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Hybrid Cars

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Eric Powers
How Hybrid Cars Work

Hybrid cars work by seamlessly integrating a gas engine, an electric motor and a high-powered battery. The battery provides power for the electric motor and is recharged by recapturing energy that would normally be lost when decelerating or coasting. This recapturing of energy is called regenerative braking. If needed, power from the gas engine can be diverted to recharge the battery as well. Because of these charging strategies, hybrid cars never need to be plugged in.

To understand how the gas engine, electric motor and battery work together, it is best to divide hybrids into two categories: mild hybrids and full hybrids. Each has its own approach to incorporating the three components.

Mild Hybrids - Electric Motor only as Assist

In mild hybrids, the gas engine provides the main propulsion, and the electric motor provides assist whenever extra power is needed.

In this arrangement, the electric motor can not operate independently of the gas engine. The electric motor can generate electricity for the battery or consume electricity from the battery, but not both at the same time. Honda employs this technology in its Insight and in its 2003-2005 Civic Hybrids.

Full Hybrids - Gas Engine and Electric Motor Can Operate Independently

Full hybrids integrate the electric motor, gas engine and battery so that the electric motor can operate on its own when certain conditions are met. For some hybrids it does this under low speeed, and once the vehicle reaches higher speeds, the gasoline engine starts up and takes over. Under hard acceleration, both the gas engine and the electric motor can work together to provide the needed power. Unlike mild hybrids, full hybrids are able to generate and consume electricity at the same time. The Toyota Prius, Ford Escape Hybrid, Mercury Mariner Hybrid, toyta Highlander, and Lexus RX 400h employ this type full hybrid arrangement.

In 2006 the Honda Civic Hybrid moved into the full hybrid category. It is different than the other full hybrid systems. While the Civic Hybrid cannot start from a stoplight under electric power alone, at certain light-load crusing conditions the electric can provide the sole means of propulsion.

Whichever approach is used, they both help hybrid cars achieve higher gas mileage and lower emissions.

Eric Powers

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