Hybrids and electric vehicles are changing the auto industry as we know it. As their popularity increases so does their familiarity with consumers. But even if consumers can name a few models, many consumers don’t really know how to compare hybrid or electric vehicles or even how they work, and that makes the car shopping and buying process much more complicated.
If you are a consumer who wants to be a greener driver and own or lease a eco-friendly car, here’s a detailed look into the terms, parts and fuel economy in the evolving world of electrified autos. To help you make sense of everything, we’ll be providing you with plenty of real world examples along the way.
The Society of Automotive Engineers' (SAE) definition of a hybrid vehicle is "two or more energy storage systems both of which must provide propulsion power, either together or independently."
So rather than only being powered by a gas engine, a hybrid vehicle is powered by more than one system. Today’s hybrid vehicles will usually have a generator, engine, motor(s), and a battery. The role each of those components plays to power the vehicle is what makes different types of hybrids.
Currently there are three main classifications of hybrids (four, if you include micro hybrids) -- mild hybrid, full hybrid and plug-in hybrid. Additionally, there are a few different types of hybrid designs, but unless we get very technical, it would be hard to explain.
Here is a quick breakdown on those three main hybrid categories.
Mild hybrids generally have gas engines equipped with an electric machine that allows the engine to be turned off whenever the car is coasting, braking, or stopped. Mild hybrids may employ regenerative brake and some level of power assist to the engine, but mild hybrids cannot operate on electricity alone. Mild hybrids aren’t very popular in the U.S. Honda and General Motors are the only two manufacturers who sell a few mild hybrid models in the U.S.
Examples General Motors vehicles with eAssist and Honda vehicles with Integrated Motor Assist (IMA).
Full hybrids are what most consumers think of when they think of hybrids. Though there’s various designs of full hybrids, all full hybrids power a vehicle in one of three ways -- the engine, battery, or a combination of both. When the battery pack is near depletion, the engine will kick in. The battery can be recharged while it is being driven, either through regenerative braking or the engine can charge the battery. Hybrids release fewer greenhouse gases and C02 emissions than traditional gas-powered engines and depending on the specific model, the reduction in emissions can be huge.
Full Hybrids available at NowCar
2016/2017 Chevy Malibu Hybrid, 2016 Kia Optima Hybrid, 2017 Kia Niro (coming soon)
Plug-hybrid vehicles are hybrids that have similar systems to full hybrids, but the battery is larger so it can power the vehicle on pure electricity longer than a full hybrid, but the battery is too big to be recharged by driving alone, so it needs to be plugged in. PHEVs release significantly fewer emissions than hybrid vehicles.
PHEVs available at NowCar
2016/ 2017 Chevy Volt, 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (coming soon), 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid (coming soon)
Electric vehicles are powered by pure electricity and they release ZERO tailpipe emissions. There is no engine in EVs, only a large battery that has to be recharged. One of the most well-known manufacturers of electric vehicles is Tesla, but competition has been heating up as more automakers adapt the new tech.
EVs available at NowCar
2017 Mitsubishi i-Miev, 2016/2017 Chevy Spark, 2016 Kia Soul EV, 2017 Chevy Bolt (coming late 2016)
More Braking = Improved Fuel Economy?
Unlike traditional diesel or gas engines, hybrids, PHEVs and EVs are typically more fuel efficient in the city due to the regenerative braking system (explained below), which charges the battery when braking. Talk about changing the norm, looks like stop-and-go city traffic just became more fuel efficient.
EVs and PHEVs have new measurements to inform consumers about the vehicle’s energy consumption. First is, miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe). Essentially MPGe represents the number of miles the vehicle can go using a quantity of fuel with the same energy content as a gallon of gasoline. In addition to MPGe, the other important measurement is the vehicle’s total distance on a fully charged battery.
Unlike plug-in hybrids or EVs, full hybrids fuel economy is determined and abbreviated the same way as always, miles per gallon (MPG). MPG is still relevant when shopping for PHEVs, too.
Fuel economy varies from EV to EV. The all-new Chevy Bolt EV has the most impressive pure-electric range of 238 miles, which is 25 miles more than the Tesla Model 3 is expected to have.
However, the Bolt’s distance is not typical of all electric vehicles. The compact crossover, Kia Soul EV has an EPA-estimated electric driving range of 93 miles on a full charge and 91 MPGe combined. The subcompact Mitsubishi i-Miev can travel 59 miles on a single charge and an equivalent of 112 combined MPGe. The Chevy Spark has an average electric range of 82 miles and 119 combined MPGe.
Just like EVs, fuel economy of PHEVs varies, especially since there are so many different sizes of PHEVs. Here are a few examples of fuel economy of various PHEVs and there are three fuel economy numbers with PHEVs - distance of electric battery, combined average of electric battery and gas engine, and MPG of the gas engine.
The 2017 Chevy Volt is a compact sedan that has an average fuel economy of 106 combined MPGe, 53 miles pure electricity and 42 combined MPG. According to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, the seven-passenger minivan, the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, has a fuel economy of 80 MPGe in the city and can travel 30 miles on pure electricity. MPG has not been released yet.
The fuel economy of full hybrids is not quite as varied as EVs and PHEVs and MPG is the only measurement of fuel economy.
The 2016 Kia Optima Hybrid has an average fuel economy of 36 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway. The 2017 Chevy Malibu Hybrid has an average fuel economy of 49 mpg in the city and 43 mpg on the highway. The Toyota Prius has a fuel economy of 43 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway.
Along with savings in annual gas costs, hybrids, PHEVs and EVs are extremely beneficial to the environment because they have significantly less tailpipe and CO2 emissions. EVs have absolutely zero tailpipe emissions, hybrids have less emissions than traditional cars and PHEVs are even less than hybrids.
It is important to know that just because EVs and PHEVs have lower tailpipe emissions, the electricity they use had released emissions before being turned into useable energy, so there are still emissions associated with their use.
Here’s a comparison between four vehicles and their annual emissions (pounds of CO2).
2017 Mitsubishi i-Miev (EV) -- 5,950
2017 Chevy Volt (PHEV) -- 6,871
2016 Chevy Malibu Hybrid --8,338
2016 Kia Optima Hybrid -- 9,394
2016 Chevy Malibu -- 11,315
2016 Kia Optima -- 10,661
Alright so with all of these new and awesome fuel efficient cars are new parts and systems. In addition to comparing engine size, horsepower and fuel economy like consumers usually do when shopping for a new car, the type of battery and charging time should also be on the list.
There are two main types of batteries used in hybrids and electric vehicles and there are pros and cons to both of them. The newest battery material is lithium-ion (Li-ion) and it has a lot of benefits. Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries maintain their charge longer than other batteries, they are low maintenance and they can store a lot more energy than other types of batteries. One downside to lithium-ion batteries is their cost as they are a little pricier than other batteries.
The other main type of batteries used in hybrids and EVs is Nickel-Metal Hydride (Ni-MH). These batteries can store about the same amount of energy as Li-ion batteries but they are heavier and take a little longer to charge. Currently, Ni-MH batteries are a little more affordable than Li-ion batteries.
With the use of batteries in cars, in addition to fuel consumption, there is also electricity consumption. Electricity consumption doesn’t results in a release of emissions in full hybrids because the energy the battery uses is from the vehicle’s own regenerative energy systems like regenerative braking or by using fuel to charge the battery.
However, electricity and battery specs on PHEVs and EVs is more important because they are plug-in vehicles that need to be charged at a charging station or home, so calculating how much it will cost to charge the battery is just as it is important as calculating how much gas would cost you based on its MPG.
Just like cars are required to have a government rated fuel economy, EVs and PHEVs are required to have a government rated kilowatt-hours (kWh) per 100 miles. kWh is a derived unit of energy and essentially it shows consumers how much electric energy is needed for a car to travel 100 miles.
To put it in perspective, here are the kWh of various PHEVs and EVs. To travel 100 miles the 2017 Mitsubishi
The 2017 Mitsubishi i-Miev (EV) uses 30 kWh, the 2017 Chevy Volt (PHEV) uses 31 kWh, the 2017 Ford Fusion Energi PHEV uses 35 kWh and the Kia Soul EV uses 32 kWh.
Regenerative braking is an extremely important system to hybrids, PHEVs and EVs and it's incredibly beneficial. Regenerative braking transfers or recycles the energy used by the brakes to charge the battery. Not only does this improve the car’s fuel consumption and electric efficiency, but it is also significantly less wear on a car’s brakes because the parts do not wear as quickly.
This is an innovative system that will be on the all-new 2017 Chevy Bolt. Rather than braking a driver just needs to lift their foot off the accelerator. Instead of losing energy when slowing down, it helps the car generate more energy to the battery.
Also with the new PHEVs and EVs car labels are required to show the vehicle’s estimated fuel cost over a five-year period for the vehicle compared to the average new vehicle. These estimates are based on 15,000 miles per year, for five years, and the projected fuel price (gas and electric) for the year.
When talking about savings it’s also important to talk about the federal tax credit. All buyers of new EVs qualify the entire $7,500 federal tax credit and the amount of the tax credit for PHEVs varies based on the vehicle’s efficiency with fuels and emissions. The 2016/2017 Chevy Volt is eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit. Additionally, state and local governments may also give tax credits, so all consumers should check with the local government as well.
If you’re interested in getting a hybrid, PHEV or EV, don’t be intimidated by the new tech terms and systems. The new cars are beneficial to your wallet and the environment. They are worth the investment.
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