Hybrid Electric Cars

Where I live, hybrid electric cars are the buzz. All the Yummy Mummies seem to have taken to them in droves for the school run.....since their large, polluting jeeps, resembling military vehicles, became a bit naff in the era of austerity.....

........there used be so many of them, like convoys on the streets of Baghdad......

.....all lined up at the school gate........

......not ferrying diplomats through a warzone......

.......but collecting tiny kids with ponytails and schoolbags.

But how the world is changing! I think someday we will look back on this time as the point when our relationship with oil and big polluting cars changed. Permanently and fundamentally. We are finally beginning to understand that things will not be the way they used to be anymore. The future has arrived!

Car dealers everywhere are now reporting a sudden rise in sales of hybrid cars and a decline in Hummers and SUVs.

So, I guess Hybrids are the new Hummers!

But people are still a bit confused about hybrids. There are plug-in hybrids and ones that you cannot plug-in. Then there are those that can drive on electric juice only for short journeys and those that cannot. Then there are those that were sold in the U.S., which had their basic hybrid facility disabled, but they were still called hybrid....

.....no wonder car-buyers are befuddled!

Faking It!

The fake hybrid electric cars were rampant for a while. As a result of the usual skullduggery from the usual suspects in the motor-oil industry, hybrids in the U.S. were disabled when they were imported into the country. Where is the free market when you need it?

For these unfortunate hybrids to even function as basic non-plug-in hybrids, they had to be mechanically re-enabled, so the electric function could work. Which is the whole point of a hybrid car and not having this made a nonsense of the concept!

You can read more about how this state of affairs came about in Sherry Boschert's wonderful book, Plug-In Hybrids--The Cars that Will Recharge America.

Thankfully, with the help of pressure groups like Plug-in America and CalCars, it is now possible to buy enabled hybrids and to also convert them into plug-ins.

Getting Real

Hybrid electric cars are designed to run on gas and electricity and to be as fuel-efficient as possible. Their lightweight design and good aerodynamics reduce fuel demands. Their small gas engine recharges the battery as you drive, allowing you to drive in electric-mode at lower speeds. They also use regenerative braking to recharge the battery. Their engines also save a lot of fuel by switching off when stopped in traffic.

Hybrid electric cars do not have special battery-packs like pure electric cars have and cannot store enough electrical energy to drive long journeys on electricity alone. And you cannot plug them in to recharge. They are recharged by the engine.

However, they are very fuel-efficient. Some can do up to 60 miles per gallon, which is certainly better than the 32mpg your regular car might give you.

However, not everything that calls itself a hybrid is a hybrid and some makes of 'hybrid electric car' will not allow you drive on electric power alone. Check carefully before buying! Some so-called hybrids only use the electrical option for a bit of extra torque during acceleration, or to power accessories. But they are still primarily gas cars.

The electric facility in these imposter-hybrids is really very minor and serves to give you more miles per gallon, but not to replace gas. The electrical motor does not actually propell the engine as it does with a proper hybrid electric car.

These 'hybrids' are a bit more fuel-efficient than a regular car, but it seems to me that some manufacturers are simply cashing in on the Green Dollar with these models. Essentially, they are selling polluting cars, wrapped in green clothing, to make buyers feel good and exploit their environmental concerns! Because the electric mode is virtually redundant in these 'hybrids', they are almost as fake as those hybrid imports that had their electric switches disabled a few years ago.

Do I recommend hybrid electric cars?

Obviously, I prefer all-electric, but I am biased aren't I ;)

Even the best of hybrid cars have all the disadvantages of a gas engine---grease, fumes, pollution, noise, vibration. And you are still hostage to gas prices.

But, at the risk of being disloyal to my beloved electric cars, I think a genuine hybrid could be a good choice for some people, if it saves them from having to buy a second car just for long journeys.....

and I think a genuine hybrid could be a really great choice if they upgraded it to a full plug-in hybrid.....

If you are interested, hybrids can be upgraded to become full plug-in hybrids, by a conversion shop :) Then you could have the benefits of fuel efficiency when you are using gas on long journeys. And for short, zip-around journeys, you need never use the gas engine at all, because you wouldn't need it to recharge the battery. Instead, drive on cheap electricity from your household supply!

These plug-in hybrids have a nice poetic justice about them---now it is the gas engine that is amost disabled, because you almost never need to use it----they drive almost entirely on electric power and the gas facility is merely supplementary to be used only in exceptional circumstances :))

Plugging In!

This Prius was converted to a full Plug-in hybrid. Photo: Scott Andress

A real, plug-in hybrid is one you can plug-in and recharge, just as you would any electric car. It means you can run on electricity all the time, if you wish, and only revert to gas when doing long journeys.

If you need a car that does long distances, a plug-in hybrid is definitely a good alternative to going all-electric. Go for it! If you are a single-car household and want to take your car off to Yellowstone National Park, as well as collect the kids from hockey practice, then a plug-in hybrid electric car could be the best environmental choice for you, in your particular circumstances.

However, I don't recommend DIY-hybrid conversions from normal gas-engines. Because there are two energy systems under the one bonnet, there are many more things that can go wrong with the working of your car. If you are going to convert a normal gas car, I recommend going all-electric. (With the bought hybrids, it's different. They are designed from scratch to be hybrid.)

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They're clean! They're green!
They're the wonderful electric car machines!