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What is a mild hybrid? The hybrid technology you may not even know you have

For car manufacturers, that is often part of the point.

Sales of electric vehicles continue to grow every year, and several companies are announcing plans to stop using petrol engines. However, high fuel costs and the relatively high prices of all-electric cars have meant that hybrids can still help drivers save money. And customers buy hybrids in large numbers, even if they do not always acknowledge that they are buying one.

Toyota Prius sent car buyers to dealers in the early 2000s, when gasoline prices rose and a recession made them look for fuel-efficient alternatives. But these Prius waiting lists became easier over the years as more hybrids entered the market. Toyota Prius sales peaked in the United States in 201[ads1]2, with over 230,000 sales. In 2019, the number shrank to just over 69,000.

But at the same time, hybrid technology has become more common. And while all-electric vehicles have a certain cultural cache, automakers are often wary of calling out their gasoline-electric hybrids. While many hybrids are proudly billed as such – Hyundai Tucson Hybrid and Ford Escape Hybrid, for example – others, often vehicles with mild hybrid systems, include this information only in technical documents or the user manual.

Toyota Tundra iForce Max hybrid system offers V8 power from a 6-cylinder engine.

Hybrid market share has more than doubled since 2017, from 2.0% of the market to 5.1% of the market, according to data from the car website But it does not capture all hybrid cars, said analyst Ivan Drury. It is impossible to know exactly how many hybrid trucks, cars and SUVs are sold because they are only considered hybrids in industry statistics when the manufacturer calls it a hybrid, or gives it its own model name, Drury said. Often, car manufacturers do not specifically call hybrid systems more than they would with a different engine or gearbox function. This means that a Toyota Rav4 Hybrid can be counted while a Toyota Tundra i-Force Max pick-up, which is also a hybrid, may not.

The differences in how hybrid cars are marketed – sometimes with a “Hybrid” brand in chrome on the back and sometimes with hardly any mention – can come down to how the technology is perceived by different types of customers.

“There may be a slight stigma attached to the word ‘hybrid,'” said Bill Visnic, editor-in-chief of the Society of Automotive Engineers.

Some car customers fear that hybrid may mean “small” performance, he said.

When people think of hybrids, they tend to think of the icon of the type, the Toyota Prius. The Prius, and other hybrids like it, have batteries that store energy while the car is driving. That electricity is then used to drive an electric motor that can drive the wheels at low speeds – or even at high speeds if the accelerator pedal is not pressed hard – and provide extra pressure during acceleration. But modern hybrids have moved beyond Prius technology.

From “mild” to “full” hybrids

Many modern cars have what are called “mild hybrid” systems. These vehicles have smaller, lighter batteries and a less powerful electric motor than so-called full hybrids. The electric motor can not normally drive the car on its own, but it can provide assistance when the vehicle starts from a stop. The gas engine still does most things, but the electric motor gives an extra push that facilitates the gas engine’s work. Due to their smaller batteries, mild-hybrid technology is easier to insert into a vehicle without taking up cargo or passenger space for battery packs. They also do not provide much cost for the vehicle, making them easier to sell to buyers who are not completely focused on fuel economy.

Mild hybrid systems can be found in surprising places, such as some Jeep Wrangler and Ram 1500 full-size pickup models. The optional mild hybrid eTorque system in the Ram 1500 allows the truck’s gas engine to shut down when the truck stops, allowing the truck to drain the battery while standing still for up to approx. 10 minutes. (Not all vehicles that shut down the engine at a stop are necessarily a mild hybrid.) When the driver releases the brake pedal, an electric motor can begin to move the truck forward in less than half a second while the throttle engine starts up again.

The mild hybrid system adds up to two extra miles per gallon, mostly for city driving, according to the manufacturer.

Other cars have full hybrid Prius-style systems, but just do not market them that way. The Toyota Tundra i-Force Max, for example, is a full hybrid pickup, but you never know from looking at it. It can turn off the engine and sometimes run only with the help of the electric motor. But even on the measuring cluster, there is no indication that the truck has a hybrid system. It is a meter that shows the amount of power coming from the electric motor, but it is only marked “Max.”

The Tundra i-Force Max does not make much out of the hybrid nature, said Craig Herring, a Toyota engineer, because potential customers during market research showed no interest in buying a hybrid. But they were interested in more traction and traction without affecting fuel economy. The tundra’s hybrid system is set for maximum power instead of primarily fuel economy. In the Tundra series, the i-Force Max takes the place of what may have been a thirstiest V8 engine alternative for customers who want maximum towing and tail capacity. With its emphasis on power, however, the Tundra hybrid is less fuel efficient than Ford’s hybrid F-150, but it provides a little more horsepower and torque.

Some vehicles, such as the new Audi A3 compact sedan, are somewhere between mild and full hybrids. It is technically a mild hybrid, but it is not so mild. As in a full hybrid, an electric motor can move the relatively small and light A3, Audi’s entry-level model, at low speeds or when free-riding on a flat road or downhill. Similar technology has been available on larger Audi models in Europe, said Anthony Garbis, head of product planning for Audi of America, but it was felt that American customers may not appreciate it on the larger, more luxurious cars.

“We always thought it was a little strange to have your A8 [full-size luxury sedan] the coast down the highway, “he said.” So with the A3, it seemed like the right crowd, the right price, and the right technology to introduce the free-ride feature. “

And with Audi moving towards a fully electric series in just over a decade, there is less focus now on this type of technology, he said. Now Audi is looking forward to when their cars will not have a gas engine at all.

How to find a secret hybrid

If you are curious about whether a car you are considering buying has mild hybrid technology, a visit to the car manufacturer’s website will usually tell you. Or you can just Google or go directly to online resources like Consumer Reports (subscription required),,, or, if you really want to dig into the details,
If you’re just looking for the best fuel economy, no matter what technology involved, Environmental Protection Agency’s is always the best place to start.

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