With the premium for a full hybrid as high as $6,000, automakers are using parts of hybrid systems -- such as stop-start, regenerative braking and small electric motors -- to get fuel economy benefits at a modest price.
They hope to hit consumers' sweet spot with the resulting vehicles, called mild hybrids, which contain some elements of a hybrid but can't run on electricity alone, even for a short distance. So far, however, the technology package has yet to prove itself in the marketplace.
General Motors' eAssist mild hybrid system in the Buick LaCrosse and Regal has enjoyed success. GM said in June that eAssist accounted for about 25 percent of LaCrosse sales. Assuming that mix remained constant, that would mean GM had sold slightly more than 1,000 LaCrosse eAssist units through August. And GM will make eAssist standard on the base-model 2013 Regal. The system uses a small electric motor to assist the internal combustion engine.
On the other hand, Chevrolet rolled out its 2013 Malibu first with the Eco mild-hybrid version, a version of the eAssist technology. But customers strongly favored the less expensive 2012 closeout nonhybrid car. From the March launch through June, the last sales breakdown GM has released, GM sold only 6,953 Ecos, just 6.5 percent of Malibu sales in those months.The sales numbers pale against those of the Toyota Prius, a full hybrid: 164,408 U.S. sales through August.