What Is a Mild Hybrid Vehicle?

There are a variety of vehicles on the market these days that might have ambiguous meanings. For instance, what is the difference between a hybrid vehicle, mild hybrid, and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) vehicle?

What is the difference between a hybrid and a mild hybrid?

The Ford Fiesta Sport Van Mild Hybrid
The Ford Fiesta Sport Van Mild Hybrid | John Keeble/Getty Images

Most people know what a hybrid is at this point, but here is a refresher from Car and Driver. This type of vehicle uses both an electric motor and a gasoline engine. The system also uses regenerative braking to recapture the energy and reuse it. Depending on the scenario, sometimes the electric motor is the only power source. Sometimes, it is the gasoline engine. And sometimes, both the electric motor and gas engine work together. This offers drivers better fuel economy.

When it comes to a mild hybrid, Autotrader has some critical information.

“A mild hybrid system generates electricity to power the auxiliary functions of a car. It often uses a 48-volt electrical system to power things like the starter and the USB ports inside the vehicle.”

Autotrader

Essentially, the mild-hybrid system takes a little pressure off the gasoline engine. It takes care of some of the electric duties, so the engine doesn’t have to. Autotrader says that in the eTorque system that comes in the Ram 1500, the mild system provides extra power and torque. The significant difference between a regular hybrid and a mild hybrid is that the mild system doesn’t make enough power to actually move the vehicle.

How does a mild hybrid work?

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A mild hybrid car uses a small electric motor and a generator in a parallel hybrid configuration. For most cars using a mild hybrid setup, the system runs off a 48-volt generator. This helps take some of the load off the gas engine to make the vehicle more efficient. The mild-hybrid uses regenerative braking to recharge the system, much like an electric vehicle. That means there is less pressure on the gasoline engine to keep the system charged. Regenerative braking helps feed energy back into the system when the driver presses on the brakes.

One way this helps is with the starter motor. The 48-volt electrical system can restart the engine so that the gasoline-powered engine doesn’t have to. This might not seem like a huge advantage, but it adds up over time.

What benefits does this type of system offer?

There are a few benefits to the mild system. It offers drivers better fuel economy. Autotrader says that the Ram 1500 saw a 17% improvement by adding the optional eTorque system to the Hemi V8. It can also offer more power and torque, but not always. In particular, pickup trucks can potentially see improvements in performance.

If you aren’t ready to jump into the world of electric vehicles yet, this kind of system doesn’t require plugging in. There is no charging necessary and you just fill the engine at the gas station like any other vehicle. In the same sort of situation, it is basically an entry-level option to the world of electric vehicles. It isn’t quite as complicated as finding charging stations and making sure your battery is charged. It offers some of those benefits, but without all of the drama.

Volvo is adding a mild hybrid option for next year, and it seems the Ram 1500 option is sticking around as well. The Cadillac XT4 is being offered with such a system in China, but that has not been confirmed for the U.S. yet.

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