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Hybrid Cars – the Evolution of the Personal Vehicle

Hybrid cars are a growing trend that combine cutting edge technology with established internal combustion systems to reap benefits that are a step toward the vehicle of tomorrow. With ever increasing concern for the environment and reliance on fossil fuels, often gotten from increasingly hostile and unstable nations, moving toward green technology for personal vehicles is an inevitable path for manufacturers. The most achievable goal in this regard is an electric car. There are limitations, however, that stand between many drivers and a true electric vehicle. Hybrids were developed as a way of reaping the benefits of an electric car without being so hamstrung by technological limits.

What are the Limiting Factors

The main problem that stands between the driving populace and a true electric vehicle is battery technology. As this point, batteries are relatively large and heavy for the amount of energy they can store. Because of this, a pure electric car suffers short drive range, a lack of performance, or both. For drivers in large cities who have short commutes in a small area, this may not be such a problem. For those who drive many miles in their everyday lives, a pure electric vehicle will not be practical until batteries are available with much greater storage capacity for their size and weight.

How do Hybrids Work?

Hybrids use both an electric motor and internal combustion engine to combine the benefits of electric with those of traditional engine systems. The two separate engine systems work in concert in one of three ways:

  • Parallel
  • Series
  • Plug-in

A hybrid with a parallel engine setup is essentially an internal combustion vehicle that has an electric motor boost. The power requirement of a vehicle’s drive system tends to be pretty small, needing big spikes of torque only in short spurts for acceleration. To cover these spikes of extra power, most pure internal combustion engines tend to be much larger than necessary most of the time. In a parallel system, these spikes of extra power are provided by the electric motor. Having things set up this way allows the use of a smaller and more fuel efficient main engine, extending the driving distance of every tank of gas.

A series setup is more of a true hybrid. There is an internal combustion engine and an electric motor, each capable of independently powering the vehicle. For situations where an electric motor has an advantage, like city driving that consists of short distances with lots of stop and go, the electric drive is used. For situations where the battery limitation of electric come into play, like longer trips on the open road, the internal combustion engine takes over.

A plug-in hybrid is essentially a pure electric vehicle. The internal combustion engine on board simply generates electricity to lower the draw on the batteries and extend the range of the car. This option has the biggest batteries and the smallest, most fuel efficient internal combustion system. It is especially attractive in areas where electricity is more expensive during certain parts of the day. Being able to charge during off peak hours can dramatically lower the cost of operating a hybrid.

Potential car buyers who are considering hybrids tend to focus on two factors: safety and cost.

Early hybrids had one glaring safety issue. Without a noisy internal combustion engine, which basically functions through a controlled series of explosions, it was difficult to hear them coming at low speeds. This has been addressed in most hybrids by some sound generating speakers to warn pedestrians. Aside from this, hybrids are as safe as a traditional car. They may be even safer, as hybrids tend to be the perfect vehicles to showcase the latest safety technology.

The cost of hybrids is, strangely, one of their most attractive features and also one of the biggest reasons many hesitate to purchase one.

The up front investment of a hybrid car is higher than it would be for a pure internal combustion version of the same vehicle. This is because you are paying for, basically, an entire internal combustion vehicle plus the additional electric motor components. After the initial purchase, though, it tends to be far less expensive to keep the hybrid running. A simple metaphor is that purchasing a hybrid is paying a premium up front for a steep discount on fuel for the lifetime of the vehicle.

Yesterday’s vehicle was a gas guzzling monster. Tomorrow’s vehicle is one that uses inexpensive electricity to get as much performance as the cars of the past. Bridging the gap is the hybrid – a car that offers the advantages of an electric vehicle with an internal combustion system to help overcome the limits of today’s technology.

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