Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEV)
Hybrid electric vehicles are, by their very definition, vehicles which have more than one motor to power the vehicle. Typically, hybrids have two engines. One is an electric motor/generator and the other is a conventional gas engine. The electric motor is powered by a large battery pack, while the other engine is typically powered by gasoline.
Since the vehicle is being powered by two engines, hybrid electric vehicles tend to be more expensive than their conventional counterparts. Recent studies have shown that consumers can expect to make up the cost difference, but it does take time.
Other possibilities do exist, such as hybrid electric E85, hybrid electric diesels and hybrid fuel cells. But so far, automakers have shown a predilection to building hybrid gas electric motors. As one person has put it (I can't remember who it was, and I'm paraphrasing anyways): Hybrids are expensive. Diesels are expensive. Hybrid Diesels are even more expensive. And despite some demonstrations and concept vehicles, fuel cells are still in the future.
HEVs do not need to be plugged in (unless we are talking about plug-in hybrids, but more on that later). The battery packs can be recharged through regenerative braking and by the gas engine.
Hybrid Car Battery Packs - NiMH vs Li-Ion Facts
Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) battery packs are the current norm in HEVs. Automakers would like to switch to Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) batteries because they provide more power and are less expensive. Li-Ion batteries are commonly seen in laptops and cell phones. Reliability and safety issues have kept automakers from making the switch over. Lead Acid batteries are considered too heavy to be used in significant amounts to power an HEV.
The battery packs found in hybrid cars are large and heavy. As such they are expensive and should be considered dangerous to mess with. I'll talk more about those issues later.
Full Hybrid vs Mild (Assist) Hybrids Car Facts
All hybrids have regenerative braking and start-stop technology. But not all hybrids are built the same. Full hybrids are capable of powering the vehicle on battery power (electric) alone. Which means they have larger battery packs and tend to be more expensive. Mild (assist) hybrids use smaller battery packs to power the electric motor. The electric motor 'assists' the gas motor, but is not capable of moving the vehicle by itself. Although they are less capable, they are also less expensive.
Current Hybrid Car Makers:
- Toyota Prius
- Toyota Camry Hybrid
- Toyota Highlander Hybrid
- Lexus GS 450h
- Lexus RX 400h
- Honda Accord (retired)
- Honda Civic Hybrid
- Honda Insight (retired)
- Ford Escape Hybrid
- Mercury Mariner Hybrid
- Nissan Altima Hybrid
- Saturn Vue Hybrid (mild, going to full)
- Saturn Aura Hybrid (mild)
- Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid (mild, retired)
- GMC Sierra Hybrid (mild, retired)
There are many analysts, politicians and automaker executives who see plug-in technology as the future of hybrid vehicles. By plugging in the hybrid car (they envision plugging them in overnight), a PHEV may be capable of driving for 30 to 40 miles on battery power alone. This moves a majority of the power supply problem away from gas and oil and onto the electric grid.
Environmentalists like this idea, feeling it is easier to control the pollution output of power companies. Politicians like the idea of easing our country away from our 'addiction to oil.'
In order to accomplish this goal, automakers feel they need more powerful (and yet more lightweight) battery packs. In other words, they are waiting for / researching Li-Ion batteries.
In the meantime some companies, like calcars, are offering conversions for HEVs into PHEVs for those who are interested.
Federal Tax Credits for Hybrids
The Federal Government has subsidized the sales of HEVs through tax credits. Buyers (not leasers or renters) of new hybrid electric vehicles may be eligible for a tax credit. The amount of the tax credit varies from vehicle to vehicle.
The forms you need in order to claim your tax credit are here. But you may not qualify based on your AMT. Fueleconomy.gov has the current amounts you may qualify for based on when you buy and the make and model of your hybrid car.
Phase Out Periods of the Federal Tax Credits on Hybrids
The federal tax credit on hybrid cars begins to 'phase out' during the second calendar quarter after the quarter in which the company sells its 60,000th hybrid or lean burn technology vehicle. Meant as a domestic incentive, since Ford and GM were not going to catch (and haven't caught) Toyota and Honda in hybrid car sales, this means that the amount you can claim on your taxes may vary based on when you buy / receive your hybrid car.
After the second quarter after the quarter in which the company sells its 60,000th hybrid, the amount a consumer can claim on his/her taxes is cut in half. Two quarters later, the amount is cut in half again. Two quarters later, the tax credit is phased out.
Anyone who buys a Toyota hybrid is already being subjected to this phase out period. Starting on October 1st, 2006, the tax credit on Toyota (and Lexus) hybrid vehicles was cut in half. On April 1, 2007, the tax credit was cut in half once again. Beginning October 1, 2007, the tax credit will have been officially ended.
Honda will most likely pass the 60,000 limit in 2007, which means buyers of Honda HEVs will face this limitation in 2008.
Other Hybrid Car Incentives Facts
Both State and local hybrid car incentives exist. From free parking to solo access to HOV lanes exists, but vary from state to state. Some states offer tax incentives on hybrid cars.
Some companies (Timberland, Google, Bank of America, etc...) also offer incentives to employees who purchase hybrid cars.
Hybrid Car Safety Facts
There are some safety concerns when it comes to hybrid cars involved in accidents. Because hybrid cars may be running on electric power when at low speeds or when stopped, there may be no noise coming from them. Blind pedestrians are particularly worried about them. In an accident, EMS are instructed to turn off the vehicle immediately for safety. Because the engine may be running silently, there is some concern that the EMS personnel won't be certain the engine is turned off.
Another big concern is the high powered cabled that run from the battery packs to the electric motor. Emergency workers need to be extremely careful when cutting a vehicle open. Just like airbags, you don't want to cut through a live wire. HEVs turn off and disconnect the battery packs in a crash, but high voltage wires are not minor worries for first responders.
The Facts on EPA MPG Ratings and Hybrid Cars
Because of their high EPA fuel economy ratings, new hybrid car owners are often disappointed by their own mpg use. Lab testing is not reflective of real world driving, and owners should be aware their own mpg will vary from the ratings you see on the stickers. The EPA has changed their testing system and is rolling out more 'real world' figures for model 2008 cars.
Why you aren't getting the MPG you were promised?
- aggressive driving,
- not taking advantage of regenerative braking,
- break-in periods for engines,
- low tire pressure, and
- winter weather
Regenerative braking is a cheaper method to recharge your battery packs in a hybrid. If your brakes aren't doing the recharging, then your gas engine is. Braking for longer periods can do wonders. So, anticipate braking (lights are going red in front of you, for instance) and brake softer and for longer periods.
Many owners report break-in periods for their engines, as well. Sometimes you just need to put some (3 - 5K) miles onto your vehicle before you see some improvement in your fuel economy.
Other negative factors you might not think of include under pressurized tires and cold weather. Keep your tires at the right pressure for the best results. If your tires are low, your car has more friction issues. Also, until an engine heats up properly, it doesn't run as efficiently as it can. So cold and winter weather can have a really negative impact on your mpg.
Some cures for low mpg numbers:
- Slow down
- Longer braking periods to help recharge the batteries
- Make sure your tires are properly inflated
- Keep your engine tuned
Some drivers see the EPA ratings as a challenge to be beaten. These drivers go out of their way to conserve fuel and report they are getting even better mileage than what the cars are rated for. Hybrid cars are particularly good for hypermilers, but are not required. Some techniques for hypermilers include:
- driving with buffers,
- driving without brakes,
- Pulse and Glide (if you have a hybrid),
- drafting (not recommended, most likely illegal), and
- forced auto stop/ turning your engine off and coasting (not recommended, most likely illegal)
Facts About Hybrid Car and Emissions
Hybrid Cars are typically less polluting than other cars for one simple reason: hybrid cars have higher fuel economy. Higher MPG ratings mean less fuel burned mean less pollution. Since hybrids are top rated for fuel economy, they tend to be top rated for green scores.
This does not mean they are the solution to all of our problems. But, if everyone were to choose the vehicle in the class they are interested in, whether it be a truck, SUV, midsize, compact or subcompact and make sure the mpg rating is a top priority, vehicle pollution would be dramatically reduced.
Hybrid cars, so far, are a drop in the bucket when it comes to our oil dependence. But as long as we continue to buy vehicles with higher fuel economy, we won't have to worry about the confusing state of politics and hybrid cars.
Hybrid Car History
Hybrid cars have been around a lot longer than you think. Almost as old as the original cars built by Ford, electric power vied for dominance (and almost won out) over gas engines. Electric engines were great at low speeds and cheaper at first. They, at one point, dominated the car market. But gas engines became cheaper and more powerful and were more capable at higher speeds.
At many points along the way, hybrid cars have been attempted. The 1917 Woods Dual Power, for instance, attempted to mate the positive properties of electric power at low speeds and the more powerful gas engine. And as recently as 1969, GM was working on a plug in hybrid.
But it wasn't until a decade ago that modern day hybrids made a huge impact on todays marketplace. The introduction of the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius and their astounding mpg ratings, coupled with higher gas prices have led to an astounding growth in hybrid car sales.
US Hybrid Car Sales Figures (excludes mild hybrids from GM):
2004: 83,924 units
2005: 205,748 units
2006: 251,862 units
2007 through May: 147,672 units
Cost to Own a Hybrid Car
Many people are concerned about hybrid car repairs and how much will it cost them when something breaks. Most issues relating to hybrids can be dealt with at your local repair shop, but since all parts related to the hybrid part of the engine are usually guaranteed for 80K or 100K miles, repair costs for hybrid issues tend to be low. This includes the battery pack, which because of its size and complexity would cost a hybrid car driver thousands to replace. As it is, these issues end up costing the automaker and dealership instead.
Otherwise, routine maintenance costs are the same, although you don't need to replace the brakes as often. The brakes last longer because the regenerative braking system takes some of the pressure off of the brake pads.
Want More Hybrid Car Facts?
Good resources on hybrid cars other than this site, of course :-), include government, sites, blogs, and forums.