Home // Green Cars // What is hybrid cars?

What is hybrid cars?

By admin in , , | November 25, 2009 | Comments Off on What is hybrid cars?

      Hybrid cars are part battery-electric and part conventional cars. The underlying principle of all hybrid vehicles is the use of a temporary energy storage device (usually a battery), which enables the main engine to be operated at close to its maximum efficiency.

How do hybrid cars work?

At least two types of hybrid drive have been developed. ‘Series hybrids’ use a combustion engine to generate electricity, which powers an electric motor so providing motive power. In ‘parallel hybrids’, the wheels can be either directly powered by the engine or by a battery-powered electric drive-train. In both types, when the engine loading is low, the excess energy is stored for later use. When a large amount of energy is required (eg during acceleration), the main engine and the energy storage device work together to deliver the required power. In this way, hybrids provide improved fuel economy and reduced emissions.

Hybrids are also classed either as ‘mild’ or ‘strong’ to reflect the degree of battery power incorporated into the design, strong hybrids being able to spend more time in electric-only mode. Most hybrids operate in electric/zero-emission mode at low speeds (typically less than 15 mph), which makes them ideal for urban driving. Although on-board batteries add to vehicle weight, hybrids require high power batteries with a smaller energy capacity than are required by battery-electric cars. Battery storage also enables the use of regenerative braking which tops up the battery when the brakes are applied, further reducing overall fuel consumption by around 20%.


What are hybrid cars like to drive?


The driving performance of hybrids is not unlike that of a conventional car. Road handling is similar to an equivalent non-hybrid model and acceleration times are broadly comparable or even slightly improved. For the earlier designs, the first difference you might notice is a distinctive approach to styling, as these were largely aimed at buyers who wanted to stand out from the crowd. But this is no longer the case and many hybrids could pass you by in the street without you noticing (they probably already have).

From the driving seat you are more likely to be aware of the differences of a hybrid car design. These include push-to-start controls and innovative displays to inform the driver of the energy flow and fuel consumption as well as the usual speedometer and odometer. On pulling away, and at low speeds, you would also be aware of the lack of engine noise (while in electric-only mode). This can be a little unnerving at first, but quickly becomes accepted as the norm. All in all, however, the hybrid cars on the market can be considered as proven state-of-the-art vehicles alongside their conventional counterparts. Some could even be considered technically superior due to their improved fuel economy, smooth acceleration and innovative on-board features.


How do I refuel a hybrid car?


As most hybrids on the market use gasoline, fuel is dispensed from fuel pumps in exactly the same way as for conventional cars. Indeed, the great advantage of gasoline-fuelled hybrid cars is that they require no change in fuel and can use any conventional fuel station in the US. As the range and fuel-performance of hybrids is better than their conventional counterparts there are no restrictions on the applications for which they can be used. With no technical barriers to their use, hybrid vehicles therefore possess great potential to become the new standard automotive technology of the next decade.


Are hybrid cars better for the environment?


On North American and European roads, most gasoline-hybrids reduce lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions (per mile) by around 25% compared to an equivalent gasoline car. All non-carbon emissions are also significantly reduced for a gasoline-hybrid passenger car as compared to a conventional gasoline vehicle. These include typical reductions in carbon monoxide (CO), non-methane hydrocarbons (NMOG) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) of over 70%.

Unlike other green cars, the future of hybrids is not threatened by the improving fuel and emissions performance of conventional vehicle technology. This is because a hybridised engine will always outperform its non-hybrid equivalent. The second reason, and the most telling, is that all conventional engines may have to be hybridised if they are to conform to future emission standards. In other words, the future conventional and hybrid car may be one and the same.


How much do hybrid cars cost to own?


Some ownership costs for hybrid cars are higher than for their gasoline and diesel equivalents, due principally to the higher purchase price. Typically, for new car, the additional purchase price is in the range of $2,000-$3,000, depending on whether it is a mild or strong hybrid design. Due to their relatively recent appearance, there remains some uncertainty about annual depreciation rates and resale value for hybrids. However, initial experience from the US market suggests that gasoline-hybrids depreciate at about the same rate as conventional cars. This assumes that battery-life is as predicted and well beyond the warranty period.


How much do hybrid cars cost to run?


Most running costs are less for hybrids than conventional vehicles. In particular, the higher capital costs are offset by lower fuel costs due to the high fuel economy of the vehicles themselves. As is the case with carbon emissions (see above), hybrids typically use 20%-30% less fuel per mile (as compared to a conventional gasoline car), depending on driving conditions and whether a mild or strong hybrid design is used.

Due to their novelty and use of state-of-the-art batteries, servicing, maintenance and repair costs remain somewhat unknown. Although there is good reason to think that these costs will remain similar to those for conventional cars, servicing may require going to a specialist centre or back to the dealership. In order to reduce consumer uncertainty, many hybrid car manufacturers provide high-mileage warranties that cover the additional hybrid components (typically for 8-10 years or 100,000 miles).


Where can I buy a hybrid car?


At least 16 hybrid cars are now commercially available in the US (Model Years 22009 and 2010). One of the first to reach the salesroom, and probably still the most important production hybrid, is the Toyota Prius that has been available in the US since 2000, and now in its third generation. Hybrids are also available from Honda, who offer the Civic Hybrid IMA and the new Insight, and Lexus who market a number top-of-the-range hybrids including, the RX450h SUV and the GS450h executive saloon. Other well known brands offering hybrid models including Ford (Fusion midsize car and Escape SUV) and GMC (Yukon and Sierra SUVs).

The future prospects for hybrids look very strong. The market leader, the Prius, has seen a strong growth in sales from just over 300 in its first year (in Japan) to over 120,000 sales in the US alone. In 2007, US sales of all hybrid models reached a peak of 360,000 vehicles, with sales falling due to the economic downturn. As the global market recovers, hybrid sales are likely to recover faster than the rest of the automotive market as car buyers increasingly demand fuel-efficient models.


Tag: , ,

Leave a Reply

comment closed