A hybrid car is an automobile that has two or more major sources of propulsion power. Most
hybrid cars currently marketed to consumers have both conventional gasoline and electric
motors, with the ability to power the vehicle by either one independently or in tandem. These
vehicles are appropriately termed gas-electric hybrids. Other power sources may include
hydrogen, propane, (compressed natural gas) CNG, and solar energy. The technology used
depends on the goals set for the vehicle, whether they be fuel efficiency, power, driving range, or
reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Consumer oriented hybrid cars, which have been on the
market for about ten years, are usually tuned for reduced emissions and driving range. Corporate
and government fleets that have been in service for twenty years or more are usually tuned for
fuel efficiency, often at the cost of driving range, power, and hydrocarbon emissions.
A gasoline-electric hybrid car has one or two auxiliary electric motors that supplement the main
gasoline engine. Compared to conventional automobiles, the gasoline engine in a gas-electric
hybrid is smaller, less powerful, and more efficient. Although the gasoline engine alone would
be sufficient to power the vehicle under most circumstances, during maneuvers requiring
unusually high power the electric motor is used as well. These conditions include passing, hill
climbing, and acceleration from a standstill. Some hybrid cars, such as the Toyota Prius, shut
down the gasoline engine under conditions in which the electric motor alone would suffice, such
as coasting and breaking. In fact, the Toyota Prius has a special electric-only mode designed for
stop-and-go traffic. This is made possible by the super heavy duty electric motor used in the
Prius, which is capable of propelling the vehicle from a standstill without the gasoline assist.
Thus, in contrast to most other hybrid vehicles, the Prius actually uses the electric motor more
than the gasoline engine. Many of the technologies found in hybrid vehicles would benefit
vehicles of any type, including conventional gasoline automobiles. However, the engineering and
manufacturing costs associated with these technologies often would increase the price of the
vehicle to the point where the fuel savings are negligible in comparison. Only in tax-subsidized
electric and hybrid vehicles are these technologies practical, in which associated cost increases
are absorbed by the government instead of the manufacturer or consumer. These technologies
include regenerative braking, aerodynamic refinements, and lightweight building materials.
Hybrid Vehicles - Not Just Hybrid Cars
Hybrid cars may have been the first on the market, but the market has expanded to include other
hybrid vehicles as well. Hybrid SUVs, trucks, minivans, buses and motorcycles are all either in
development or on the market as we speak.
Hybrid Vehicles See Green
Hybrid vehicle manufacturers have been seeing green because of the popularity and demand for
such vehicles. But, this demand is mostly because consumers are seeing a different green in that
they hope for a greener environment. Hybrid vehicles form a class of 'green vehicles' that offer
very low to zero emissions and take a step towards making this dream come true.
In fact, the American Automobile Association (AAA) in its Westways magazine and ACEEE's
Green Book both outline five different levels of low emission vehicles. Zero-emission, partial
zero-emission, super-ultra-low-emission, ultra-low-emission and low-emission vehicles all help
the environment by putting less pollutants into the air than traditional vehicles. Not all of the
greenest vehicles are automobiles, either. ACEEE's 'Greenest Vehicles of 2005' puts the Ford
Escape Hybrid on the top 12 list as a 36 mpg/city, 31 mpg/hwy, partial zero emission vehicle.
Hybrid Vehicles Use Less Foreign Oil
Gasoline prices have skyrocketed over 40-percent from last year and there is no end in sight to
the upward trend. By consuming less gasoline as the hybrid vehicles do, we lessen our demand
for foreign petroleum products. Less demand means less dependence.
Hybrid vehicles can also be seen as a logical interim step into the forthcoming hydrogen
economy. Hydrogen vehicles are now being developed where the only emission is water and will
be expected to hit the showrooms within the next 10 years.
Consumers want a cleaner environment and less foreign oil dependence now, though, so hybrid
gasoline-electric vehicles or other alternative fuel vehicles make sense until this time. Even after
this time, most vehicles will remain hybrids since this will mean fuel savings no matter which
fuel is being used. This is especially true for plug-in hybrids, which will most likely be around
for decades to come.
In addition, another interim step may just be the gasoline-hydrogen hybrid vehicle, which can be
seen as a transitory step into fuel cell vehicles or an internal combustion all hydrogen car. No
matter what thought, the current price for a hydrogen car is a cool $1 million with few fueling
options outside of California. (To help change this, join the Emerald Coast Coalition that is
bringing the Department of Energy’s Clean Cities Program to NWF).
For now, those who want to clean up greenhouse gases and lessen dependency on Foreign Oil
can purchase the hybrid alternative fuel vehicles currently on the market from the major
automotive manufacturers. Or a whole slew of plug-in hybrid are just around the corner. Go
green now and we'll all have blue skies later.