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Are All Hybrids The Same?

Apr 1, 2008
So you're in the market for a hybrid car and think all hybrids are the same? Better think again as there are a number of different types of hybrid vehicles available and even more on the way. Buyers need to be informed and realize that hybrid vehicles can be drastically different in terms of both technology and the hit to your checkbook. In the following article I will breakdown the different technologies available and help you determine what is best for you.

Full Hybrids

At this point most people would agree that these are the best types of hybrids currently available. They operate using two separate propulsions systems, the internal combustion engine and the electric motor which can work independently of each other. Under certain driving conditions, typically low speed, the car can operate purely on the electric motor. More...Full hybrids use regenerative braking which takes energy that would normally be lost and uses it to charge the hybrid battery packs. Full hybrids usually achieve very good fuel efficiency. At this point full hybrids can be more expensive than the other type hybrids cars, but the price should come down as popularity increases. An example of a full hybrid is the Toyota Prius.

Mild Hybrids

Car manufacturers in a rush to capitalize on hybrid sales, created a breed of hybrid vehicles called mild hybrids. Upon closer examination you will come to realize that many of these "mild hybrids" are as much a hybrid car as a vehicle with a turbocharger, which is why many people do not even consider these hybrid vehicles. In a mild hybrid car the electric motor is not connected to the powertrain like in a full hybrid. The electric motor will assist the internal combustion engine, but is incapable or propelling the vehicle on its own. Mild hybrids certainly aren't a bad thing but they do have the tendency to mislead the consumer. They are much cheaper to manufacture, are not as complex, and do achieve a slight increase in gas mileage. The Chevrolet Malibu hybrid is one example of a mild hybrid and it only nets approximately 2mpg more than its non hybrid counterpart.

Plug-In Hybrids

Plug-In hybrids at this time are not available from any car manufacturer, but you can expect to see them in the near future. The plug-in hybrid uses the internal combustion engine only as a backup to the electric motor. These hybrids can be plugged into a normal household electrical outlet to charge, but in addition they can also use the same charging capabilities of a full hybrid. While full hybrids utilize the electric and internal combustion engine all the time, plug-in hybrids will only use the internal combustion engine as a backup when the electric motors batteries run out of juice. At this point the car will operate as a full hybrid. Plug-In hybrids are expected to achieve better fuel efficiency than the other hybrids and many people see this technology as the future of hybrid technology. At this time there are a few companies that will convert your full hybrid, like a Toyota Prius, into a plug-in hybrid, but they are more of a novelty at this point as they are cost prohibitive.

Performance Hybrid

Electric motors can offer instant torque unlike a conventional combustion engine. Some companies realized that you can take a smaller gasoline motor and pair it with an electric motor to get the performance of a much larger engine, and also get good fuel efficiency. A good example of this would be the Lexus GS450h which is capable of going 0-60 in 5.2 seconds, but gets a respectable 25mpg city / 28mpg freeway. The great thing about performance hybrids are the cars can get the performance of a V8 engine, but get the fuel efficiency of a smaller motor.

In closing, be sure to do your homework when buying a hybrid car as some hybrids might not be what you expected in terms of fuel efficiency or price. A car can have a badge that says hybrid on it but only get 17mpg. All of the above technologies have their place and it should be very exciting to see what the future holds for hybrid technology.
About the Author
Keith Graat is the owner of the Hybrid Jungle which is an online resource dedicated to the topic of hybrid cars. Visit the Hybrid Jungle to learn more information about hybrid vehicles. You may also be interested in our online hybrid car community forum.
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