOTORRAD as the only foreign magazine - were allowed to try out the rolling laboratories.


Three vehicles were available on Piaggio's in-house test track in Pontedera in Tuscany: a Vespa LX 50, a Piaggio X8 125 and an MP3 250, Piaggio's innovative product Tricycle. Outwardly, they hardly differ from the standard models, because the technicians cleverly placed the electric motor on the automatic clutch of the scooter on the rear wheel, only the housing was a bit lavish. Only a look under the seat reveals more: here are the batteries, on the Vespa and X8 made of lead, and on the MP3 made of lithium. There is still space for luggage or a helmet. The Vespa has a color-coordinated top case for this purpose.

Off to the first round. A little instruction is required, however, as the three hybrids have a selector switch for the driving mode. Except in pure electric mode, the gasoline and electric motors always work in parallel, the batteries are charged when braking and when coasting when you take the accelerator away - how much can be set using the switch. For a start, Piaggio's project manager Luca Carmignani recommends standard mode. The combustion engine contributes 65 percent, the electric unit 35 percent.


the whole thing goes up almost disappointingly normal, differences from the conventional models can be ad hocnot notice. Only the MP3 provides a little thrill: thanks to its two front wheels, it allows you to tilt up to the edge of the fairing. So that it stays that way with the hybrid despite the thicker clutch housing, the engineers gave it a 14-inch instead of the standard 12-inch rear wheel.

But we want more - namely the ultimate hybrid experience. And it actually comes. Initially with the 'low charge' driving mode. The batteries are hardly charged, the electric motor provides almost all of its power. And that has an effect: the scooters pull off from a standing start. And that robust. Piaggio speaks of an increase in acceleration of up to 85 percent. Which promises completely new possibilities when starting the traffic light - moreover (almost) without a guilty conscience, as the scooters also swallow particularly little gasoline in this mode. Ideally, consumption should be just 1.7 liters per 100 kilometers.

But the hybrids can do a lot more - namely purely electric. Especially in Italy, the motherland of the scooter, there is lively interest in electric vehicles, more and more cities are closing their centers to normal traffic due to smog and fine dust. For the hybrids, such restricted zones are not an obstacle if they are set to electrical operation using a selector switch. 'First, brake to around 30 km /h and then simply switch over,' advises project manager Carmignani. And in fact, the combustion engine goes silent and the journey continues on purely electric basis. The scene looks like something out of a surreal film: a mini race track with colored curbs and banked bends on which three scooters chase each other - and apart from the rolling noise of the wheels, there is no sound to be heard. Almost spooky.

But of course Piaggio did not develop the hybrids for the racetrack. The scooters are only suitable for long distances if the petrol engines are the main source of power. They are primarily intended for cities. After the first driving impression, the hybrid scooters should cut a fine figure there: low-emission, purely electric if desired and also with better driving performance in certain modes. The technology is also practical to use, as the batteries charge while driving. If that is not enough, they are plugged into a normal socket at home.

As the first hybrid, an MP3 125 should come onto the market in about a year, with lithium batteries. According to Piaggio, these batteries have a lifespan six times as long as the lead-acid batteries that have been used up to now, are only half the size and weigh 70 percent less. Which is why the hybrid MP3 should only weigh 20 kilograms more than the normal model, i.e. around 220 kilograms dry.

Piaggio chooses the 125 version for the start because in many countries it can also be driven with a car driver's license. And it has to be the MP3 tricycle because it is so identicalKilling two birds with one stone: 'Compared to standard scooters, we are not only offering a more environmentally friendly, but also a safer vehicle,' says Piaggio boss Colaninno confidently. The price for the technology, which is new in the two-wheeler sector, is likely to be rather high: The provisional statement “less than 10,000 euros” doesn't exactly sound like a special offer.

Technology in detail

The hybrid drive of the Piaggio scooter consists of an electric and a four-stroke gasoline engine, which are mechanically and electronically linked. If necessary, the combustion engine can be switched off and the journey continues without any noise or emissions. Otherwise, the units work in parallel, with the electric motor intervening, which leads to significantly improved performance, especially when accelerating. When braking and coasting, it acts as a generator and uses the braking energy, which would otherwise be ineffective, to recharge its batteries.

Piaggio did not invent this technology, but is the first manufacturer to implement it for the series production of two-wheelers. The electric motor is located above the automatic clutch of the scooter, the batteries are located under the seat bench. A ride-by-wire system takes over the complete control. It ensures that the combustion engine works as effectively as possible and thus already reduces its pollutants. Piaggio states a minimum of 40 g /km carbon dioxide emissions compared to 90 g /km for conventional scooters, provided that the electric motor contributes 35 percent of the power. In addition, the system constantly analyzes various parameters, such as the state of charge of the battery, and then decides which of the two motors has to provide how much power. Piaggio promises maximum efficiency for its hybrid scooters, namely up to 60 percent less fuel consumption and up to 85 percent better acceleration.

The driver can use the Piaggio prototypes that MOTORRAD drove also influence how the system should work, using a selector switch on the handlebar. In addition to reverse gear and purely electric operation, there are three different drive levels available: In the “Hybrid Standard”, the charge level of the batteries is kept at an optimal level (75 percent). In the 'high charge' mode, more energy goes to the batteries, which are charged to 95 percent. The “low charge” mode is the most fun: The batteries are kept at a level of only 20 percent charge, the electric motor puts all its power to the service of the scooter. The result: gasoline consumption and emissions decrease, while power output increases significantly at the same time. It has not yet been determined whether these selectable modes will also be retained in the production vehicle.

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interview with Luca! Carmignani

The head of the engine innovation department at Piaggio, Luca Carmignani, on the development of the hybrid scooter.

How long has the development of hybrid engines been going on?
Since 2001, in collaboration with the University of Pisa. At Piaggio we are now a group of ten.
What is your practical experience with the vehicles?
The scootersare not only tested by our test drivers, but also outside of them. Two Vespa LX 50 and Piaggio X8 125 each have been in daily use for the city councils of Milan and Florence for a year. So far, this practical test has been very successful.
In electric mode, the scooters have a range of 20 kilometers. Isn't that a little bit?
We actually think it's quite a lot. The Toyota Prius only manages nine kilometers. Our range of 20 kilometers is easily sufficient for those restricted areas in which combustion engines are now taboo, for example in the old towns of Rome or Florence. In addition, the batteries recharge quickly via the internal combustion engine when you leave the restricted areas: The batteries generate power for 2.5 kilometers in pure electric mode within ten minutes of driving.
All three prototypes that we tried are quite slow in electrical operation. Can't they go faster?
Oh yes, definitely. The 50 series Vespa can reach 45 km /h with an electric motor, the 125 and 250 series even 60 km /h. But we have deliberately limited the speed in electric mode, with the 50s to 25 km /h, with the other two to 35 km /h. On the one hand, this increases the range and, on the other hand, we consider higher speeds to be dangerous. Mainly pedestrians and cyclists move in the aforementioned restricted zones, and when a 200-kilogram scooter like the MP3 arrives with 60 items, accidents are almost inevitable, because it drives completely noiselessly.
The MP3 hybrid scooter, which is due to hit the market in around a year, will be equipped with lithium batteries. How long is their lifespan?
It is around 30,000 kilometers, which corresponds to around five years for an average Italian scooter driver. You can then replace the batteries, but it is still too early to talk about costs.
The batteries for the electric motor can be charged not only via the internal combustion engine, but also via the power grid. How long does it take?
Until they are completely full, three hours. But after two hours they are already at 85 percent charge, so you can start again with confidence.
In 1998, Piaggio had already presented a hybrid scooter, the Zip & Zip. But it wasn't a success. Why should it be any different now?
The Zip & Zip had a different technology, there was only either electric or gasoline operation, not both together, and its batteries did not charge while driving, so the range was short. In addition, at least in major Italian cities, there are charging stations for electric vehicles these days, which didn't exist back then. And then of course the climate changed, both atmospherically and politically. More and more cities are closing their centers for normal traffic or levying tolls. Therefore, today there is a much greater demand for environmentally friendlyVehicles.

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