August 2, 2007 Italian manufacturer Piaggio, the maker of Vespa, is set to become the first company to release a hybrid drive scooter following an announcement that it is developing hybrid versions of its Vespa LX, Piaggio X8 and Vespa MP3 (the carving three-wheeler) models. The new hybrid system, which has a working title of HyS (Hybrid Scooter), can operate in full electric mode with a range of around 20 kilometres as well as hybrid mode - whenever the rider needs to accelerate more aggressively, the electric motor kicks in, providing about 85 per cent extra performance. Piaggio’s HyS system is a parallel hybrid in which a combustion engine and an electric motor incorporated into the gearbox casing are mechanically and electronically linked and simultaneously supply power to the rear wheel. The system uses drive-by-wire and the in-built electronic management combines the two engines to offer not only better acceleration but also a significant reduction in fuel consumption (up to 170 mpg or 1.67 liters/100 km) and in CO2 emissions, only 40 g/km (using 65% the hybrid modes and 35% the electric one). Perhaps the most exciting prospect is the hybrid MP3 which enjoyed such success as a 250cc it has since been developed as a 400cc version and was recently shown as a stylish 500cc Gilera – a sportier hybrid version of the 500 would enjoy exceptional performance.

In this dual drive-by-wire type system, a sophisticated electronic management system interprets the rider’s request for more power, and selects the level of assistance based on the current level of battery charge. The HyS uses a regenerative braking system to capture much of the energy usually lost under braking and the scooter’s range can be further optimised in the garage by charging the battery from an electricity source using the 220V battery charger.

The automatic gearbox, electric ignition and automatic start provide the usual zip and ease of use in town as well as out-of-town trips. The gas engine offers sparkling performance in standard running, charging the electric motor all the while.

The Piaggio HyS uses very innovative, avant-garde technical solutions but remains incredibly easy and intuitive to use.

The rider uses all the normal controls (accelerator, brakes and additional handlebar commands) as well as a specific switch to choose one of the different operating modes: three hybrid, one electric-only and the reverse.

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 rider’s request for more torque and selects the assist ratio based on the state of the system (e.g. the level of battery charge). During deceleration and braking, the control system recovers and accumulates power that is lost on normal vehicles in the battery.

The three hybrid modes are conceived to optimize performances, consumption and battery charge.

The rider simply turns a handlebar switch to shut down the combustion engine and turn the Piaggio HyS into a silent zero-emissions vehicle that can go into areas closed to internal combustion engined traffic. Another turn of the switch and the petrol engine turns itself on and goes back to being the main engine, charging the battery as it travels through areas open to normal traffic.

Drive-by-wire technology not only allows the control system to optimally manage the combined power output of the two engines but also ‘forces’ 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 this technology is neatly tucked away. The three Piaggio HyS versions look like any standard Vespa LX, Piaggio X8 or MP3. On X8 and MP3 versions the traction batteries are hidden in the under-seat storage space, which is sufficiently large to also hold a helmet. The Vespa LX hybrid prototype comes with a top case to hold the helmet.

There is a battery charge indicator on the dashboard. The battery can be recharged from an electricity source by inserting a normal cable into the plug provided for this purpose. Charging time is roughly three hours.

Two 12V 26Ah batteries are located under the LX 50 HyS seat, with an additional top box replacing lost storage space. The X8 uses three 12V 26Ah batteries while still offering sufficient under-seat space for a helmet. Piaggio is based in the Tuscan countryside between Florence and Pisa, and invented the scooter in 1946 when it produced the first-ever Vespa. Vespa remains the iconic scooter brand with its unique metal-bodied design, though the company also produce scooters under the sporty Gilera brand and the contemporary Piaggio brand.

View gallery - 53 images