Monday, February 1, 2010

Hybrid Cars - Living Up to the Hype

With gas prices rising and big vehicle sales waning, consumers are turning to the next best thing, hybrid cars. Lines are forming as consumers demand hybrid cars, but manufacturers say a shortage of power train components and batteries are creating limited availability of hybrids. Overcautious forecasting on the part of automakers may also be to blame.

What makes it a hybrid? A hybrid car has two or more on-board energy sources and most often features electric power combined with at least one other energy source. Electronically Controlled Continuously Variable Transmission technology allows management of transitioning back and forth to each energy source, and a regenerative braking system recharges the battery when the car slows.

How does it work? The typical hybrid utilizes a gasoline engine and an electric motor, and rechargeable batteries store the energy used by the electric motor. The driver doesn't have to worry about which energy source to use to maximize efficiency, since a computer system determines when to switch systems. These hybrids use less gasoline since they also use electricity as a fuel. Some future hybrids may be plug-ins, with the ability to be recharged at home.

Mild hybrid cars are defined by a primary reliance on gas engine power for propulsion, with electric power secondary. Full hybrid cars rely on electric power for propulsion and the secondary gas engine for power and acceleration.

Other hybrids have alternative fuel tanks that use traditional gasoline and another fuel, like compressed natural gas (CNG). Although not renewable, CNG is cheaper and is readily available. More similar to conventional gas engine cars, flexible fuel vehicles have a single fuel system which can run on two separate fuels like gasoline and E85, or a blended fuel. A more environmentally friendly option is removing gas engine power altogether. French manufacturer Venturi is in the process of developing a car that features two alternative fuel sources, solar photovoltaic cells and electric power.

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