AUTO TECH AND ROAD SAFETY

The ABCs of Hybrid Cars

The ABCs of Hybrid Cars image

Text: Dean Ang / Photos: courtesy of respective vehicle manufacturers | posted March 31, 2009 11:26

A deeper look into hybrid technology

Rising fuel prices, less fuel-efficient cars, and carbon emissions that contribute to global warming. These are just some of the problems facing car owners nowadays, causing manufacturers to dabble with hybrid cars. Already prevalent in progressive countries and slowly making a buzz in even less developed ones like India, it won't be long before we start seeing these hybrid autos plying our thoroughfares. Now is as good a time as any to gear up on the ABCs of hybrid cars-- what makes them a different breed, really?

Technology

One of the most popular hybrid cars is the gasoline-electric hybrid car, so-called because of the two power plants under its hood--the conventional gasoline engine and an electric motor. The car can alternate between the two engines to accelerate the car, making it fuel-efficient as the car only burns gasoline when needed.

The addition of the electric motor is what transforms a regular automobile to a hybrid version. It is a sophisticated piece of machine that does two simple things: act as a power source for the car, and recharge the batteries as a generator. It draws electrical energy from the rechargeable batteries to produce mechanical energy, which drives the transmission. The electric motor is used primarily during low-speed driving, such short-distance travels or moving in city traffic. Hybrid cars are particularly cost effective in traffic as it doesn't consume power when the car is idle.

The batteries, being the energy storage device for the electric motor, give power to the electric engine. The vehicle recharges the batteries within itself in a process called regenerative braking as soon as the driver steps on the brakes, the wheels are automatically engaged to an electrical generator which converts the car's mechanical energy to electricity. The gasoline engine can also charge the batteries when it is activated as the main power source.

Unlike the gasoline engine found in conventional cars, the gasoline engine for hybrid cars is smaller and engineered in such a way that the car burns fuel in the most efficient way and emits less carbon. It is automatically activated by on-board computers when the driver is going at a high-speed, as on a highway.

Aside from the gasoline-electric hybrid car, there's another type called the diesel-electric hybrid car which uses diesel engine to generate power. Diesel-electric hybrids offer better mileage due to the diesel engine's high torque. Most diesel hybrids can also use 100% biofuels. While diesel-electric hybrids are commonly used in mass transit buses, some manufacturers have already unveiled their lines of diesel-electric hybrids such as PSA Peugeot Citroen's Peugeot 307, Citroen C4 Hybride HDi, Citroen C-Cactus, Opel Astra Diesel Hybrid and Chrysler's Dodge Ram hybrid. In fact, Peugeot plans to campaign the 908HY in the 2009 Le Mans Series, as a front liner for its diesel hybrid technology.

Hybrid cars according to hybridization degree

Mild Hybrid

Mild hybrids run mainly on gasoline engine to drive the car, using the electric motor only to assist the gasoline engine. Their main purpose is to reduce fuel consumption.

Full Hybrid

Full hybrids are almost the same as mild hybrids, with the difference of the ability to drive the car solely using the electric motor as power source.

Plug-in Hybrid

Plug-in hybrids recharge the batteries using electricity from electricity outlets?the most commonly perceived type of hybrid cars.

Muscle hybrid

Muscle hybrids use hybrid technology to add more power to the gasoline engine and improve its performance. Instead of saving on fuel, this type consumes both more fuel and energy.

Types of drive trains on hybrid vehicles

Series drive train

Series hybrids use the gasoline engine to start and stop the car. Once the car achieves momentum, the electric motor takes over. The gasoline engine also charges the car's batteries. This type of hybrid car is best suited for city-driving as it is more economical. The gasoline and the electric motor don't work at the same time, and that the gasoline engine doesn't directly power the vehicle. The Toyota Prius and Ford Escape Hybrid run on this technology.

Parallel drive train

Parallel hybrids may or may not use both the gasoline and electric motor at the same time to power the vehicle. The electric motor is used to add more power to the gasoline engine when required. This type is best for long distance driving. Some hybrids of this type are the Honda Insight, Civic Hybrid and Accord Hybrids.

Other hybrid cars available in the market, albeit internationally, are: Toyota Prius, Toyota Camry Hybrid, Lexus GS 450h, Lexus LS 600h L, Honda Insight, Honda Civic Hybrid, Honda Accord Hybrid, Nissan Altima Hybrid, Ford Escape Hybrid, and Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid. Although we don't have as wide a selection yet in the Philippines, it helps to know what to look for in an ideal hybrid car depending on your lifestyle and goal. Hybrid cars are meant to hit two birds with one stone-- cost efficiency and environment friendliness. The more you arm yourself with information about hybrid cars, the less likely you will end up with a model that doesn't meet both at optimum levels.