What Is a Micro-Hybrid?

November 5, 2013

Some might be confused about what a micro hybrid vehicle is, since there are few currently on the U.S. market. There is not really much on the radar within the U.S. about the micro-hybrid and what this technology brings to the table.

What is a Micro-Hybrid?
A micro hybrid vehicle uses what's called a "start-stop system," where regenerative braking technology helps to stop a combustion engine when the vehicle pulls to a stop, and to restart it when the driver accelerates. There are several different versions of the system, which some are now calling the "simplest hybrid technology" on the international market.

What's Happening in the U.S.?
There is a contrast between the auto market in Europe, where micro hybrid vehicles are common, and in the U.S., where the top three automakers seem to be ignoring some of the benefits of this technology. Micro hybrid advocates point to BMW and other German and European models as implementing micro hybrid design cheaply and efficiently. Some suggest that the price of these systems could be down below $1000, making it an affordable design that could save American drivers a few miles per gallon. It's rumored that General Motors, after playing around with a possible micro hybrid design for some models, abandoned the idea, resulting in its absence from the U.S. market.

Opinions abound over why this kind of technology has not taken off in America. Consumer demand is one possible culprit. However, some also claim that providing this technology as a kit or in new line models may not be realistic for a variety of reasons. Whether it's a difference in driver psychology across the Atlantic, or something based on specific technological application, the relative absence of a micro hybrid offering in the American market has a lot of people wondering about what kind of hybrid technology Americans will eventually embrace. How this can lead to reduced miles per gallon, smarter vehicle engineering, and vehicle emissions savings that will help stop a now globally recognized tailspin into a negative greenhouse gas pattern.

How to Purchase a Micro-Hybrid

You will find there are very few choices available in the United States at this time. In fact, as of the date of this writing there is only one micro-hybrid vehicle available for sale in the U.S.—unless you purchase a grey market vehicle.

The Smart Fortwo
The Smart Fortwo is manufactured by Smart, a manufacturer subsidiary of the German auto giant Daimler AG, or Mercedes. At present it is the only micro hybrid vehicle available for sale in the United States through traditional dealer to consumer channels.

Before 2008, you could only purchase Smart vehicles through grey market dealers and getting warranty service on the vehicles was difficult at best. At that time, Smart Fortwo micro-hybrid vehicles were imported in to the United States by Defiance Company LLC and then sent to California where they were converted for use in the U.S. by G&K Automotive Conversion. The vehicles were then sold to independent dealers that sold the vehicles to consumers. The dealerships had no affiliation with Smart and were not authorized to perform maintenance or service on the vehicles.

Smart Micro Hybrids Available in the U.S
In 2008, DaimlerChrysler began exporting the Smart Fortwo gasoline version to the United States. Smart Fortwo cars are sold through the holding company, Penske Automotive Group, which created the Smart USA brand and opened up a chain of dealerships across the country in select cities.

At present, Smart USA is the only authorized dealer of Smart Fortwo vehicles in the country. You can find a Smart USA dealer by visiting the Smart USA website. You will be shown an interactive map where you can click on the dealership location nearest you. Alternatively, you can enter your home area zip code and you will be show a list of dealer locations in your area. Smart USA currently has over 70 locations across the United States and has plans to open more in the next couple of years.

Other Ways to Purchase Micro Hybrid Cars
If you want to purchase a micro-hybrid car from another car manufacturer, you need to make arrangements to purchase a micro-hybrid overseas and then have it shipped to the United States. You will probably have to invest additional money into having the vehicle converted to meet U.S. standards, and may run into difficulties when registering the vehicle in your state if you don't make sure the speedometer is not changed from the metric system to a U.S. based system. Also, you need to make sure the vehicle is properly converted to comply with vehicle emission standards in your state. You should also be aware that you will most likely be required to pay cash for a vehicle for that you purchase overseas, unless you get approval from a bank or lender beforehand.