Hybrid Cars

With the cost of gasoline hovering around the $4.00 per gallon mark at one point, it cost $50 or more to fill up at a gasoline station.  Just as fuel economy became more worrisome for many consumers, the automotive industry introduced a new technology with a promise to lower those monthly gasoline bills:  hybrid cars.

What is a Hybrid Vehicle?

On the one hand the highways of America are full of cars that run on gasoline.  On the other hand there are fuel cell cars and other electric vehicles that are slowly moving from the research labs to the automobile manufacturer's production lines.  In between there is a hybrid car; a vehicle that offers consumers a compromise between these two ends of the spectrum.

One of the important features of a hybrid vehicle is that it does not require any shift in infrastructure or normal operating procedure.  That is, hybrids meet the basic requirements that everyone's come to expect when buying a new car:

  • The car can be driven 300 miles or more before refueling is required.
  • The car can be refueled quickly and conveniently.  That is, a widespread refueling infrastructure exists.
  • The car performs like other cars on the road today in terms of safety, handling, and acceleration.

Currently, fuel cell cars do not meet any of these three criteria completely; however, hybrid cars do.

Hybrid Vehicle Design

The theory behind a hybrid car is simple:  overcome the limitations of today's electric cars by leveraging the power of gasoline driven engines.  In fact, hybrid technology has been around for years, and individuals that are familiar with the workings of today's diesel powered locomotives understand this point.  Hybrids use a traditional fuel, such as gasoline, to produce electricity that drives an electric motor.

hybrid car economicsPutting together a hybrid car is a somewhat complex engineering feat, which utilizes the following closely-integrated vehicle components:

Gasoline Engines

The power plant of a hybrid remains the internal combustion gasoline engine.  To achieve some of the engineering goals of these vehicles, the engines utilize advanced fuel efficient technologies to both lower emissions and increase the car's fuel economy.

Fuel Tank

The batteries found in today's electric vehicles are just not able to match the efficiency of gasoline in terms of energy stored per pound.  That is, it's possible to store a lot more energy in gasoline compared to batteries on a pound for pound basis.  That's just one of the reasons hybrid cars still depend on gasoline and traditional fuel tanks.

Electric Motor / Generator

The electric motor on a hybrid car is sophisticated, and can work in one of two ways, parallel or series, which will be described in detail later on.  Essentially, the electric motor(s) drive the wheels of the car, and the motor can act as a generator that captures energy when slowing down.

Batteries

Right now, batteries in a hybrid car are used to store supplemental energy that can drive the electric motor.  For example, the supplemental energy stored in batteries could be used to move the vehicle up a steep hill or incline.  Energy can be stored to the batteries as well as drawn from them as the car moves along the roadway.

Electric Motor Vehicle Technologies

As mentioned, hybrid electric vehicles, or HEVs, depend on both electric motors and internal combustion engines.  Hybrid cars use energy stored in a battery to move an electric motor, which then moves a car in one of two ways:

  • Parallel Hybrid Motor Design:  with the parallel design, the internal combustion engine and the electric motor are connected directly to the vehicle's wheels.  The internal combustion engine is used for highway driving while the electric motors add power during periods of high demand such as acceleration.
  • Series Hybrid Motor Design:  with the series design, the engine is connected to a generator that produces electricity, which is used to drive the electric motor powering the wheels of the car.  With all wheel drive (AWD) vehicles, such as the Toyota Highlander SUV, two electric motors power the vehicle.

Of course car manufacturers can also use combinations of the above two designs to achieve even greater savings.

New Hybrid Cars, Trucks and SUVs

New hybrids on the road today fall into the three major categories of non-commercial vehicles:  cars, trucks, and SUVs.  Listed below are hybrids (2020 models) that can be found on the road today, grouped by these categories:

  • Compact Car Toyota Corolla Hybrid MPG: City, 53; Highway, 52; Combined, 52
  • Large car Audi S8 MPG: City, 13; Highway, 22; Combined, 16
  • Midsize Car Audi A6 Allroad MPG: City, 20; Highway, 26; Combined, 22
  • Midsize car Audi S6 MPG: City, 18; Highway, 28; Combined, 22
  • Midsize car Audi S7 MPG: City, 18; Highway, 28; Combined, 22
  • Small SUV - 2WD Ford Escape FWD HEV MPG: City, 44; Highway, 37; Combined, 41
  • Small SUV - 4WD Ford Escape AWD HEV MPG: City, 43; Highway, 37; Combined, 40
  • Small SUV - 4WD Honda CR-V AWD MPG: City, 40; Highway, 35; Combined, 38
  • Small SUV - 4WD Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Blue MPG: City, 50; Highway, 54; Combined, 52
  • Small SUV - 4WD Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 4WD MPG: City, 19; Highway, 22; Combined, 20
  • Small SUV - 4WD Land Rover Discovery Sport MHEV MPG: City, 19; Highway, 24; Combined, 21
  • Small SUV - 4WD Land Rover Evoque MHEV MPG: City, 21; Highway, 26; Combined, 23
  • Small SUV 2WD Toyota Highlander Hybrid MPG: City, 36; Highway, 35; Combined, 36
  • Small SUV 4WD Toyota Highlander Hybrid AWD LTD/PLAT MPG: City, 35; Highway, 34; Combined, 35
  • Standard SUV - 2WD Ford Explorer HEV RWD MPG: City, 27; Highway, 29; Combined, 28
  • Standard SUV - 4WD Audi Q7 MPG: City, 17; Highway, 21; Combined, 18
  • Standard SUV - 4WD Audi RS Q8 MPG: City, 13; Highway, 19; Combined, 15
  • Standard SUV - 4WD Ford Explorer HEV AWD MPG: City, 23; Highway, 26; Combined, 25
  • Standard SUV - 4WD Mercedes-Benz GLE450 4matic MPG: City, 19; Highway, 24; Combined, 21
  • Standard SUV - 4WD Mercedes-Benz GLE580 4matic MPG: City, 17; Highway, 21; Combined, 19
  • Standard SUV - 4WD Mercedes-Benz GLS450 4matic MPG: City, 19; Highway, 23; Combined, 21
  • Standard SUV - 4WD Mercedes-Benz GLS580 4matic MPG: City, 16; Highway, 21; Combined, 18

Driving Hybrid Vehicles

Since ybrids utilize advanced systems to generate and recapture energy, there are certain driving habits that can maximize the fuel economy of these vehicles.  Some of these methods also apply to gasoline powered vehicles:

  • Slow Down:  As speed increases, so does the wind drag on the car.  The drag force at 70 miles per hour is roughly double that of a car traveling at 50 miles per hour.  By reducing the vehicle's speed, it's possible to increase gas mileage.
  • Maintaining Speed:  Engines run most efficiently when they are operated at a constant speed.  Speeding up or slowing down decreases efficiency and fuel economy.
  • Stopping the Car:  Hybrid cars are able to recapture energy either through magnetic braking systems and / or via the engine acting as a generator.  The more time an electric hybrid is given to slow down, the greater the amount of energy recaptured by these systems.

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