Twenty-one years after Toyota introduced the Prius, the first mass-produced hybrid car, people's wariness has largely dissipated. The reason is simple: In those 21 years other manufacturers have joined Toyota in producing hybrids and, almost without exception, all those cars have turned out to be not just economical to run, but also remarkably reliable.
Slowly, but surely, hybrid cars are gaining popularity. The "slowly" part is understandable because they are technically quite different from conventional vehicles. For that reason, even people who believe they are a good idea have been wary of being the guinea pigs for the new technology. Also, hybrids are more expensive than conventional cars.
They're reliable because like most cars produced since the mid-90s hybrids are better-built thanks to the precise engineering and higher machining micro-tolerances afforded by specialist software and robotics. The reason hybrids are economical is hard to explain. Both the hybrid and the non-hybrid Toyota Yaris, for example, have 1.5 ltr internal combustion engines, but the hybrid also has an electric motor, battery, and related drivetrain. It seems counter intuitive that the hybrid, which is heavier and technically more complex, would be so much cheaper to run. It is. It returns nearly twice the mpg of the non-hybrid and is only marginally more expensive to service.
A hybrid car is not as environmentally friendly as a fully electric one, but it has two advantages over the latter. First, like a gasoline-only car, its range is determined only by how much gasoline is in the tank, not by how much juice is in its battery. Second, the hybrid's internal combustion engine and its regenerative braking system keep the battery charged. Because the electric motor takes over regularly, especially in slow-moving traffic, the vehicle uses less gasoline.
The electric motor also performs another important function: In certain circumstances, it becomes a power generator and helps charge the battery. In fact, it's more accurate to refer to an electric motor as a motor/generator (MG) since all-electric engines can, in theory, be used as generators and vice versa. Inventors and engineers have known about this "two-in-one" property since the late 19th century.
In today's hybrid car, the electric motor becomes a generator when, for example, the driver stops pressing the accelerator, and the vehicle continues moving under its kinetic energy. A standard gasoline-only car wastes that energy, but a hybrid uses it to charge the battery. Similarly, when the driver of a standard car hits the brakes, the car's kinetic energy is quickly converted to heat energy by the brakes and wasted. In a hybrid, the regenerative braking system harvests much of that energy.
Some recent gasoline-only cars feature stop/start driving, where the engine cuts out when the car stops for more than a few seconds, for example in heavy traffic, or at traffic lights. This feature saves gasoline and reduces emissions, but it also reduces the life of the car's starter motor and other parts. In a hybrid vehicle, the gasoline engine also stops and starts intermittently, but it doesn't use a conventional starter motor to restart it, it uses the electric drive motor. This method causes minimum system wear since the electric motor is already running.
The car achieves all of these effects through what you might describe as the car's real hero: the onboard computer, a form of "drive-by-wire" system. Much of the driver's input is not fed directly to the relevant part, as in a conventional car, but to the computer, which interprets the instruction and determines the most efficient way to carry it out.
The computer continuously monitors the driver's actions especially pressure on the accelerator and brake pedals and instantly calculates whether to engage the electric motor, the gasoline engine, both, or neither. Also, the system monitors traction and braking as well as road conditions. The computer makes millions of calculations every second, and its ability to do the job so efficiently is what makes hybrid cars especially environmentally friendly, economical, and safe.
For many manufacturers and their customers, hybrid cars have become mainstream. Some manufacturers, who previously produced both gasoline-only and hybrid versions, now make only the hybrid. For example, Ford has discontinued selling the gas-only version of the C-Max in the US and now offers only the hybrid version.
Hybrid cars have finally come of age. Sometime in the future, they may be superseded by fully electric vehicles, but not until batteries improve significantly. In the meantime, the latest hybrids give excellent running economy, are technically reliable, have low emissions, and are competitively priced.
Article contributed by Hybrid Battery Repair LA.