This term has been around since the end of the 19th century. Most of us probably came to hear of it from around 2003 to 2009 or later with the coming of the second generation Toyota Prius. The first hybrid car was made by Ferdinand Porsche. It could travel 61 kilometres on electric power solely and could achieve a maximum speed of 56 kph. After this invention there was a silence on hybrids for like 60 years.
In the 60’s there arose concerns on emissions by automobiles which prompted more research on hybrid cars. Petro-Electric Motors tried to develop a strong and sustainable hybrid car using the Buick Skylark but unfortunately it didn’t work out. The hybrid silence continued until the end of 1997 when the first generation Toyota Prius came into the car market. The Prius is the best selling hybrid car model. It set the standard and premiered a new revolution in the modern car world. So how exactly do hybrid cars work?
A hybrid car uses two power sources. The most common combination of power sources is gas (petrol)-electric. I’m neither an engineer nor an engineering student so my knowledge may not be as expansive or in-depth. Hybrid cars fall under different classifications. For example, based on powertrain there are parallel hybrids, series hybrids and power-split hybrids and based on degree of hybridization there are fully hybrid cars and mild hybrid cars.
A full hybrid car, like a Prius, can run only on gas/combustion engine, on an electric motor or both. A mild hybrid cannot operate solely on an electric motor because the motor does not have enough power to keep the car running. Let’s get to know the powertrain of the hybrids.
In primary school science we were taught the arrangement of power in series and parallel. The powertrain modes of hybrids is based on this. For the series hybrid, the setup is in series. The fuel powers the engine and the engine powers the generator. The generator produces power which can follow 2 paths: it can go directly to the motor which powers the wheels or go to the battery which then sends power to the motor and the motor powers the wheels.
For the parallel hybrid, the setup is in parallel and each of the two sources of power (battery and fuel) is capable of directly powering the wheels. In this setup the transmission receives the power and passes it to the wheels. For path 1, the battery charges the motor which then powers the transmission and the power is sent to the wheels. For path 2, the fuel powers the engine which then powers the transmission and the power is sent to the wheels. The parallel setup is what is used in full hybrids like Toyota Prius and Honda Fit Hybrid.
Hybrid cars are preferred because they have less emissions and have really good, if not the best, fuel economy. How do they achieve this? First of all, these cars come with new technology called regenerative braking. Simply put, the energy that is used to rotate the motor slows the car down. The normal braking that uses brake pads affects the fuel economy (I’ll cover this in a future post). Regenerative braking helps to recover energy when you slow down by converting energy lost as heat when braking normally into electrical energy which is stored in the battery and used later by the motor to support the engine when accelerating. It also slows the rate of wear of the brake pads.
An important thing to note is that regenerative braking is not used or is slightly used during emergency braking. Secondly, the electric motor and internal combustion engine combination allows for a smaller size of the engine which in turn might result in an efficient engine with a small fuel capacity. The electric motor can also be used to power the car- it gives extra power and support to the engine when necessary, for example when going uphill or accelerating. However, using the motor only to power the car applies when the car is in low speeds.
I know some of you are disputing the point about smaller engines in hybrids considering the fact that a Prius can have an engine capacity of 1.8L. That’s bigger than some non-hybrid cars but engine capacity does not determine fuel consumption. According to Be Forward’s comparison of Honda Fit Hybrid and Toyota Prius, each car’s average consumption is above 25 km/l. The Fit achieves 30.3 km/l and the Prius achieves 25.6 km/l. The Fit unfortunately loses the crown when it comes to city driving.
These cars are also not speed machines so they don’t need much power hence they consume less. Lastly, the hybrid cars have an auto shutoff, meaning that the engine does not idle. When the car comes to a stop, the car automatically shuts down the engine (I’m not sure about battery recharge . I’ve never driven a hybrid). If you’re in a traffic jam, the car uses the electric motor to power the movement of the car. You turn the engine back on after the stop when more power is needed or you can go through a process of pressing pedals and buttons to disable the auto start-stop.
Hybrid cars were the projected Teslas of today. They have brought around a revolutionary technology that is even being incorporated in some mean machines like BMW. They offer the highest form of efficiency therefore being softer and friendlier to your pocket. If you’re an environmentalist or heavily conscious on fuel economy you should consider a hybrid. For those like me who love to hear pops, bangs, turbo whistles and DSG farts, let’s continue roasting the hybrids.