In basic terms, hybrids combine gasoline powered engines and electricity--hence, the "hybrid" name. Combining gasoline power adds power and longevity between refueling (or recharging), making it a better option for many people than simply a gas powered car or an electric powered car. High fuel costs are a primary reason why people are moving away from gasoline-powered vehicles. Pollution and low gas mileage rates are other primary reasons. Electric cars, while available, also have undesirable factors, such as the inability to go very far between recharging (50 to 100 miles in many cases), and they lack the power and speed of their gasoline-powered counterparts.
The hybrid combines the best of each type of power. Hybrids can go 300 miles or more between refueling, provide enough power for most situations for the average driver, and produce much less pollution than a standard gasoline-powered vehicle.
Hybrids use both gasoline and electrical power to move the car. How and when hybrids use each type of energy source can vary among different models. Additionally, hybrids can store energy in the battery for later use. Many hybrids use electrical power as a way to store and use for additional energy when needed (such as when climbing a hill).
Hybrids use a variety of other techniques to improve gas mileage and reduce pollution. For example, hybrids use much smaller engines than many gasoline-powered engines. A smaller engine does not require as much power to operate, thereby reducing overall fuel usage.
Hybrids also take advantage of other forms of technology to increase aerodynamics, from the shape of the body to the types of tires used on the cars. The body of the vehicles is made from lighter weight materials, which helps reduce the overall amount of power required to move the vehicle. The aerodynamic shapes of the vehicles reduce air drag, which can be a huge source of energy drain. Tires used on hybrids, called low-rolling resistance tires, are narrower, and are filled with more air to reduce drag on the road.
Other technologies to save energy are in the braking and engine systems. When braking, normally energy is lost as the car slows. Hybrid vehicles are able to transfer some of this energy to the battery for future use. Additionally, the engine in hybrids will periodically shut off, reducing the total amount of energy used.
Who Makes Hybrids?
Currently, many major automotive manufacturers have hybrids available, including Toyota, Honda, Ford, GMC, Chevrolet, Mercury, and Lexus. Additional manufacturers have plans for releasing hybrid options in the near future.