Hybrid cars contain the following parts:
- Gasoline engine - The hybrid car has a gasoline engine much like the one you will find on most cars. However, the engine on a hybrid is smaller and uses advanced technologies to reduce emissions and increase efficiency.
- Fuel tank - The fuel tank in a hybrid is the energy storage device for the gasoline engine. Gasoline has a much higher energy density than batteries do. For example, it takes about 1,000 pounds of batteries to store as much energy as 1 gallon (7 pounds) of gasoline.
- Electric motor - The electric motor on a hybrid car is very sophisticated. Advanced electronics allow it to act as a motor as well as a generator. For example, when it needs to, it can draw energy from the batteries to accelerate the car. But acting as a generator, it can slow the car down and return energy to the batteries.
- Generator - The generator is similar to an electric motor, but it acts only to produce electrical power. It is used mostly on series hybrids.
- Batteries - The batteries in a hybrid car are the energy storage device for the electric motor. Unlike the gasoline in the fuel tank, which can only power the gasoline engine, the electric motor on a hybrid car can put energy into the batteries as well as draw energy from them.
- Transmission - The transmission on a hybrid car performs the same basic function as the transmission on a conventional car. Some hybrids, like the Honda Insight, have conventional transmissions. Others, like the Toyota Prius, have radically different ones, which we'll talk about later.
Image courtesy DaimlerChrysler
The Mercedes-Benz M-Class HYPER -- a hybrid concept vehicle
Why Build Such a Complex Car?
You might wonder why anyone would build such a complicated machine when most people are perfectly happy with their gasoline-powered cars. The reason is twofold: to reduce tailpipe emissions and to improve mileage. These goals are actually tightly interwoven.
California emissions standards dictate how much of each type of pollution a car is allowed to emit in California. The amount is usually specified in grams per mile (g/mi). For example, the low emissions vehicle (LEV) standard allows 3.4 g/mi of carbon monoxide.
The key thing here is that the amount of pollution allowed does not depend on the mileage your car gets. But a car that burns twice as much gas to go a mile will generate approximately twice as much pollution. That pollution will have to be removed by the emissions control equipment on the car. So decreasing the fuel consumption of the car is one of the surest ways to decrease emissions.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is another type of pollution a car produces. The U.S. government does not regulate it, but scientists suspect that it contributes to global warming. Since it is not regulated, a car has no devices for removing CO2 from the exhaust, so a car that burns twice as much gas adds twice as much CO2 to the atmosphere.
Automakers in the U.S. have another strong incentive to improve mileage. They are required by law to meet Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. The current standards require that the average mileage of all the new cars sold by an automaker should be 27.5 mpg (8.55 liters per 100 km). This means that if an automaker sells one hybrid car that gets 60 mpg (3.92 liters per 100 km), it can then sell four big, expensive luxury cars that only get 20 mpg (11.76 liters per 100 km)!