Renault has gone its own way in developing its proprietary E-Tech hybrid system for its best-selling Clio, Captur and Megane models, which will go on sale this summer after years of development.
Compared with those of competitors, the E-Tech system is relatively complex, with two electric motors, potentially 15 different drive modes, and both plug-in and conventional hybrid options, each with its own battery.
Renault says the clutchless, so-called “dogbox”-style transmission alone has more than 150 patents. Even Renault’s alliance partner, Nissan, is not using E-Tech in comparable models such as the Juke small SUV.
Other hybrid systems on the market, such as those from Toyota and Lexus, have a single electric motor and a more conventionally designed transmission with a clutch. Even so, Renault says that E-Tech is one of least expensive and compact hybrid systems on the market, especially for plug-in hybrids.
“This will democratize the technology,” Gregoire Ginet, Renault’s powertrain marketing manager, said about the Captur and Megane plug-in hybrids. The Clio hybrid will not be a plug-in hybrid.
Renault has been able to hold down costs by keeping development and production in-house, and by using a decades-old naturally aspirated gasoline engine, analysts say.
“Renault owns the solution, so they can deploy it in large scale, in the maximum amount of units they can produce and sell,” said IHS Markit powertrain analyst Romain Gillet. “This is really a key thing.”
"When you need a new technology, there is always the question: make or buy?" he said. "Here, Renault has decided to make it itself."
The hybrid Captur and Clio have moved ahead of their main competitors in their segments in terms of electrification. The Captur plug-in hybrid will face only the relatively low-volume Kia Niro and forthcoming Jeep Renegade among small SUVs.
None of the Clio’s main competitors in the small car segment, the Peugeot 208, Dacia Sandero, Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo, offer high-voltage hybrid models, although the Toyota Yaris, which ranks eighth in segment sales, and Honda Jazz do.
Eventually, Gillet said, Renault will build a full-hybrid range around the system, with different grades of transmission and different engines. It is likely to appear in future Dacia models, which will be a drag on Renault’s group CO2 figures because of the budget brand's low-tech gasoline engines.
“We all know that electrification will be required for this year and 2021, but also for 2025 and beyond to fulfill the next CO2 regulation,” so a full range of electrified vehicles will be required, Gillet said. “To own such a solution and be able to deploy it at large scale will be really interesting for Renault, to scale up the initial investment and to be compliant” with emissions regulations that will be 37.5 percent tougher by 2030 compared with this year.
E-Tech is based around a gasoline engine, a large electric motor and a small electric starter/generator, a clutchless multi-mode transmission and a storage battery at the rear of the platform. Renault says the components can be combined in many different ways to optimize fuel efficiency, especially in urban driving.
Without a clutch, the cars are started in full-electric mode. The electronic control unit chooses the best gear ratio, and the two electric motors help the gears to change smoothly. Reverse is also in electric mode.