Since hybrid vehicles gained popularity over a decade ago, they have been the topic of discussion among many American drivers. With vast benefits such as reduced fuel dependence, tax incentives, and cleaner energy, hybrid vehicles have quickly become a favorite for the environmentally and financially conscious driver.
However, even with American sales of hybrid vehicles representing 36% of the 11 million worldwide hybrid sales*, many drivers still ask what a hybrid vehicle is. In this article, you can find useful information on how hybrids work, the technology behind them, and why sales continue to rise.
What are Power-Split Transmissions
These vehicles are considered “hybrid” due to the combination of technologies used. When asking what a hybrid vehicle is, it is important to first understand the separate components of power-split transmissions.
Hybrids are comprised of an internal combustion engine and a battery electric drive system. These vehicles were invented to be more environmentally friendly by increasing fuel economy and reducing emissions, which is achieved through the split transmission.
An internal combustion engine is found in standard vehicles and is used to generate power. This is done by burning gasoline or other fuel with air inside the engine. As hot gases are produced, they are used to drive a piston as they expand.
Hybrid vehicles have small gasoline engines which provide horsepower. Otherwise known as the “internal combustion engine” component of the hybrid vehicle’s transmission.
The electric motor and NiMH (Nickel-metal hydride) rechargeable battery pack make the vehicle a hybrid. While the electric motor draws on the NiMH battery to power the car, fuel consumption is reduced as the gasoline engine is not used. This is typically during low speeds or when pulling away from a stop, which is why hybrid drivers find city driving to be most efficient.
Electric and Gas Working Together
During normal cruising, the internal combustion engine (gasoline) is used on its own to boost efficiency. It can also power the electric motor, producing electricity which is stored in the battery pack for later use.
Heavy acceleration is when the electric motor and gas engine work together. By increasing power to the wheels through a joint effort, the torque output is combined to achieve a higher fuel efficiency. The gasoline engine powers the generator and the electric motor utilizes electricity from the battery and generator as needed.
During braking and cruising, a system known as “regenerative braking” is used. As the vehicle reduces speed, or pressure is let off the gas pedal, neither the electric motor or gas engine is used. The hybrid stops feeding power to the wheels and the spinning wheels power the vehicle’s generator. The electricity produced by the generator is then stored in the battery pack for later use.
When hybrids reach a complete stop, the electric motor and gasoline engine both turn off. Battery power is used to power vehicle systems such as radio, air conditioning, and lights.
Whether you are the current owner of a hybrid vehicle or you are considering a purchase in the future, understanding what a hybrid is will help you properly maintain it. For more useful information on all things hybrid, follow our blog.
*Source: Hybrid Sales in the US