The rise of micro hybrids

A recent report from Lux, a firm specializing in emerging technologies, makes the bold claim that by 2017 micro-hybrids “will dominate the automotive market,” gaining 42 percent of the overall light-duty vehicle market.

At the same time, mild-hybrids will jump from near zero market share to about 1.5 million vehicles — or about 1.6 percent of the auto market.

Sounds cool, but what the heck is a “micro-hybrid”? And who has even heard of a “mild-hybrid”?

Lux defines a micro-hybrid as an automobile that uses a “small battery to provide varying degrees of efficiency-boosting features,” but the best way to think of them is as the simplest hybrid. 

Micro hybrids often employ technologies such as start-stop systems.

These cars use regenerative braking and battery storage to allow cars not to burn fuel while idling or at a stop. It also means the car can use a smaller, more efficient engine without compromising too much on performance.

Usually, the stop start system does not provide any power to the wheels but it is an easy way to get about 10 percent more miles per gallon. Plus, it’s cheap. The cost of a micro-hybrid system can be as low as $500 per vehicle.

The mild hybrids — superior to micro-hybrids but not as efficient as pure hybrids — may employ regenerative braking and some level of power assist to the internal combustion engine, but mild hybrids do not have an exclusive electric-only mode of propulsion.

Lux expects these cars will see a boom worldwide. According to the study, Europe will continue its leadership in the micro-hybrid market, growing over three-fold to 12.6 million units in the next five years. China will see explosive 81 percent annual growth to reach 8.9 million units in 2017 and the U.S. will zoom from minuscule levels today to over 8 million in 2017.

But it’s not just the cars that will see impressive growth. According to the research, absorbed glass mat, lead-acid batteries will dominate the market for storage of micro-hybrids, growing at 46 percent annually to nearly $4 billion in 2017. 

In mild hybrids, Li-ion will carve out a niche, growing from near-zero to nearly $570 million in 2017, capturing a 47 percent market share among plug-in vehicles.

Steve Duda, EarthTechling