Increasing environmental awareness and rising fuel costs have drummed up interest in green car technology over the past two decades. As this new market emerged, Toyota established itself as a pioneer in this segment with the world’s most popular hybrid—the Toyota Prius.
But despite being awarded ‘2009 North American Car of the Year’ and boasting impressive sales, most people only have a vague idea of how hybrids work. Differentiating them from electric cars can also be a bit tricky. To help you distinguish between the two, here is a no-nonsense guide on hybrids and electric vehicles.
Understanding hybrid cars
A hybrid is any vehicle that uses two or more power sources. These cars typically combine an electric motor with a gasoline engine for acceleration. The separate powertrains may each function on their own, or the two could work at the same time.
A hybrid vehicle will generally use its electric motor while driving at speeds of 15mph and below. This makes hybrids like the Prius perfect for city-driving. The gasoline engine is only activated when it is more efficient, particularly during cruising.
As the gas engine runs, it also drives a generator which charges the battery pack that supplies power to the electric motor. It also gets charged through regenerative braking which stores energy lost from decelerating and taps it as a reserve.
During heavy acceleration, both motor and engine work together to provide the required power to the wheels. This system is what allows hybrid cars to use less gas, resulting in better fuel economy and reduced emissions.
Toyota Prius—the poster child of hybrids
The Toyota Prius is considered a pioneer and leader in the hybrid segment, selling over 10 million units across the globe. Debuting in the late 90s, it was the first to feature a parallel hybrid powertrain that had a separate electric and internal combustion power source. The Prius is also commonly referred to as a full hybrid.
The Toyota Hybrid System (THS) is a smart fuel-saving technology that determines when to switch between the electric motor and gas engine, based on current driving conditions. This system is what makes the Prius an extremely efficient vehicle, with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ratings of 54 mpg in the city and 50 mpg on the highway.
Electric vehicles or EVs
Electric vehicles or EVs are cars that are solely run by electricity. These vehicles need to be plugged into an electric power source for charging. These can be further classified into Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV), and Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs). Most of these cars can run 80 to 100 miles on a single charge. Recharging an EV can take you as fast as 30 minutes or as long as a full day.
What’s the difference between hybrids and electric vehicles?
The main difference between hybrids and EVs is that the former has power supplemented from an internal combustion engine. A hybrid car’s electric component does not require an external power source for charging. On the other hand, an EV solely relies on electricity to run and needs to be plugged in for charging.
One similarity between the two is that both also draw energy from regenerative braking. This mechanism stores lost kinetic energy when the brakes are applied, using it as a reserve to charge the battery pack.
Blurring the lines between hybrids and electric vehicles
A new type of green car has emerged, blurring the lines between hybrids and electric vehicles. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles or PHEVs also have two sources of power—an electric motor and a gasoline engine. But more than just a regular hybrid, it can also be plugged into the electric grid for charging.
These are also called extended range vehicles because the supplemented power of its internal combustion engine allows it to cover more mileage than an all-electric vehicle. In 2012, Toyota added its first plug-in hybrid to the best-selling Prius line.
Boasting impressive EPA ratings of 55 mpg in the city and 53 mpg on the highway, the 2019 model of this plug-in hybrid offers 25 miles on a single charge. This may not sound much, but it roughly equates to an hour in traffic.
Bloomberg reports that in a little over five years, hybrids will represent 15% of the U.S. market. As the demand for reliable, efficient, and low emission vehicles continues to increase, we can expect to see more kinds of hybrids and EVs on the road.