Hybrid Cars

As greenhouse effects escalated into a household issue, environmental impact is fast becoming a factor to consider in our choice of car. Hybrid cars, one of the more symbolic and popular symbols of the green movement, combines the traditional internal combustion engines with a battery-powered electric motor to extend the engine’s functionality by taking some work off of the combustion engine. This way, overall increase in fuel efficiency is achieved; hybrid cars can give drivers anywhere from 20-30, and even 60 miles more per gallon than the standard non-hybrid vehicle in some cases. Hybrid vehicles have as good a performance if not better than traditional vehicles, and the ride is smooth.

Generally, hybrid cars are made up of two kinds: mild hybrids and full hybrids. The first is powered by utilizing both the gasoline engine and electric motor, allowing the vehicle to shut down the gasoline engine and drives the car on electric power only. This technology is employed in hybrid cars by carmakers such as Toyota, Lexus and Ford. By contrast, mild hybrids use the electric motor primarily to boost the performance of the gasoline engine when it needs extra power; this technology is seen most often in the hybrids sold by General Motors. Most mild hybrid vehicles sold today use a system known as the stop/start system, which shuts the gasoline engine off at idle, e.g. at a red light and instantly starts it up again on demand, like when the light turns green and you hit the accelerator.

Japan’s Toyota Prius and Honda Civic are leading the line-up of hybrid cars, along with the likes of Lexus’ GS 450h, RX 400h and LS 600h L, Saturn’s Aura Green Line and Nissan’s Altima. Additionally, hybrid minivans and SUVs are also available: Dodge Ram and Durango, Toyota Highlander, Ford Escape, GMC Sierra, Saturn VUE Green Line and Mercury Mariner, among others. Meanwhile, a list of other hybrid cars, minivans, SUVs and pick-up trucks still in the production stage are expected to hit the market in the next couple of years.

Taken as a whole, hybrids offer a mixed bag of issues when it comes to their environmental considerations. Despite offering greater fuel efficiency and fewer greenhouse gas emissions than conventional cars, they still run on gasoline, a finite and diminishing resource. The heftier price tags are also one of the most obvious impediment; hybrids cost more money to buy and maintain than conventional cars. The added weight of the electric batteries means reduced overall engine efficiency; they are also very costly to produce and dispose of, financially and environmentally. Hybrid cars are generally accepted by green car enthusiasts as a positive step forward in greener personal transportation, but not as a long-term solution for a greener future. The next development in hybrid cars is likely to be the “plug-in hybrid electric vehicle” (PHEV), which has a larger battery pack more capable of powering the vehicle on its own, without the need of the gasoline engine for a number of miles.

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