Over the last 20 years, there has been a major push towards improving the efficiency of traditional vehicles around the world and of late there have been increasing concerns regarding the damage which some fuels are doing to the environment. As a consequence, the so-called hybrid electric car industry has developed and hybrid electric cars are now more popular and more commonplace today than ever before. But what exactly is a hybrid electric car and what does it do?
What is a hybrid electric vehicle?
In simple terms, a hybrid electric vehicle is one which offers a combination of the traditional internal combustion engine together with electric propulsion. The degree to which the power of the vehicle comes from the traditional internal combustion engine or the electric power can vary across the board but ultimately it is a means of increasing the fuel efficiency of the vehicle and also reducing the damage done to the environment. Even though electric hybrid car are the more popular variation of hybrid electric vehicles available at the moment there are hybrid electric trucks, hybrid electric tractors and hybrid electric pickups.
Classification of hybrid electric cars
As we suggested above, there are a number of different variations available in the marketplace with regards to hybrid electric cars which include:
- Parallel hybrids
These vehicles consist of an internal combustion engine and an electric motor, both of which are connected to the mechanical transmission system. By allowing both power systems to operate at the same time and drive the wheels of the vehicle it is possible to improve efficiency especially on long distance driving. Like so many hybrid electric cars, regenerative braking allows the battery within the vehicle to be recharged using power which would traditionally have disappeared during braking.
- Series hybrids
The series hybrid is probably the more likely to appear in vehicles produced for city driving as opposed to long-distance driving. In simple terms, the vehicle itself is powered by an electric motor which transfers power to the wheels and other systems within the vehicle. However, there is an internal combustion engine built within the vehicle which powers the electric battery and also allows this to be recharged en route. Again, like many of the new hybrids there is also significant input from the regenerative braking system which translates power which would traditionally have been lost during braking into kinetic energy which is used to recharge the battery.
- Series parallel hybrids
As the name suggests, series parallel hybrids offer the opportunity to operate as a pure parallel hybrid vehicle or a series hybrid vehicle. Depending upon the speeds at which you are travelling and the type of journey you are undertaking these particular hybrids are very efficient and can save a significant amount of money for drivers and are obviously more environmentally friendly. Knowing when to use the series hybrid system or the parallel hybrid system can make a significant difference to the efficiency of your journey and your vehicle.
How efficient is your hybrid system?
As with the engine capacity and efficiency of hybrid vehicles, vehicles themselves are classified under three main headings which include:
This is a vehicle, probably the more popular in the marketplace, which can effectively operate using a traditional engine on its own, the electric power supply on its own or combination of the two. Again, knowing when to use each of the two systems available can make a massive difference to the efficiency of your vehicle and the cost of your travel.
As the name suggests, a mild hybrid vehicle is not able to run entirely on the electric motor which is inbuilt into the system. In simple terms the vehicle is powered by a traditional internal combustion engine although what many describe as an "oversized starter motor" is available to give an extra boost and to allow the vehicle to effectively "switch off" when coasting, breaking and when stopped. Again, this is a system which makes use of the very effective regenerative braking technology available today and can reduce fuel consumption by up to 15% in urban driving.
Power assisted hybrid
A power assisted hybrid vehicle is in effect a traditional internal combustion engine providing the primary power with additional power provided by an electric motor. This additional power supply is in effect a "large starter motor" which not only assists with the propulsion of the car but also the power supply for various accessories within the vehicle.
While the majority of hybrid vehicles will have some form of rechargeable system built into the vehicle the plug-in hybrid is becoming a much sought-after product. It allows the vehicle to be "plugged in" to a power supply which will recharge the batteries on the vehicle itself. These particular vehicles offer the largest range of the electric car market and with the power supply system expanding on a regular basis around the world they are set to become more and more popular.
The history of the hybrid vehicle
Many people will be surprised to learn that the first hybrid vehicle was introduced to the Paris World Fair in 1900. Known as the "Mixte" this vehicle was developed by Ferdinand Porsche and was a four-wheel-drive series hybrid with an electric carriage. The vehicle itself consisted of a gasoline engine which was used to power the generator which then supplied the power to the wheels. The Mixte broke a number of Austrian speed records and was also first in the Exelberg Rally in 1901. Like so many non-petrol-based vehicles in the past, the hybrid was for many years forgotten as oil became the major commodity in the world and effectively dictated the direction of the automotive industry for over 100 years.
It was not until the 1960s and 1970s that the hybrid began to re-emerge from the shadows with introduction of regenerative braking systems, allowing the power which had traditionally been lost during braking to be recycled and reused to recharge car batteries. Gradually we saw new systems introduced into the hybrid electric vehicle market although many believe that political interference around the world, and specifically in the U.S., thwarted the pace of development and ultimately slowed down the introduction of hybrid vehicles to the mass market.
Modern-day hybrid electric cars
It was not until the 1990s that the automotive industry grasped the nettle which was the hybrid electric car with the introduction of the first mass market hybrid vehicle in the shape of the Toyota Prius which was launched in Japan in 1997, in the U.S. in 1999 and in Europe in 2000. It is this vehicle which many people believe has changed the landscape of the hybrid electric car market as this was the first vehicle to effectively attract the mass market and break the long-lasting stigma often attached to hybrid vehicles.
As the Toyota Prius continued to grab the headlines and became the best-selling hybrid vehicle in the world, as it still is today, more and more traditional car manufacturers decided they needed to have a slice of the hybrid market. As a consequence, the competition in this particular arena is enormous at the moment and set to increase in the short, medium and longer term. A number of niche hybrid vehicle companies were set up in the early 1990s and early 2000s although many of the most successful ones have been taken in-house by some of the larger more established automotive companies.
The benefits of hybrid vehicles
There are many benefits in using a hybrid vehicle with fuel efficiency, obviously a major issue which attracts the attention of car users around the world. However, an electric vehicle is in general far quieter than your traditional petrol powered engine vehicle although rather bizarrely this has caused some safety issues as very often pedestrians are not able to hear electric cars approaching behind them. More than one of the more popular hybrid electric vehicle manufacturers have actually introduced engine noises into their electric power system purely and simply to alert pedestrians and other road users of an approaching vehicle.
Pollution is an issue which seems to attract different opinions in relation to hybrid electric cars although on the whole the fact that many of the hybrid batteries are environmentally friendly and often recycled has led to a large reduction of pollution levels compared to more traditional vehicles. However, many believe there are still toxic hazards with regards to car batteries although the fact they are recycled more and more today should not be discounted.
The top hybrid vehicle markets in the world
As the number of hybrid vehicles on the road continues to increase we are starting to see a definitive trend in countries engaging in this technology. Japan is the leader of registered hybrid vehicles with over 334,000 in 2009 representing 45% of the worldwide market, the United States is second with 290,000 vehicles, and 39% of the market with Canada the Netherlands and the United Kingdom each representing around 14,000 vehicles and 2% of the marketplace. This illustrates the importance of hybrid and electric vehicles to Japan and the Far East when you consider that America had around 70% of all hybrid vehicles back in 2007.
When you consider the size of the UK compared to some of the large entities in the global automotive market it may be surprising to see the United Kingdom is in the top five. However, over the years we have seen significant investment from not only automotive companies but the UK government into this potentially lucrative and potentially enormous market. Many of the overseas automotive companies have a presence in the UK due to specific tax breaks and investments entered into by the UK authorities.
The future of the hybrid electric car
There is no doubt that the hybrid electric car market has progressed in leaps and bounds over the last decade due in the main to a seachange amongst consumers and a realisation amongstcar manufacturers and governments around the world that this new technology needs to be embraced. The efficiency of these vehicles has also improved dramatically over the last decade and with the price of oil often very volatile more and more motorists are now looking towards the hybrid market as a way to reduce their driving costs and "do their bit for the environment".
There are now some major backers in the hybrid electric car market and everything from neighbourhood electric vehicles to electric sports cars are now available around the world. It is the introduction of mass market appeal vehicles which is knocking down more barriers to entry and giving consumers more and more choice in the marketplace.
Like the standard electric vehicle the hybrid vehicle has been around for many years although the dominance of oil and petrol as a means of powering the traditional internal combustion engine effectively sidelined these two new technologies. However, in many ways the hybrid electric vehicle is a half way house between a full electric vehicle and a traditional petrol powered vehicle, offering benefits for all parties involved.
Perhaps this is the perfect opportunity to push forward the credentials of the hybrid and the pure electric vehicle with the green movement and environmentally friendly issues very much the name of the day. It is evident that more and more governments and more and more companies around the world have spotted the potential of this particular market and a number of the earlier "successful" niche hybrid vehicle companies have been acquired by larger traditional car manufacturers.
Many believe it was the Toyota Prius which "broke the back" of consumers around the world who had initially been reluctant to embrace this new technology which could literally save them hundreds if not thousands of pounds a year. Even though the Toyota Prius is still the best-selling mass market hybrid electric car in the world there are a number of new vehicles hitting the market on regular basis and Toyota is having to work hard to maintain its leading stance in the industry.
The hybrid electric vehicle market may be upwards of 100 years old but in reality it is very much in its infancy.