In This Chapter
^ Checking out hybrid history ^ Finding out more about hybrid features ^ Taking a look at parallel and series hybrid technologies ^ Driving a hybrid ll-electric vehicles are severely limited by the fact that batteries can only contain a certain amount of energy, and when that is used up the batteries need to be recharged, which takes time (hours) and special facilities (you need to either plug them in, or change batteries). Internal-combustion vehicles are limited in that the efficiencies of internal-combustion engines (ICEs) will never be as good as electric drive, and the emissions will never be as low as electric vehicles. Hybrids — cars that combine electrical drive with an internal-combustion engine — achieve a harmonious balance between the best of both worlds.
Of all the alternative transportation options available today, hybrids promise to become the most widely accepted due to their optimal balance between the best of internal-combustion-driven vehicles, and all-electric vehicles. In this chapter I describe the various types of hybrids, and their pros and cons.
Hybrids are nothing new. Some of the first cars were hybrids because early designers recognized that gasoline engines have certain characteristics that are nicely offset by electrical power. As early as 1900, hybrid cars were on display at the Paris Auto Salon, a huge international show that featured the most modern auto technologies. Commercial trucks used hybrid technologies as early as 1910, with mixed results.
The hybrid concept started to die out (as did the early electric cars; refer to Chapter 18) when the self-starting motor was invented for use on internal-combustion engines. Historically, one had to go to the front of an internal-combustion auto and crank a handle to start the engine, a dangerous task that often caused injuries and one that was nearly impossible for a woman to perform. The self-starting motor was itself electric and made it possible to start an internal-combustion engine with the simple twist of a key. From that point on, internal-combustion engines were widely accepted and ICE-driven cars were on their way to the universal acceptance they now enjoy.
As the cost of gasoline started to come down with improved drilling and refining techniques, hybrids lost even more favor because they were overly complicated, with dual power sources and all the ancillary equipment required to support the dual power sources.
In a way, an electric starter motor is not much different from a hybrid drive motor because the starter motor required a battery bank that needed to be charged in order to drive the electric motor. So it might be said that conventional autos are hybrids, although they don't derive drive power from the electric starter motor.
Fast forward a few decades from the early 1900s when the excitement over hybrids was overshadowed by the self-starting motor to a time when society was becoming more environmentally aware. With increased attention to the high pollution levels of internal-combustion engines, the major auto companies began experimenting once again with hybrids in the 1960s. Research and development money was scarce, however, and the technology was little more than a curiosity exhibited at auto shows. Hybrids were touted as the cars of the future, and the future kept getting pushed further and further out. But then things started picking up:
✓ 1970s: In the mid 1970s, the U.S. Energy Research and Development Administration initiated a program to develop hybrid technologies. Congress enacted the Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Research, Development and Demonstration Act.
✓ 1980s: A German manufacturer unveiled a workable hybrid with a 13 horsepower engine driving the rear wheels while a 123 horsepower electric motor powered the front wheels.
✓ 1990s: The Clinton administration created a federal initiative called the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV). A consortium of industry and government agencies set about to develop an extremely low pollution auto with a goal of over 80 miles per gallon. Different concepts were built and tested, but it became clear that the only way to achieve the goal, while still accomplishing a workable performance vehicle, was through hybrid technology. A few working prototypes were built, but none of them went into production.
It didn't help that the research and development money was limited to American manufacturers, and it's ironic that now the Japanese car companies are ahead of the Americans in terms of hybrid technologies. A great opportunity was squandered, which is unfortunately a typical conclusion in the energy industry.
By the end of the 20th century, Honda had beaten Toyota in introducing the first economically viable hybrid to the American market with its Honda Insight (1999). The car offered incredible Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) performance ratings for both pollution levels and miles per gallon. Toyota quickly followed up with their Prius, which is the best selling hybrid on the road today. Both Toyota and Honda developed commercially viable autos while the American car companies held firmly to their ICE-powered mainstays.
Early acceptance of hybrids was slow to take root. Their performances were very good. They could accelerate and outperform similar ICE-powered vehicles, but the prices were (and still are) higher due to the fact that they use dual power systems. Toyota and Honda did not have the production capacity in place to ensure lower prices due to manufacturing scales, and neither company promoted their hybrids with much vigor. But most of all, when hybrids first hit the market, gasoline prices were still very low (compared to today's prices). There simply wasn't enough demand for hybrids, with their increased gas mileages, and they were little more than curiosities driven by "tree huggers."
But when the world started paying more attention to global warming and pollution, interest in hybrids began to gel. The media attached themselves to hybrids, and even if Toyota and Honda didn't promote their technologies they got a lot of free publicity (who can shun free publicity, especially when it's favorable?).
The real push for hybrids came when it became clear that all-electric vehicles were simply not going to work for most auto applications (due to their limited ranges). Plus, electric vehicles are still limited by battery technology problems. Go to Chapter 18 for the details on the triumphs and travails of electric cars.
Was this article helpful?
Hybrid Cars! Man! Is that a HOT topic right now! There are some good reasons why hybrids are so hot. If you’ve pulled your present car or SUV or truck up next to a gas pumpand inserted the nozzle, you know exactly what I mean! I written this book to give you some basic information on some things<br />you may have been wondering about.