The Vespa LX50 HyS and Piaggio X8 125 HyS were designed in response to European Union specifications, as well as a growing number of urban zones that prohibit all emissions.
First it should be noted that the HyS prototypes feature all (if not more) of the conveniences and performance of their gas counterparts (albeit at a cost of helmet space and dry weight), and like US hybrid automobiles, generate electric power through braking and deceleration, which is in turn used to assist the gas motor, especially during acceleraton. This results in an alleged 25% increase in acceleration power, and an alleged 20% reduction in emissions. Not magical numbers, but respectable, and certainly a well-intentioned (or at least EU-mandated) step in the right direction. But there’s more.
Unlike hybrid cars, these scooters can be switched over to a zero-emissions electric mode under full battery power. This will be handy for European scooterists finding themselves at the edge of a “no emissions zone;” they can switch over to “full-electric”, keep zooming along, and switch back to gas a few blocks later. The full-electric performance is nothing to write home about, slower and less range than most current electric bicycles, but even in America where “no emissions zones” are unlikely, the option to “switch to electric” to guide the scooter along a length of sidewalk and through an apartment gangway, maybe even into a freight elevator, might turn out to be a useful feature. If you’re taking short trips that would frustrate a regular motorcycle battery, fear not, the friction batteries can also be charged in three hours using the included power adaptor.
Here’s Piaggio’s description of the four available modes:
The rider uses all the normal controls (accelerator, brakes and additional handlebar commands) as well as a specific switch to choose one of four operating modes: standard hybrid, high-charge hybrid, low-charge hybrid and electric-only.
In the first three modes the HyS manages power output from the two engines, thermal and electric, using a drive-by-wire type system: the electronic management system (SGE) interprets the riderâ€™s request for more torque and selects the assist ratio based on [â€¦] level of battery charge). During deceleration and braking, the control system recovers and accumulates power that is lost on normal vehicles in the battery.
In standard hybrid mode the battery charge is maintained at optimal traction levels (batteries at 75%). In view of â€˜electric-onlyâ€™ use, the rider can, however, choose the high-charge hybrid function, geared to maximise the range of the electric motor (batteries at 95%).
If, on the other hand, the rider wishes to recharge the batteries by plugging them into a power outlet, he can use the low-charge hybrid mode (batteries at 20%) to obtain maximum performance with minimum consumption.
In electric-only mode, the Piaggio HyS shuts down the combustion engine and turns into a silent, zero-emission electric vehicle.
Drive-by-wire technology not only allows the control system to optimally manage the combined power output of the two engines but also â€˜forcesâ€™ the thermal engine to work when it can be most efficient, thereby reducing specific consumption, with obvious advantages in terms of lower consumption and emissions.
All said, it’s not Mother Nature’s gift to scooters, and not even the first hybrid scooter: Honda displayed a less-impressive but interesting prototype in 2004. And, as “Old97” reminded us today on the BBS, Piaggio’s own Zip&Zip Bimodale had a hybrid gas/electric motor way back in the early nineties, though even Piaggio seems to have forgotten about it. But these scooters, though prototypes, seem likely to enter mass-production soon, leading a wave of “green” scooters coming in the next several years from the likes of Bajaj (who announced LPG/CNG-powered models this week) and Vectrix, who has been racking up good press and seems almost ready to bring their all-electric maxiscooter to market. Fans of this site love a good, smelly cloud of blue smoke, but most consumers and governments do not, so the race is on to design the modern day equivalent of the 1946 Vespa, as elegant as it is well-engineered. The HyS system is certainly not Green Scooter Nirvana, but it is likely to be an important step in the process.