Mild Hybrid Sales Forecast to Peak Soon

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Global sales of so-called 'mild hybrids' – petrol-electric cars defined by a small high voltage battery pack that can complement the internal combustion engine – are set to peak within the next few years according to new research undertaken by industry website just-auto.com.

Beyond 2012, mild hybrid systems may be harder to cost-justify as production volume ramps up substantially and – incremental costs fall with volume – for boosted DI small engines.

Mild hybrids such as the Honda Insight have grown market share in recent years, but crucially, unlike the ‘full hybrid’ variant, their motors (at 10-15kW) are too small to power the vehicle on electric power alone.

A mild hybrid offers one way to downsize a petrol engine while maintaining acceptable performance under peak power demands, but direct injection and turbocharging (à la Ford’s ‘EcoBoost’ engine programme) is another. The two tactics are likely to compete among vehicle makers placing their bets for the powertrains they offer through 2015 or so.

Research author John Voelcker points out that while mild hybrids still incur the cost of the battery pack, an electric motor, the power electronics to deal with high voltage electricity, and the associated control systems to manage integration with the engine and transmission controllers.

“The incremental costs of that equipment are substantial,” he says. “Mild hybrids must therefore compete favourably on cost against downsized, high-output, direct injected and/or turbocharged diesel and petrol engines that achieve close to the same consumption. Beyond 2012, mild hybrid systems may be harder to cost-justify as production volume ramps up substantially and – incremental costs fall with volume – for boosted DI small engines.”

The research for just-auto also finds that mild hybrids will be pressed in the future by cheaper full hybrid systems – and the costs of those systems can be amortised over their plug-in variants, whereas mild hybrids are not powerful enough to be fitted with larger battery packs that can be plugged in.

In this sense, they are a technology that is ‘stuck in the middle’ and searching for a long-term niche.

Beyond sheer cost, for consumers, the big question is whether full hybrids offer special ‘hybrid’ capabilities that are more appealing. Because it cannot run electrically, a mild hybrid vehicle ‘feels’ like a slightly underpowered petrol car with a stop-start system, rather than a ‘real hybrid’.

As consumers gradually grow comfortable with the notion of vehicles that plug in, and start to learn about battery electric vehicles from major manufacturers, the industry feels that electric running will increase in importance as a selling point for any electric-drive vehicle.

Moreover, the industry as a whole considers electric running and the greater efficiencies of a full hybrid system to offer the best payback on the investment in electric machinery. Virtually every major vehicle maker is working on a full hybrid system; few are pursuing mild hybrid systems.

This does not mean that mild hybrids will vanish overnight. But while mild hybrid production volume is likely to increase to as much as 1m per year by 2015, our research suggests that full hybrids will be at volumes three times that or more at that same point. That volume puts mild hybrids at less than 2% of total global production of, say, 70m vehicles.

Further, mild hybrid production volume could plateau in the middle of the decade, when the incremental cost for a (non-plug-in) full hybrid system will likely have fallen to no more than that of a mild hybrid system today, and then begin to decline.

Further details of just-auto's research report, 'Global market review of mild hybrid vehicles – forecasts to 2017' are available by following this link http://www.just-auto.com/market-research/global-market-review-of-mild-hybrid-vehicles-forecasts-to-2017_id89416.aspx?lk=pr

About just-auto
Since 1999, just-auto.com has provided the global automotive industry with the latest news, insight and intelligence. The just-auto.com research store provides the latest market research across automotive industry sectors. Including market reviews, forecast data, market trends, new product developments, latest technology and much more. The team of industry experts, analysts and journalists provide real-time news and comment on the latest industry developments.

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Chris Boaz
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