Cutting edge eco-cars are being raved about all the time in the media, but how do they actually work once you've managed to cut through all the tedious scientific mumbo jumbo?
Examples: Toyota Prius, Honda Insight, Lexus RX 450h.
What is a Hybrid Car? It's any kind of vehicle that achieves propulsion by using more than one source of energy.
How do Hybrid Electric Cars Work?
There are different forms of hybrid vehicles but the ones most relevant to your motoring life are the 'mild' hybrids such as the Mercedes E300 Hybrid we profiled last week, which simply aids the combustion engine but never actually moves the car independently, and the 'full' hybrid which features a combustion engine working in tandem with one or more electric motors to get you moving.
Taking the Toyota Prius as an example, the electric motor moves the car under light acceleration and will power the car up to 31mph for 1.2 miles. Once either limit has been passed (or you require heavy acceleration), the combustion engine kicks in.
Why should I bother?
When a hybrid is in slow-moving traffic, the car will run on the electric motor and produce zero emissions. Also when coming to a full stop at traffic lights, the combustion engine will be shut off, meaning no emissions are produced and no petrol or diesel is wasted while you sit there waiting.
There are other clever devices that help green up your motoring including regenerative braking. This takes the energy normally lost while braking, coasting or decelerating and uses it to recharge the battery running the electric motor. This coupled with the ability for the combustion engine to help out with recharging if required means that the battery never needs recharging by mains.
Some pundits claim that a good diesel car can offer similar if not better mpg figures, and innovations such as stop/start technology can be used to drive down harmful CO2 emissions.
Examples G-Wiz, Tesla Roadster, Citroen C1 Evie.
What is an Electric Car?
You don't need a PHD in stating the obvious to know that electric cars are powered by electric motors.
How does an Electric Car work?
When you put your foot down, electricity is sent from the onboard batteries to a controller which passes it on to the electric motor.
Why should I bother with an electric Car?
Because an electric car produces zero emissions - it's like giving Mother Nature a back rub every time you're behind the wheel. Well, sort of. Also, when you turn the car on, there's no engine noise nor are there gears or clutches to master. Simply slot the car into 'Drive' and move off; the car will increase its acceleration without pause or fuss with your right foot controlling the modulation of the power delivery.
Like hybrids, electric cars also use regenerative braking to help recharge the battery. And if you think that electric cars are toothless, you'd be wrong - certain makes offer outstanding performance; the Tesla Roadster can go from 0-60mph in a Ferrari-spanking four seconds.
Unless you've got access to solar panels or a wind turbine in your back garden, the electricity that powers such cars ultimately comes from greenhouse gas-spewing power stations. Another issue is range - the best electric cars can only manage over 100 miles and that's with careful driving i.e. not mashing the accelerator. Also, recharging the car using a standard household socket can take up to 12 hours; if you actually have access to an external power source at your home in the first place...
Adam Phillips, 28th January 2010
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