Should you Buy a Hybrid Vehicle?

With the various tax incentives on offer, and increasing concern about both pollution and future fuel prices, it is not hard to see why Hybrid Vehicles are becoming more popular.

With the various tax incentives on offer, and increasing concern about both pollution and future fuel prices, it is not hard to see why Hybrid Vehicles are becoming more popular.
Most of us know by now that a Hybrid Vehicle has two sources of power; an electric motor and the good ol’ Internal Combustion Engine (ICE). However, most people don’t know much beyond that so let’s go deeper: let’s cut through the jargon and have a look at how Hybrid Vehicles actually work.
Hybrid vehicles are usually based on two main designs; a parallel design, or a series design.
With a parallel design, the electric motor and ICE are both connected directly to the vehicle’s wheels. The ICE is used for normal driving; the electric motor provides additional power during acceleration, hill climbs and other occasions of high demand.
With a series design, the ICE is connected to a generator which is used to charge the batteries. It is the batteries which actually power the wheels via the electric motor.
Some hybrid vehicles use the series design at low speeds, and the parallel design for highway driving and acceleration.
Regenerative braking: normally the deceleration of a vehicle is wasted energy; not so with Hybrids. Hybrids can use regenerative braking to capture and store the energy lost in slowing down the vehicle as electricity. The electricity can later be used to propel the vehicle. This increases the overall efficiency of the vehicle as energy that was otherwise wasted is being stored and used again later.
Also energy that would otherwise be wasted while idling or cruising can also be stored for later use. While cruising the ICE uses a lot of fuel in proportion to the actual work going into driving the wheels. This makes it particularly inefficient at those times. To increase efficiency some of the output from the ICE is fed to a generator to charge the batteries when the vehicle is cruising or travelling downhill.
Another clever trick is that the electric motor normally used to drive the wheels can be used as the generator. This is how the regenerative braking process, and the system for charging the battery during engine idling, generate electricity. At those times the electric motor is not needed for propulsion, therefore, the ability of an electric motor to operate in ‘generator’ mode is utilised so that a separate generator is not required.
Vehicles which use the parallel or series design are sometimes known as Full Hybrids. Other types of Hybrids such as the Assist Hybrid and Mild Hybrid are basically just normal vehicles with a bit of electrical power supplied at crucial moments. They may also offer Regenerative Braking. However, this kind of vehicle only provides about a 10% increase in fuel economy and it is open to question as to whether the extra complexity is worthwhile.
Is the future of hybrid diesel?
The future of hybrids may very well lie in the diesel motor. Diesel engines operate at higher efficiency than petrol engines so deliver more miles to the gallon, plus they are more reliable. Their main disadvantage has always been poor acceleration, but in a hybrid this is not an issue as it can be offset with extra propulsion from the electric motor.
In addition, diesel engines can run on biofuels such as vegetable oil and the like. Such fuels are relatively clean and are not the dirty stuff often associated with diesel propulsion. Biofuels can be obtained in a sustainable way and the costs are relatively independent of oil production and oil prices.
The combination of reliability, fuel economy (prototypes have achieved over 110 mpg US fuel economy) and sustainable sources of fuel, makes the diesel-engine based hybrids not only likely, but inevitable. This will hopefully give us breathing space till fuel cell technology matures.
Should you Buy a Hybrid Vehicle?
Here are some resources to help you decide:
You can check out this comparison chart which will help you compare some hybrids with non-hybrids and a reference list of all Federal and State incentives for prospective hybrid owners.
Some topical articles; Buyers of hybrid cars get a pleasant surprise and one persons experience of the Cost of Owning a Hybrid car.
Consumer Reports have now admitted that they made an error when they said owners of hybrid vehicles would pay more than buyers of comparable gasoline-only vehicles over their lifetime of ownership. Owners of the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic hybrids do save money, the magazine now says.
If you want more in-depth technical information try What is a Hybrid Electric Vehicle? which includes a nice simple overview of hybrid vehicle design and the page Hybrid Electric Vehicles has clear technical explanations.
Wikipedia has a well written Hybrid vehicle entry which includes both technical and ecological issues.
If all that is not enough for you try the Hybrid Electric Vehicle blog which has lots of good info and links.

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