A hybrid electric vehicle, in short, is an electric vehicle that still uses gasoline, or another source of power, for the generation or to drive the vehicle. The reason for hybrid vehicles is to extend the vehicle further than a battery electric vehicle.
Hybrids have been produced over the last couple of decades with many variations. These were originally produced in order to quickly meet the demand for an electric car. As battery technology has progressed, the range of battery electric cars has increased and this has also increased the range of hybrid electric cars. Battery packs now have a greater power density meaning more power can be stored in a smaller volume within a vehicle.
This has opened opportunities for different types of hybrids and can also be used on larger vehicles. Each different hybrid variation has been developed to provide electrification over more vehicle sizes. This was exceptionally useful during the earlier years of electric cars and lithium-ion battery technology. Initially, with the resurgence of the electric car in mainstream use, battery electric cars were quite small and had limited driving range.
Hybrid Electric Vehicles Versus Battery Electric Cars?
The main reason to consider a hybrid electric vehicle is for the longer driving range. This is not an issue for a lot of people since the average daily commuter drives for 20 minutes to work and another 20 minutes from work. This would be well within the driving capabilities of a battery electric car during the work week.
Something to consider is your plan for weekend activities. If you are a weekend warrior like me or even a periodic weekend warrior, then you may drive a long distance on the weekend for a getaway. In my case, I travel to the family that lives three hours away about once a month, which ends up being around 300 kilometers or 190 miles each way. It would be a stretch for most battery electric vehicles to drive this distance without a recharge.
During the week, a hybrid electric vehicle for your daily commute would operate just like a battery electric car. It will provide the flexibility to enjoy a long road trip without having to worry about range. The other option is to have a second vehicle parked during the week, waiting to be used on the weekend for a drive further than the range of a battery electric car. This option would be more expensive as you would have to ensure the vehicle just parked in your driveway.
Another aspect to consider is the size of vehicle you want. Currently, fully electric cars are compact and small in size. If you have a growing family then space is extremely valuable as you need to have more than just the space to seat five people in a vehicle. You will need to have space to store all of the gear that comes with having kids.
This can be a deal breaker for some car buyers but may be overlooked by other people who do not need the extra space in their vehicle. This is why there are many options on the market for vehicles, not just the styling of the vehicle or even price.
Hybrid Vehicle Definition
Something to look for is the amount of electrification of the hybrid electric vehicle. A mild hybrid is the lowest electrification vehicle on the market. Some people do not even consider mild hybrid electric vehicles to be an electric vehicle since they use the electric motor as a power assist, similar to a turbocharger or supercharger. Mild hybrids do not even have the charging port which is synonymous with an electric car.
Extended Range Hybrid Electric Vehicle
Another example of a hybrid electric vehicle is one with an extended range. These are the same as battery electric cars until the battery charge level is low, then an onboard gasoline-powered generator is started to maintain the battery charge level. As the name states, these are meant to extend the range of the electric vehicle to be similar to that of a gasoline-powered vehicle. This has been a great addition to the electrification fleet of options on the market as many people believe that they cannot get an electric vehicle mainly because of the range limitation.
Fuel Cell Hybrid Electric Vehicle
Fuel cell electric vehicles have been around for over two decades throughout the world, but are uncommon in North America. They are put in a category similar to the mild hybrid since they use fuel and do not have a typical charging port. Sometimes they are referred to FCEV, fuel cell electric vehicles, to distance themselves from hybrids in order to not cause confusion with the mild hybrids. Fuel cell electric cars do not burn the fuel which is a major difference. Hydrogen fuel cells split the fuel with oxygen to generate an electric charge on demand, which acts like a battery. Unlike a gasoline engine, which produces hydrocarbons like carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide, the fuel cell reaction produces water as a byproduct of generating the electricity. The main limiting factor for the expansion of fuel cell electric vehicles is the hydrogen fuel station infrastructure. This limitation has been addressed in a few high population American cities where demand is high. Don’t worry though, if your area has the hydrogen fueling stations you will see the fuel cell electric vehicles in showrooms. Otherwise, you will not even see the fuel cells as a purchasing option since you would not be able to drive far.
Since there are so many different electric vehicle options in the hybrid category it has caused some consumer confusion. It has made it a little harder for the average consumer to figure out which vehicle is right for them. Some people are focused on getting the greenest vehicle, while others want a green vehicle that meets their driving range requirements. For those in colder climates, the need for a larger vehicle is required to deal with snow covered roads and allows for an electric vehicle that can reduce their environmental impact on the world.
I hope that this has helped to understand the basics of hybrid electric vehicles. For more information check out the Types of Electric Vehicles article to read more about each hybrid electric vehicle type.