A hybrid automobile combines a regular internal combustion engine with an electric motor, also known as a powertrain. The electric powertrain is there to assist the gas engine or to take over the propulsion of the vehicle and in so doing improve the fuel consumption and efficiency of the vehicle.
The most common application of a hybrid engine is in the hybrid electric car, however the hybrid engine has increasingly found its way into pick-up trucks and tractors, and there are high performance and even supercars which have been designed using hybrid engines as their propulsion unit.
A development of the modern hybrid engine is the use of regenerative braking to retain the energy potential of the vehicle and divert the kinetic potential to electric power which will be stored in the battery cell. This saves energy which would otherwise be wasted as heat which will be dissipated to the atmosphere, as in a traditional car.
Another way in which hybrid engines seek to conserve the energy potential of the vehicle is by tapping the internal combustion engine (the regular gas-fuelled engine) to recharge the batteries or to supplement the operation of the electric motor directly. In this respect, you can see that the two power units are supplementing and complementing each other hence the term, hybrid.
As electric power produces power emissions and pollutants (including noise pollution) when compared to a regular internal combustion engine, the overall impact on the environment is reduced. In some instances, the reduction in emissions and pollutants can be very substantial, which makes for a win-win situation with much higher fuel efficiency.
Hybrid engines are not a recent innovation, which may come as a surprise to many. In fact, Ferdinand Porsche developed the first gas-electric hybrid engine way back in 1900. Unfortunately, given the battery technology available at that time, the finished production car was a massive monster the batteries alone weighed in at almost 2 tons. Clearly, the battery technology needed to significantly improve before the hybrid engine vehicle was to become a reality.
The hybrid engine-powered car did not become a commercial reality until the launch of the Toyota Prius in 1997. This was quickly followed by the Honda Insight which was launched in 1999, however at that time, gas prices were relatively low which reduced the perceived need for gas-efficient cars. It was not until the dramatic price increases in gas prices of the early-2000's, and the increasing penetration of the Prius into the North American market that car manufacturers woke up to the demand and need for a hybrid car.
Hybrid engine-powered vehicles are now an integral component of the worldwide car market, while many legislators have placed them firmly at the center of environmental impact reduction programs.
Today, Toyota has sold over 2 million hybrid vehicles alone, led by sales of their flagship hybrid, the Prius, and in the US market over 1.6 million vehicles were sold in 1999 with California being the largest US market. All of the major car manufacturers in the US and around the world have hybrid options on an increasing number of the vehicles within their ranges including marques such as Chrysler, Dodge, BMW, Audi, Jaguar, Ford, Porsche, Volkswagen, Volvo and many others.
(ArticlesBase SC #4985017)
Lawrence J. Reaves
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