We know taxis use them, in fact trying to spot a taxi that is not a hybrid in Australia is a very low probability. Why, because Hybrids save their owners money, help reduce C02 emissions, are quite powerful yet quiet and comfortable and are more reliable than ever.
No prize for realising Toyota were the leading innovators of the Hybrid engine and have lead the way in technological advancement and efficiency. However the concept of electric cars has been around for 150 years with the first electric vehicle being built in 1839 in Scotland. The biggest breakthroughs came in the 1890 when the lead-acid and nickel-iron batteries were developed.
Toyota hybrid success - 8 million cumulative units sold since 1997.
In 1916 the Hybrid vehicle was first devised, called the Woods Dual Power it was unfortunately lacking in power and more expensive than the gasoline competition and sold poorly. Not until 1966 did the world see a resurgence in hybrid vehicles after the U.S. Congress recommended using electric vehicles to reduce air pollution.
Believe it or not in 1900 American car companies made 1,681 steam, 1,575 electric and 936 gasoline cars so in effect we have a lot of catching up to do with the past to get the same mix of electric vehicles on our roads.
Fast forward through the next decades saw companies like GM, Audi, Briggs & Stratton all delve into hybrid projects with Toyota building its first in 1976 using General Electric to construct a parallel-hybrid system. The breakthrough came in 1991 when their NiMH (nickel hydride battery was invented – it could hold 3 times the amount of charge than the lead-acid batteries being used.
And in 1992Toyota Motor Corporation announced the "Earth Charter," a document outlining goals to develop and market vehicles with the lowest emissions possible. Toyota have realised the importance of this as well as companies like Tesla who continue to innovate and build amazing pure electric vehicles.
Until the late 1990s hybrid electric vehicles were relatively rare, but the success of the Toyota Prius raised public awareness of these petrol-saving vehicles and spawned a number of similar cars from manufacturers such as Honda (the Honda Insight) and Ford (the Ford Fusion Hybrid). In fact, these fuel efficient vehicles are one of the most rapidly growing segments within the auto industry.
However until recently Honda only produced hybrids that assisted their petrol engines like a turbo booster and was known as Parallel Hybrid.
In 1997 the Toyota Prius was introduced to the Japanese market with first-year sales were nearly 18,000.
Today Toyota still leads with Hybrid technology using a more efficient system called Series Parallel that allows the car to operate for a while solely on electric motors.
So what is Hybrid – how does it work?
In a nutshell a hybrid vehicle is one that uses 2 fuel sources and 2 engines - an internal combustion engine and a battery driven electric motor. So how does Hybrid differ from electric vehicles and what are its advantages and disadvantage – if any?
Toyota’s exclusive Hybrid Synergy Drive® is a full Hybrid System. It uses two motors in harmony with each other - a battery-powered electric motor and a petrol-driven combustion engine. Unlike the motors in many other hybrid cars, both the petrol and the electric motors in the Hybrid Synergy Drive® system can power the car alone or in combination.
Hybrid Synergy Drive® delivers remarkable fuel efficiency without compromising performance. The battery is kept charged through normal driving and recaptured energy from braking and deceleration, it provides all the power the electric motor will ever need, without ever plugging into the mains. This results in maximum performance with a lot of power at ones disposal along with minimum emissions and incredible fuel efficiency.
And the batteries? Well Toyota have replaced just 2 batteries from half a million produced. Many Hybrid Camrys have traveled over 3 million kilometres with no need to replace batteries.
Toyota guarantees its hybrid batteries for 180,000 kilometres or 8 years. The only disadvantage from a driver’s point of view is that the battery pod takes up some room behind the back seat and some of the boot space which reduces the cargo area by a small percentage. And hybrid vehicles will typically cost more than a conventional petrol car, e.g. for the Camry the price is around $3500 more but the fuel savings can pay for this in the next few years depending on your driving situation especially when fuel prices reach the high end of the price cycles.
So why would you buy a hybrid vehicle?
There's no difference in comfort between a hybrid and the petrol-powered car parked in your garage — it accelerates just as quickly and cruises just as fast on the highway, it handles just as smoothly and are just as safe to drive. Well, there is one difference: Hybrids are super-quiet — sometimes you can't tell whether the engine is running or not! When power is not needed when stopped at a red light or in bumper-to-bumper traffic, the engine completely shuts down and revs up again when you press on the accelerator, meaning you don't waste gas or emit pollutants.
Because the petrol engine componet of a hybrid car runs much less than a nornal car you will need less maintenace and the engine will last longer. Your trips to the petrol station will be much less often and we all know how we try to avoid the petrol station run!
Hybrid cars climb hills really well. As it's torque, not horsepower that helps a car to climb a steep hil, the electric motors in hybrid cars produce a lot of it. Hybrids often feature continuously variable transmissions that allow the engine to operate at the optimal number of revolutions per minute (RPMs) when climbing under full power. This is impossible with conventional transmissions that typically operate with four, five, or six speeds.
Hybrids are still the most financially conscious way to buy some kinds of cars, even aside from high-mindedly doing your part for the Earth.
The future of Hybrid and electric vehicles is set to be very robust as the petrol and diesel engines slowly become uneconomic and threatening our enjoyment.
Toyota Australia are about to release the Corolla Hatch Hybrid (April 2016). We also hear rumors that the RAV4 and other models in the future may offer hybrid variants as well.
For more information on how hybrid vehicles work and Toyota's Hybrid vehicle range - See Hybrid Vehicles