'Micro Hybrids' The Next Big Thing, Less Costly Than Mild Hybrids?

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2012 Buick Regal with eAssist

2012 Buick Regal with eAssist

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Not all hybrids are created equal. In fact, several different types are sold throughout the automotive industry, all offering varying economical benefits and priced at varying levels.

Technology and innovation firm Johnson Controls Inc. suggests there's room for even more, and the next big thing in hybrids could be 'micro hybrids', according to M Live.

We've traditionally known 'micro hybrid' as a catch-all term for vehicles with stop-start technology.

They don't really feature two different powertrains, as the term hybrid traditionally implies, but they're thrown in under the umbrella due to the small economy benefits offered.

For Johnson Controls, a micro hybrid is slightly different.

Here, it's more similar to mild hybrids--vehicles with an electric motor and battery pack for assistance and energy capture, but those which can't drive on electricity alone unlike a full hybrid--but using a lower-voltage power source.

Current mild hybrids, like GM's eAssist system or Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) work at high voltage--100 volts for a Honda Insight, for example. While this poses no thread to the average vehicle user, it does mean extra expense and protection measures to ensure the electrical system can't cause harm to emergency responders and others who may come into contact with the car.

The new micro hybrids will operate similarly to mild hybrids, but use a lower-voltage system--less than 60 volts.

Without the risk of potentially dangerous electrocution, the systems can be much simpler and less expensive, cost savings which can then be passed to consumers.

According to MaryAnn Wright from Johnson Controls--who previously worked on Ford's Escape Hybrid program--such systems paired with stop-start engine technology could improve the average vehicle's fuel economy by 15 to 20 percent.

Wright believes the cost of current hybrids still keeps most buyers away (despite the success of models like Toyota's Prius) and that micro hybrids will offer a much better economy and cost balance. With cheaper batteries, they'll alleviate customer fears of expensive battery replacements too--even if those fears aren't really based on the reality of such systems.

You might be unsurprised to discover that Johnson Controls has a stake in such technology, so you're free to take their comments with a pinch of salt.

However, with mild hybrid technology already expected to grow over the coming years to bridge the gap between regular vehicles and full hybrids, low-voltage, less expensive micro hybrids might win that battle before it even starts.

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