The Gasoline Electric Hybrid vehicle is probably one of the most significant automotive innovations of the later century. Though initially intended as a stop gap for the transition into fully electric vehicles, more and more manufacturers are adopting this technology in an attempt to wean us off fossil fuels.

In spite of a lack of legislation subsidizing the cost of ultra low emission vehicles like hybrids in the Philippines, manufacturers have bravely introduced them into the local market anyway. Currently, just eight hybrid models are offered. Their body and engine sizes may vary but they all work on the same basic principle. So what's the fuss all about and is it worth the premium?

How does it work

Hybrids use a combination of a gasoline engine and electric motor for power. Like a normal car, an engine is needed to move it forward and power all of the car's accessories. In the hybrid's case, either motor or both simultaneously can be used to do the same. In addition, any excess power is stored in on-board batteries to be used by the electric motor later.

It may sound confusing but they're much simpler in operation. The car's intelligent power management computer constantly monitors the vehicle's speed and power consumption, determining on its own if it needs the gasoline engine, the electric motor, the batteries or all for a particular situation. There's even a display in the vehicle that tells the driver which is producing power and where it's going. It's so captivating that it can practically be considered in-car entertainment on its own. The result is continuous and seamless transition between the two, leaving the driver little more to worry about than the road ahead.

Geared towards efficiency

Everything about the car is designed to be fuel efficient. Hybrids typically use continuously variable transmissions to make the most out of the least amount of power. Because the onboard batteries tend to weigh a vehicle down, some of these cars are built with a large proportion of lightweight steels and aluminium. Some even sport highly aerodynamic designs to further reduce wind drag. Others go as far as equipping light alloy wheels and low resistance tires. In the fuel efficiency game, every little drop saved counts.


That Hybrid Feeling

The hybrid feeling starts with a press of the Start button. There's no cranking and rumble, not even any vibration; just a couple of friendly beeps, like a computer powering up. Rest assured that the vehicle is already on. It's just waiting for you to put the car in gear and step on the throttle, that very last moment, to start up the engine and not waste gas idling. If you roll off slowly, it might just decide to run on battery power for the mean time. In the energy usage display, you'll likely see arrows coming from the battery, moving towards the wheels.

When it does start the engine, you'll feel a slight shake. That's the engine coming on. At this point the screen displays an arrow from the engine towards the wheels. A few arrows may point to the battery too, indicating that the engine is also charging the battery with the excess power.

If you decide to bury your foot a little further, the teamwork begins. The familiar rev of an engine makes itself heard. Arrows from both the engine and battery are now pointed at the wheels. This means the engine is getting a boost, and the surge of torque should move the car forward faster than you expect.

Naturally, you'll want to step on the brake, triggering the car's regenerative braking system. Arrows will begin to move from the wheels towards the batteries. As you slow down, the engine quietly shuts off and the car coasts on the momentum its built up, recharging the batteries that power the rest of the car's systems like air conditioning, entertainment, lights and even the wipers. All that power management was done just by varying the pressure on the gas pedal.

Unique Abilities

Naturally, having two engines has its advantages. Should you run out of fuel, the vehicle will switch its engine and rely on battery power until you can get to a gas station. Don't expect a blistering pace. It's still better though than walking a few miles.

Be warned, when in electric mode, these cars are extremely quiet. Some pedestrians tend to cross in front of these cars because they don't hear the usual engine noise, so exercise caution. On the flipside, it's perfect for going in and out of the house at odd hours, starting up without waking anyone up.

Conversely, you can also put the car into battery mode manually, forcing the car to use up the stored charge while keeping the engine off. Once the charge is used up, the gasoline engine will turn on, recharging the batteries as it goes.


The savings

On a typical drive, the vehicle will continue to do this juggling act, even without you noticing. By alternating between gasoline and electric power, it reduces fuel wasted while slowing down and idling. The results can be pretty surprising, adding up to an extra 8-10 km/L compared to similar sized car. With some concerted effort (intently watching the energy meter every other second), you can even double that.

It may sound like pretty intimidating technology, but hybrids these days are designed to be as familiar and user-friendly as possible. Other than the lack of engine noise, it feels exactly like a regular car. It drives almost the same (just feels a bit heavier), occupies the same space and saves even more fuel. Their 'ordinary-ness' may burst the bubble of those who were hoping to step into the Starship Enterprise, yet this familiarity is the whole point. It's to invite us into this first step toward a cleaner motoring future.