In an otherwise lackluster year for the clean energy/clean tech sector, Clean Edge, Inc., in its Clean Energy Trends 2013 report, cites the trend to microhybrids as one of the more positive and lasting movements in the transportation sector. While much attention is focused on electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, the group sees microhybrids, also known as start-stop, idle-stop-go, idle elimination, mild hybrid or other names, as contributing more to increased fuel efficiency than any other technology.
The technology has been on the market for more than a decade and at least 40 percent of the new cars in Europe and Japan already use it, but it’s on its way to the U.S. as well. The attraction for the auto industry is that this is a relatively cheap technology that delivers tangible fuel economy improvements and helps them along the way to the goal of 54.5 mpg by 2025.
The Clean Edge reports points to Johnson Controls, a 125-year-old Tier 1 supplier based in Milwaukee, WI, as the leader for American introduction of microhybrid technology, which has already shown up on several GM vehicles under the eAssist name and appears ready to spread to many more. It’s a relatively low-cost part of the overall hybrid package. Start-stop alone may add 5-10 percent to mpg numbers while coupled with regenerative braking and an electric-powered air conditioning compressor, that number could double based on European testing.
Clean Edge quotes Thanh Nguyen, technology planning manager for power solutions at Johnson Controls, as estimating $1,000 in start-stop and related technologies could get the average car to about 48 mpg by 2025. That cost is less than half of a typical full hybrid system (include start-stop as part of their fuel-saving package).
The GM models use start-stop in a system that delivers up to 36 mpg highway, a 25 percent boost compared to the non-eAssist models. Other companies currently on the American market with non-hybrid start-stop systems include BMW, Mercedes, Porsche and Jaguar. Ford, Kia and the Dodge Ram pickup are the next ones expected to add the system.
Clean Edge cites Lux Research as forecasting that start-stop systems alone, not including full hybrids, will be found on eight million new vehicles by 2017, which would be four times the number of hybrids on the road today. Johnson Controls expects that by 2015 more than 35 million vehicles worldwide would employ start-stop systems. In addition to Johnson Controls, other companies supplying systems are Axion Power, Robert Bosch LLC, Delphi Automotive and Exide Technologies.
What Clean Edge has pointed out is a truism of the auto industry. Automakers will find the lowest cost solution to meeting regulatory standards that still satisfies customers. In start-stop systems, they appear to have found just the kind of tool they like to boost fuel economy while not compromising the overall performance of the vehicle or costing more than a consumer is willing to pay.