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Affordable Hybrid Cars: Coming To A Dealership Near You (A Look Back And Ahead)

It won’t be long before a charging station for your car will be just as common as a gas station. Hybrid cars are definitely the way of the future. There used to be some pretty good reasons for not liking hybrid cars: They were thought to be too slow, too small, not very attractive, and personally, I had a hard time seeing them as “real cars.” Well, they’ve come a long way. Oftentimes these days, the only way you can tell a hybrid car from a gasoline-powered vehicle is you can’t hear the hybrid vehicle running. Although many people think of hybrid cars as a relatively new invention, it might surprise you to know that hybrid cars have been around for nearly as long as gasoline-powered vehicles.

What Exactly Is A Hybrid Car?

Glad you asked. Simply put, a hybrid vehicle is one with two different power sources: gasoline and electricity. There are engines powered by other types of fuel (diesel, natural gas, etc.), but we’re going to stick with good old ‘tane (as in “pumped a lot of ‘tane down in New Orleans”)-powered vehicles. Hybrid vehicles come in a multiplicity of variations, but there are two basic types. I don’t want to overload you with TMI, but I think the differences are important enough to share with you. It could make a difference when choosing your hybrid vehicle:

  1. Parallel Hybrid: In this type of hybrid, the gasoline (or whatever) engine and the electric motor work together to power the vehicle. When the car is accelerating quickly or driving up a steep hill, the electric motor will kick in to boost the overall power of the vehicle and take some of the load off the engine. When you let off the gas or coast down the hill, the electric motor bows out and its all gasoline engine. This arrangement allow these cars to get better mileage in the city than they do on the highway. Over 50 mpg in the city is not unusual.
  2. Series Hybrid: The electric motor does all the work in the series hybrid.  The only thing the engine does is power the generator that charges the battery.  This means that the battery has to be considerably bigger than the battery in a parallel hybrid car, which means you’re going to have to reach a little deeper in your pocket for the series hybrid.

Some Hybrid History

Ferdinand Porsche’s 1901 ‘Semper Vivus,’ the world’s first hybrid automobile. Photos courtesy Porsche AG.

The Lohner-Porsche is considered to be the first hybrid car. It was developed by Jacob Lohner, a coach builder, and Ferdinand Porsche, an engineer and founder of the Porsche Car Company. It was introduced at the 1900 Paris Auto Show. Initially designed as an electric vehicle, it was converted to a hybrid because of issues with sustaining adequate battery capacity. In 1902, the Krieger Electric Car Company also in Paris, manufactured thousands of hybrid cars, but the assembly line at Ford Motor Company and the invention of the self-starting gasoline engine relegated the hybrid vehicles to the far corners of the industry.

The Long Road Back

For nearly fifty years hybrid cars were pretty much forgotten about. Gas prices were low, and the big family sedans ruled the day. But by 1966, pollution in America had gotten so bad that Congress insisted that the automobile industry take a look at alternatives to gasoline-powered vehicles. So, scientists started tinkering with hybrid cars again.

The 1973 oil embargo proved to be a blessing in disguise for the resurgence of hybrid vehicles. As gas prices went through the roof, Uncle Sam became more involved in promoting the manufacture of hybrid vehicles. But the less-than-enthusiastic reception by car dealers and consumers alike continued throughout the ’80s. There were a couple of other milestones in the ’70s that facilitated the resurgence of the hybrid vehicle:

  • 1975 – the Energy Research and Development Administration started a program to encourage the development of hybrid tecnnology
  • 1976 – Congress enacted the Electric and Hybrid Vehile Research, Development, and Demonstration Act

Environmental concerns have forced hybrid cars back onto the front burner, but they still have a way to go to gain an appreciable share of the market. They got considerable help from the Clinton Administration in 1993.  The Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles was created, and billions of dollars were invested in the development of hybrid vehicles. The investment has definitely paid off. Although the major U.S. car companies got into the hybrid vehicles market rather late, their share of the market is growing as fast as the grandkids.

Advantages of Hybrid Vehicles

Apart from the obvious environmental impact, there are some advantages to driving a hybrid car, including:

  • they run quieter and cleaner
  • exceptional gas mileage – up to 58mpg
  • tax breaks
  • higher resale value
  • excellent for city driving – better gas mileage in the city than on the highwa
  • emission tests may not be required

The Other Side of the Coin

The advantages of driving a hybrid car makes a pretty good case for its purchase. However, there are some drawbacks:

  • they can get pricey
  • increased maintenance costs – because of technology involved
  • less power than gasoline-powered vehicle
  • less responsive handling – designed for efficiency rather than performance

The disadvantages notwithstanding, it is hard to argue against owning a hybrid car. They are no longer the step-children of the auto industry.  In fact, it might be time to start thinking about getting one.  Hybrid car prices average four to five thousand dollars more than a comparable gasoline model, but they will save you about three thousand dollars a year on gas!  That’s something to think about.

Do Your Homework

In addition to the efficient hybrid cars produced by Ford, Chevrolet, Toyota, and those guys, Mercedes Benz, Lexus, and BMW offer high-end luxury models. It is important to note that hybrid car dealers are not necessarily equipped to work on them. Before you purchase a vehicle, make sure the dealership has technicians who specialize in hybrid cars. As America steps up its efforts to “go green,” hybrid cars will continue to grow in sales and popularity, and they are a great way to make breathing just a little bit easier.

C.al Jones

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