What is a hybrid car? How is it different or similar to an EV? Know how the technology operates, and its pros and cons.
Consumers looking to switch to more sustainable vehicles may be apprehensive about going fully electric. This is where hybrid cars can provide them with another option. Hybrid cars are greener vehicles powered by both an internal combustion engine and an electric motor — unlike conventional cars, hybrids are powered by more than one energy source, and this allows them to burn less fuel than a traditional engine, making it more fuel-efficient.
A HEV (hybrid electric vehicle) car charges the battery through its internal system, that is, through energy recovered from the vehicle braking systems and internal combustion engine. This means it does not need any recharging externally. On the other hand, a PHEV (plug-in hybrid vehicle) is equipped with a bigger battery size with higher capacity than that found in the HEV; this battery can be recharged using an external power source, such as a charging station. Unlike a HEV, a PHEV has the addition of a charging port built into it, and this port functions much like those found on EVs.
The larger battery pack allows a PHEV to operate predominantly on electricity during short trips. For longer trips, it can draw on fuel to provide a driving range similar to conventional vehicles. An onboard computer decides when to draw on the fuel according to which mode the driver decides to use, and this allows the vehicle to operate at its most efficient level. In a HEV, it will only operate in full electric mode in slower speeds, typically under 40km/h, and for short distances under 2km — this scenario is common in busy traffic conditions.
Some consumers are worried that the more complicated the drivetrain, the higher the maintenance costs. While a double drivetrain may seem like a hassle to upkeep, the truth is that the electric motor in both hybrid types works in tandem with its ICE (internal combustion engine) counterpart, each assisting the other. This results in less wear and tear on both the ICE and electric motor than if each were to run on its own.
Like an EV, a hybrid car uses its electric motor to slow and stop the car. The electric motor’s regenerative features, a mechanism found on hybrids and EVs, capture the kinetic energy that moves the vehicle forward and transfer it into the car’s batteries. Such energy would have been lost on conventional friction-based braking. Regenerative braking turns the saved kinetic energy into electricity that can help power some of the car’s auxiliary functions, such as the audio and climate control systems. This helps to take some of the load off the electrical system, improving efficiency. While EVs and hybrids also come with conventional hydraulic brakes, the regenerative feature does most of the work to slow the car down. This means there is less wear and tear on the brake pads and rotors, as they are used less frequently.
One of the disadvantages of HEVs and PHEVs is that they tend to have less overall horsepower than conventional ICE cars. And don’t try speeding for any extended period on the expressways in a PHEV, as that’s a surefire way of running down the batteries pretty quickly. With two drivetrains, these cars are much heavier than their ICE counterparts, and that extra weight adversely affects the handling of the cars. Manufacturers tend to make smaller engines and batteries to try and reduce the weight, which usually results in hybrid cars with reduced power and support in the car’s body frame and its suspension.
The EV may be the choice of the future but, for now, there are other options out there for consumers still on the fence on full electrification. Whether it’s a HEV or a PHEV, they each have something to offer the consumer.