Hybrid Tech Expands to More Models, But The Name Is Fading Away

The slow but steady rise in popularity of the Toyota Prius has created a positive association with the word “hybrid” for automakers, and prompted many competing vehicles. Derivatives of the full hybrid—which can propel the vehicle for short distances on electric power alone—that offer a percentage of the reductions in fuel consumption and emissions soon followed. These include the micro hybrid (aka stop-start vehicle), which shuts off the engine while idling and can provide a minimal assist with acceleration, and the mild hybrid, which uses larger batteries and electric motors to assist the engine with acceleration under certain conditions. The plug-in hybrid is a full hybrid taken even further, with a large battery pack that is recharged by an external source of electricity.

Automakers continue to introduce vehicles with many of the hybrid’s fuel saving features, but are backing away from using variations of the word “hybrid.” Most recently, General Motors announced eAssist technology, which will be incorporated into its Buick LaCrosse and Buick Regal. The technology enhancements include: a 0.5-kilowatt lithium ion battery that uses regenerative braking to provide a minimal amount of engine assist; a direct-injection engine; stop-start functionality; a six-speed automatic transmission; and chassis modifications to enhance aerodynamics. The end result of these additions to the LaCrosse are mpg ratings of 25 in the city and 37 on the highway—up from 23/30.

All of these features fit the definition of what we’ve come to know as mild hybrids, as Buick marketing executive Daryl Wilson agreed, but GM isn’t using those words to describe the vehicle. Instead, eAssist will be installed as a marketing term that will eventually spread to other vehicles. GM unsuccessfully tried to launch Saturn mild hybrids a few years ago with the Aura and Vue green lines. Perhaps consumers were expected Prius-like numbers of 50+ mpg, which are hard to achieve in a mild hybrid sedan. The Saturn hybrids, and then the entire lineup, were discontinued.

Similarly, Ford recently introduced PowerShift fuel-efficiency enhancements for the Focus and other vehicles that include direct-injection, a six-speed transmission, and more reliance on electricity instead of the engine when the vehicle is slowing or idling.

Ford, GM and the rest of the auto industry are adding these features to meet with international regulations for reducing carbon emissions and enhancing fuel-efficiency, but largely without the hybrid or stop-start branding. In Pike Research’s upcoming report on stop-start vehicles, we’ll detail how depending on the country, automakers are using names like Efficient Dynamics, ecoFlex, Pure Drive and BlueEfficiency to introduce these technologies.

Are these vague branding terms better or worse for prospective car buyers? Using the hybrid name became somewhat tangible in setting consumer expectations. However, many in the industry now believe that consumers don’t care about the technologies employed to make vehicles fuel efficient; they just want the results in C02 reductions and higher miles per gallon ratings. This strategy appears to be working in Europe and Asia, but for consumers who like to compare specifications, the task has become a bit more complicated.

John Gartner is a senior analyst at Posted in Carmakers, News
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  • JamesDavis

    More garbage from a garbage company. GM doesn’t realize that Americans look at other countries, from the internet, and see the great advancements they are making in electric vehicles/battery technology and wonder, “What the hell is wrong with GM and Ford? Why are these two automakers insisting on keeping us back in the fossil age?”

  • Anonymous

    So will GM use Hybrid for Tahoe, Yukon, Escalade, Silverado, Sierra while using eAssist for Lacrosse & Regal. Sounds weird.

    25 / 37 MPG for a big car like Lacrosse is excellent and they can go with Hybrid instead of using any other term and confusing the people.

    I wish GM switches back to Hybrid for the Buick lineup as well.

  • Anonymous

    GM can apply the 2-Mode hybrid in a vehicle like Pontiac Vibe and rebadge it as Chevy and sell it as an alternative to Prius. I dont know why they are not doing it. The best selling of the Hybrids are the small hatches like Prius & Insight.

    Atleast Ford & Honda are sticking with the Term ‘Hybrid’.

  • Joshua

    Pretty soon, hybridcars.com might have to change their domain to “justlikeeveryothercar.com” ^_^

  • Anonymous

    “These include the micro hybrid (aka stop-start vehicle), which shuts off the engine while idling and can provide a minimal assist with acceleration ….”

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m highly doubtful that a so called “micro hybrid”, without a larger battery and an electric motor, can provide “assist” with acceleration.

    Actually, without an electric motor, what qualifies it to be called a ‘hybrid”?

  • Shines

    My 2 cents: GM Volt goes up to 40 miles all electric. Neither Toyota nor Honda are selling anything electic in the US so I don’t why you insist on calling GM a “garbage company” Mr. Davis.
    The 2mode hybrid system was designed for freight train diesel engines. They have not been proven reliable in large trucks and SUVs from GM, I doubt the technology can be minimized cost effectively to be put in a Vibe or Cruze.
    The eAssist technolgy in the Buicks is borderline between a mild and micro hybrid as the electric motor assists the engine and indirectly helps drive the wheels.
    Most vehicles with stop start technology do include a larger battery and a larger starter motor (which is the electric motor) which is why some consider calling them micro hybrids.
    Anyway I am all for any technology that improves fuel economy and especially those that eliminate the need for fossil fuel altogether.

  • Anonymous

    Mr Shines : Thanks for your neat analysis.

    If 2-Mode hybrid is not proven, then how come GM has applied them in 5 vehicles, even though they all share the same powertrain.

    When Toyota and Honda and Ford could sell a small Hybrid in V4 models, why not GM.

    Anyway, I wish they reduce the price of Volt and popularize it.

  • jwishart

    You are correct: the author gets this wrong. A micro-hybrid isn’t even the same as a stop-start system, since the former requires regenerative braking capability that the latter doesn’t. Here is the short-hand:

    Stop-start: Has stop-start system
    Micro-hybrid: Has stop-start system + regenerative braking
    Mild-hybrid: Has stop-start system + regenerative braking + propulsion assist
    Full-hybrid: Has stop-start system + regenerative braking + propulsion assist + all-electric proplusion

    To answer your last question, I proposed the following definition in an article (in the International Journal of Electric and Hybrid Vehicles):
    “A road vehicle with two or more energy storage systems connected to two or more energy converters. There must be a capacity for energy transfer in at least one direction between each energy converter and the wheels, but not all energy converters must provide direct, mechanical propulsion power.”

    This definition is worded to include micro-hybrids but preclude dual-fuel vehicles like the BMW Hydrogen 7 and EVs with in-wheel motors (the SAE definitions missed these distinctions).

  • jwishart

    @anonymous:
    You are correct: the author gets the classifications of different hybrids wrong. A micro-hybrid certainly doesn’t assist with propulsion, and in fact isn’t even the same as a stop-start system, since the former requires regenerative braking capability that the latter doesn’t. Here is the short-hand:

    Stop-start: Has stop-start system
    Micro-hybrid: Has stop-start system + regenerative braking
    Mild-hybrid: Has stop-start system + regenerative braking + propulsion assist
    Full-hybrid: Has stop-start system + regenerative braking + propulsion assist + all-electric proplusion

    To answer your last question, I proposed the following definition in an article (in the International Journal of Electric and Hybrid Vehicles):
    “A road vehicle with two or more energy storage systems connected to two or more energy converters. There must be a capacity for energy transfer in at least one direction between each energy converter and the wheels, but not all energy converters must provide direct, mechanical propulsion power.”

    This definition is worded to include micro-hybrids but preclude dual-fuel vehicles like the BMW Hydrogen 7 and EVs with in-wheel motors (the SAE definitions missed these distinctions).

  • Anonymous

    “Neither Toyota nor Honda are selling anything electic in the US …”

    - Is this some sort of “presbyopia”?
    - I think the ONLY real BEV available for sale in the U.S. right now is Nissan LEAF;
    - All other automakers do NOT have any BEV available in the U.S., including GM, Ford and Chrysler;
    - Volt is just a hybrid with a large size battery strapped on (according to CR: “…when you look at the finances, for us it doesn’t make any sense… consumers seeking value and top fuel efficiency would be better off buying a top-performing gasoline/electric hybrid…”)
    - CR also found Volt “fell well short of its maximum range potential under battery power”, the Volt CR tested ran for 26 miles before the vehicle’s gasoline engine kicked in;
    - Was this an isolated case? Was CR particularly harsh on GM’s product? According to a driver of Volt who covered over 4,00 miles, from the end of December to late January, the average EV range was 26.2 miles when the average ambient temperature was 29.2 degree;

    - So how about Nissan LEAF?
    - There were media reports that customers reported restart problems in both Japan and the United States;
    - if this problem is proven to be wide-spread, I would rather automakers thoroughly ‘debug’ their products than to pay to be the unfortunate guinea pig.

  • Capt. Concernicus

    It’s nice to see GM just reword it from mild hybrid to eAssist. GM continues to lag in terms of fleet fuel efficiency. I guess that’s their peroggative. But also the American consumer will buy into their marketing ploys. Sure the Chevy Cruze gets up to 42 mpg IF and ONLY IF you buy the Chevy ECO Cruze. They don’t really tell you about that. But again Ford does it with their Fiesta SFE. Their other Fiesta’s don’t get the same mileage.

    I am impressed with Hyundai’s Elantra. All models get up to 40 mpg. Not just certain trim levels.

    I’ll stick to my 2nd gen Prius. It’s currently averaging 48.1 mpg. I drive 31 miles round trip to work. 15 of those miles is on the highway. On the weekends I add about another 150 miles and that’s about 95% in and around town driving. Buying my next car will be hard because I’m used to getting superb gas mileage. I’m guessing a plug-in Prius is what I might be getting next.

  • Anonymous

    “The day the Chevrolet Volt broke my heart

    As the Volt eased down the driveway that morning, I felt good. The gas tank was full. The video-game display on the dash said the battery was fully charged and good for 31 miles. And I was headed to one of my favorite breakfast joints. [...]

    Suddenly, a pothole jarred me back to my senses.

    Dawn was still just a promise, but I didn’t need to see the left front wheel to know the tire was flat. I wheeled the car into a safe parking lot, where I planned to change the tire.

    That’s when the Volt broke my heart.

    The tire was off the rim and there was no spare. You see, to reduce weight and improve mileage, some clever engineer decided to forego the spare tire in favor of run-flat tires and an inflator kit.

    Bad choice.

    The company that manages GM’s press fleet sent a man who swapped wheels and reprogrammed the Volt’s electronics to accept the new one. About 75 minutes after the pothole, I was on my way.

    But I missed breakfast. And I’ll never again think of the Volt in quite the same way.”
    http://www.autonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20110411/OEM06/304119977/1261/FRONTPAGE#ixzz1JSkrxLDF

  • Capt. Concernicus

    @ Anonymous,

    “The tire was off the rim and there was no spare. You see, to reduce weight and improve mileage, some clever engineer decided to forego the spare tire in favor of run-flat tires and an inflator kit.”

    –And yet the Volt still weighs in at a portly 3800lbs. or about 750lbs. more than the Prius. Some say that it’s because GM wants the car to have a solid on the road feeling. Others say it’s because GM doesn’t know how to make a lightweight passenger car. Just look at the Camaro convertible. It weighs in at 4200lbs. which is 300lbs. more than the hardtop.

  • anonymous2

    “Stop-start: Has stop-start system
    Micro-hybrid: Has stop-start system + regenerative braking
    Mild-hybrid: Has stop-start system + regenerative braking + propulsion assist
    Full-hybrid: Has stop-start system + regenerative braking + propulsion assist + all-electric proplusion”

    I disagree. A Stop-Start is a Micro hybrid as stated in the article. If you can do regen braking, you can do propulsion assist. In fact you have to do assist. Otherwise, what do you do with the energy you recover during regen?

    The problem is there is sometimes no clear cut boundary between these type of hybrids because all batteries/motors have different capacities and motors are put in different places (on a belt, between engine and trans, after trans, on a different axle, etc) . This complicates the definition of what type of hybrid it is.

  • Captain Competition

    When Ford, Chevrolet and GM can seriously compete with Honda, Nissan and Toyota, I’ll take them seriously. The Prius, the Leaf, the Civic Hybrid, or the new Insight… give me something like that.

    The only thing that comes anywhere near close is the Ford Fusion…. come on Ford, market the heck out of that car! What on earth is your problem?! That really should be Ford’s biggest push, where all their advertising dollars go.

    The Volt is a joke. A sad, sad joke.

    Until the American car companies really try to make me a car I can get into, I’ll stick with the others, thanks.

  • UE citizen

    All those hybrids and partly electic cars are not going to help US that much ,because there are many Pickups,Trucks,SUV or any other high oil consuming vehicles that are going to be making our live much harder.From my perspective cars are not the only major human made products that need more research and more development the things that also need more research are architechture,education,garbage waste,Safety hazard and Laws,Nutrition and many more things that it will take me very long time to write.Overall US has produced progress in going green but it is not fully visible on daily basis for example what reason companies drive trucks to consumers if they only have couple boxes to deliver can’t they drive regular Delivery small van that many are drived in Europe.This is just one example of how United States is has much more slower progress in going eco -frendly and being serious about economy. Till today i can’t understand why there are so many children uneducated about nature and Many parents are overweigh because the food they eat is junk food and the truth is that over 20% of Americans don’t know how to eat right so you can stay healthy and fit. I could point out all day mistakes and not understandable situation that don’t happen and are not normal in Europe,but I am not that kind a person.United States need to stop trying to prove the world that they are better and more developed country then many countries around the world because US is no longer dominant country in the world many countries have succesfully overtaken US with progress and technology. THE END

  • Anonymous

    “A Stop-Start is a Micro hybrid as stated in the article. If you can do regen braking, you can do propulsion assist. In fact you have to do assist. Otherwise, what do you do with the energy you recover during regen?”

    Nah. A bit further info. from What Car in the UK:
    “Mini is fitting every car in its range with stop-start technology that switches off the engine when the vehicle is stationary, and an alternator that charges the battery during braking.”

    That’s it. It doesn’t power the car forward. Therefore, I disagree to call those only equipped with start-stop tech ‘hybrids’. By definition, hybrid has to have more than one source of power, ICE & electric, or any combination of power of ‘more than’ ONE source.

  • The proud

    I’m not American, but I live in USA, and there’s no greater nation than this country. Europe is sick, that’s why all my friends who liv in europe wants to come here. You are all communists! An you want Obama to become this country in another Europe so all the junk can live without working.