Expansion of Mild Hybrid Tech Could Spur Green Car Sales in Europe

Mild hybrids, vehicles that are just as fuel-efficient as regular hybrids, but not as complex, could spur growth of plug-in vehicles in Europe.

Timothy Healey
    Apr 01, 2017 4:00 PM  PT
Expansion of Mild Hybrid Tech Could Spur Green Car Sales in Europe
author: Timothy Healey    

Hybrid cars are seeing increased sales in Europe, and an expansion of mild-hybrid tech could be further drive sales growth.

Sales of hybrid and plug-in hybrid models were up 30 percent in Europe last year, with just over 400,000 units sold. As strong as that growth is, analysts and automaker officials are suggesting that it will be even stronger going forward, as so-called "mild" hybrid powertrains proliferate. These powertrains are fuel-efficient but less mechanically complex – and thus easier and cheaper to build – than full-on hybrid powertrains.

Not only that, but some analysts suggest sales of mild hybrids will outpace sales of full-on hybrids and other plug-in hybrids sooner rather than later.

The lower cost and relative ease of construction will likely spur the growth of mild hybrids, thus helping spur overall hybrid-powertrain growth. Automotive-industry forecasting company IHS Automotive predicts that by 2025, mild hybrids will make up 18 percent of the European market. By comparison, plug-in hybrids are expected to grow by 6 percent, full hybrids by 3 percent and electric vehicles also by 3 percent.

Right now, the growth is centered around full hybrids. Credit Toyota for having a big hand in that – the company just launched its hybrid RAV4 and hybrid C-HR in Europe, and the launches of these two compact SUVs come after the company brought gas/electric versions of the Auris compact and Yaris subcompact to Europe last year.

All told, Toyota sold 232,699 hybrids across Europe last year, which is up 47 percent from the previous year, according to data from market-research company JATO Dynamics.  A tad over 40,000 of those were RAV4 hybrids. Lexus, Toyota's luxury brand, sold a tad over 40,000 hybrids as well.

A Toyota official told Automotive News that the company would like hybrids to account for half of its European sales by 2020. At the time of the interview, the number stood at 31 percent. The C-HR could help the company achieve that goal – the official said he expects up to 70 percent of C-HR sales to be hybrids.

Kia and Hyundai will be big rivals to Toyota in the European market, with the Kia Niro hybrid and the Hyundai Ioniq, which will be available in hybrid and EV trims. Plug-in versions of both will be available soon.

Due to the higher costs of hybrids and plug-in hybrids, many European governments offer incentives to consumers to offset the cost and to try to spur hybrid sales.

Unlike the more complicated – and more expensive – conventional hybrids and plug-in hybrids, mild hybrids generally simply use a small electric motor that assists the gasoline-engine powertrain. The battery gets recharged by energy recovered during acceleration and braking

Automaker officials believe that the cost-effectiveness of mild hybrids will make them a key part of the future.

Jose Avila, Continental's board member for its powertrain division, told Automotive News Europe that the technology's low cost will make it mainstream and do so quickly. "Typically a manufacturer says that an acceptable compromise for fuel economy versus cost is 50 euros per gram of CO2 savings," he said. "This technology gets very close to that."

Automotive News Europe