Poor Man's Hybrid · 1 October 05
You might have noticed that most of the automotive news these days is about hybrids. Small hybrids, big hybrids, mild hybrids, even hybrids with chicken pox (just kidding).
Hybrid’s are all the rage.
Do you drive a gas or diesel powered car or truck? Then most likely you already own a hybrid. Of course if you tried to drive around the block on electric power alone you’d probably burn out a few components and kill the battery.
Back in the early part of the 1900’s electric cars were trendy. They were marketed to Doctors and women, among others, because you didn’t have to crank start the engine (getting covered in dirt and oil). At the time gas powered cars were a fickle, messy, and laborious affair. People who drove an EV just hopped in and away they went.
Batteries weren’t very good, but cities weren’t very big nor were they clogged with thousands of commuters. Still, range was surely an issue and I’m not sure how they went about charging those early EVs.
Then some bright chap came along and thought, “Hey, what if I put a small EV inside a gas car? The battery and electric motor could crank the crusty old engine FOR ME!” Essentially the first hybrid between a gas and electric car and more or less what we drive today.
- Under the hood of a gas car is a gas powered engine, battery, alternator (charger), and an electric motor (starter).
- Under the hood of a hybrid is a gas powered engine (smaller), batteries, charger, and electric motor (larger).
If your car had a beefy enough starter (and starter solenoid), larger battery(s), and you hacked a few of the engine’s other controls it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to run it as an electric some of the time. Creeping through rush hour traffic, for example. Ideally you’d want a way to either disengage the gas engine entirely or at least open the valves to reduce back pressure.
A hybrid isn’t really much more than a tweak to the scale and complexity of a gas car. The manufacturer has added extra equipment to optimize the drive train efficiencies: when to use gas, when to use electric, when to charge. The gas engine is smaller since the electric motor is used to smooth out the demands for higher horsepower.
The current crop of hybrids from Toyota and Honda do their best to optimize fuel efficiency. Mark my words, the coming crop of hybrids (SUVs, etc…) from US automakers are going to be more focused on the marketing potential of the word “Hybrid” than as a means to accomplish better fuel efficiency.
Not that Honda and Toyota are saints here, but they have been trying, even before it was cool.
The people who get the best mileage (hybrid or gas or electric) are those who drive “fuel smart.” If you are a boolean driver (Full Gas or Full Brake) the type of care you drive isn’t going to matter much. But it’s not that hard to start saving right now without even changing vehicles, bookmark MetroMPG for regular driving tips.
One of the coolest things about driving an EV (and maybe hybrids) is being able to see exactly how much power you are using at a given moment and over a longer period. I love to experiment with different routes to see which results in the lowest amp hours or try different styles of driving to see how they affect the power needed to get home, up killer hill. You are able to watch the amps being used and battery voltage respond immediately to the slightest change.
This is either really tough to do in a gas vehicle or not something an auto manufacturer would want to encourage. Can you imagine if every car came with a MPG meter? Auto manufacturers would be spending most of their time with angry customers trying to rationalize misleading fuel economy ratings or in educating them on the best methods to obtain such mileage. A support nightmare.
I think hybrids are a great first step. Manufactured and driven properly they can help to conserve fuel and cut down on emissions. Still, they are more complex to make and that translates into smaller profit margins for automakers. Over time, with enough demand and competition, we will hopefully benefit from increased R&D, reduced production costs, and advances in system control.
Which is great news for EVs. Hybrids use batteries, electric motors, and a controller:any improvements to these directly translate into products that you and I can pop under the hood of our EVs.
Totally unrelated Photo