This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Review our Privacy and Cookie Notice for more details. X

Introduction to Hybrid Vehicles

Introduction to Hybrid Vehicles

By Jeff Youngs, February 24, 2012
When the first modern, mass-produced hybrid vehicles came to market in late 1999 (Honda Insight, discontinued in 2006) and early 2000 (Toyota Prius), they were small cars that looked radically different from conventional gas-powered vehicles. Today, there are hybrid versions of many of the most popular makes and models, including coup_, sedan, SUV and pickup body styles, all priced at several thousand dollars more than a similar, comparably equipped, gasoline-powered vehicle. As more hybrid vehicles are introduced, their prices will undoubtedly come down.

How they work
Hybrids use two motors to make the vehicle run: an internal combustion engine that uses gasoline, and an electric motor. The electric motor is recharged during driving, both from the fuel burning in the internal combustion engine and through the kinetic energy that is recaptured during braking. As a result, most current hybrid vehicles do not need to be plugged in to an electrical outlet to recharge the batteries.

Better efficiency equals better gas mileage
Regardless of the way the system is designed, the result in each case is that the electric motor provides some of the power necessary to propel the vehicle. As a result, a smaller combustion engine can be used, providing better gas mileage and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Some automakers, like GM, have introduced hybrid concept vehicles that are also plug-in technology. The Saturn Vue Green Line Plug-In Hybrid may go into production in 2010. Other new technology currently being developed includes the use of bioethanol, solar and 2-mode hybrid combinations.

The fuel economy improvement is the result of taking the best parts of the gasoline engine and the electric motor and combining them into one package. A vehicle powered only by an electric motor may be undesirable because of its limited driving range and lengthy recharging time. The average fuel economy that hybrid owners experience can vary quite widely, as it depends largely on driving style and the mix of city and highway travel.

Vehicles powered solely by an internal combustion engine carry around much more power than is needed most of the time. A typical midsize sedan, for example, has a gasoline engine that produces around 180 hp, but the engine's maximum power is used only sporadically, such as for passing on the highway or when climbing a grade.

Hybrid vehicles also use regenerative braking to further improve fuel economy. In regenerative braking, the electric motor becomes a generator and captures the kinetic energy that would be lost as heat when the vehicle's brakes are applied or when the vehicle is coasting. Once the energy is captured, it is transformed into electricity, which recharges the batteries. The energy can also be stored and used to power electrical accessories, like air conditioning. This is why city fuel economy is even greater than highway fuel economy in hybrids.

Because of this, hybrid vehicles have become increasingly popular, with more than 350,000 sold in the United States in 2007. The Toyota Prius remains the best-selling hybrid in the U.S. with 2007 sales up 43 percent from the year prior. In 2008-2009, hybrids that are now on sale or are expected to be introduced include about 26 models. The selection of hybrids includes everything from compact to full-size cars, compact, midsize and full-size SUVs, and full-size pickups. Several automakers offer numerous models to choose from. Sales will most likely increase as the range of choices grows: 44 hybrids are expected to be on sale by 2012, according to J.D. Power Automotive ForecastingSM (Source: "Hybrid and Diesel Vehicles Expected to Represent 11 Percent of Market Share in Next Seven Years," June 28, 2005).
Untitled Document

Subscribe to J.D. Power Cars Newsletter

* indicates required

View previous campaigns.