Hybrid electric vehicles (hybrids) combine an internal combustion engine with a battery and electric motor. This combination offers the range and refueling capabilities of a conventional vehicle, while providing improved fuel economy and often times lower emissions.
How It Works
Not all hybrids are created equal. Some "mild" hybrids are not much cleaner or more efficient than their non-hybrid counterparts. When in doubt, compare ratings on our website, or on the Fuel Economy and Environment Label found on the window of the vehicle. Hybrids with the highest Greenhouse Gas and Smog Ratings will give you the maximum environmental benefits and save you the most money on fuel.
Many configurations are possible for hybrids. Essentially, a hybrid combines an energy storage system, a power unit such as a spark ignition engine, and a vehicle propulsion system. The primary options for energy storage include batteries, ultracapacitors, and flywheels. Although batteries are by far the most common energy storage choice, research is still being done in other energy storage areas. Propulsion can come entirely from an electric motor, such as in a series configuration, or the engine might provide direct mechanical input to the vehicle propulsion system in a parallel configuration system. A hybrid's efficiency and emissions depend on the particular combination of subsystems, how these subsystems are integrated into a complete system, and the control strategy that integrates the subsystems.
Manufacturers continue to make more hybrid models each year, and now plug-in hybrids are also available in a variety of makes and models. Plug-in hybrids are similar to traditional hybrids but are also equipped with a larger, more advanced battery that allows the vehicle to be plugged in and recharged in addition to refueling with gasoline.
One question that often comes up when discussing the cost of hybrids is battery replacement. It is projected that a new battery pack will likely fall in the $2,000 or so range when aging hybrids get to the point where replacement is needed.
Hybrids often cost more than their gasoline counterparts due to cost of the battery, however this is not always the case. Also, you may be able to recoup the higher upfront cost by spending less each month on gasoline, or qualifying for a rebate or tax credit. There are many factors that figure into a hybrid's "payback" time. Below is a fundamental calculation that can be used to determine the theoretical payback for any hybrid model, but keep in mind that other factors are not accounted for here that can have a large impact on payback. Some of those include rebates or tax incentives, added value items manufacturers may place on hybrids to offset the extra cost, driving habits that can affect fuel economy (and could even cut the miles to achieving the breakeven point in half), non-financial conveniences (such as carpool lane access and free parking), etc.
Here is the basic equation for determining a hybrid's breakeven point:
1. Find the fuel cost difference per mile:
- Identify the combined city/highway MPG number for a hybrid and that of its closest conventional counterpart. You can look these up at www.fueleconomy.gov
- Figure each vehicle's operating cost per mile by dividing the current price of fuel (such as $3.50 per gallon) by a vehicle's combined MPG: Price of fuel / Combined MPG = Per mile operating cost
- Determine the fuel cost difference per mile: Hybrid per mile operating cost - Non hybrid per mile operating cost = Fuel cost difference per mile
- 2. Determine the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) for the models you are comparing, and calculate the cost difference: Hybrid MSRP - Non hybrid MSRP = Vehicle cost difference.
3. Find the breakeven point by dividing the vehicle cost difference by the fuel cost difference: Vehicle cost difference / Fuel cost difference = Number of miles it takes to offset the premium cost of a hybrid
Check out the incentives search to find out what incentives are available in your region.
Today’s hybrid electric vehicles are refueled at the gas station. These vehicles use both gasoline and electricity that is generated on-board the vehicle. As a result, refueling is the same as conventional vehicles, although generally required less often due to improved fuel economy.
Each hybrid will perform differently, but in general their performance is similar or better than their gasoline counterparts.
Cleaner, more efficient cars can make a big difference to society in terms of environmental benefits. Although hybrids will never be true zero-emission vehicles, due to their internal combustion engine, many hybrids are certified to the California Air Resources Board’s strictest emissions standards and receive a Smog Rating of 8 or better. In addition, most reduce greenhouse gas pollutants by a third to a half and get a Greenhouse Gas Rating of 10.
Perks & Conveniences
Auto manufacturers are producing a large variety of hybrid makes and models with comparable performance, safety, and cost to conventional vehicles. By combining gasoline with electric power, hybrids have the same or greater range than traditional combustion engines, thus reducing the number of trips to the gasoline station. Improved fuel economy reduces greenhouse gas emissions and provides savings to help offset the incremental capital cost of the vehicle.
Hybrid electric vehicles meet all federal motor vehicle safety requirements. The batteries in hybrids are sealed and all high-voltage circuits are protected from casual contact. High-voltage circuits are marked, color-coded and posted with warnings to advise of their presence. These vehicles pose no additional risks over conventional gasoline vehicles.