Hybrids on the Horizon: The Future Looks Green

Since the first hybrid vehicle hit the U.S. in 1999, with the Honda Insight Hybrid, people looking for a greener ride found their answer in hybrid vehicles. But environmentally minded consumers don’t make a large market share, and it wasn’t until the promise of savings at the pump that flocks of consumers were finally noticed by automakers.

After the introduction of the Insight, followed by Prius in 2000, the number of available hybrid vehicles, including popular sports vehicles, soon began to grow — as did hybrid technology and consumer interest.

Hybrid Image

Sticker Shock

It took several years of refinement before hybrids truly gained traction in the minds of the average consumer. One of the biggest challenges has been the premium price tag. Automakers have had to educate consumers on looking past the initial sticker shock and determine whether they could save money over the lifetime of the vehicle, given the lower cost of fuel and maintenance. But as battery technologies improved, the gap between a hybrid vehicle and its conventional counterpart has lessened. The higher initial cost of many of today’s hybrids can almost always be justified by fuel savings during the lifetime of the car.

Understanding Hybrid Technology

How does hybrid technology work? Hybrid vehicles feature a smaller, fuel-efficient gas engine that works in tandem with an electric motor. While some plug-in hybrids charge overnight, much like a full electric vehicle, most hybrid vehicles today rely entirely on the battery recharging as the vehicle is driven. Hybrids make use of a special braking system called regenerative braking, which recaptures energy that would otherwise be lost during braking and uses it to refuel the battery, instead.

Essentially, the electric motor can be used to slow the car, which allows it to act as a generator in charging the battery. Earlier hybrid batteries were larger and less efficient than today’s hybrids, which hasn’t only helped improve the vehicle’s efficiency but also lowered its price.

Another advancement in hybrid technology has been the periodic engine shut off. As a hybrid car is stopped in traffic, the engine temporarily shuts off and then restarts again when the car moves.

Hybrids have also greatly improved in advanced aerodynamics. This is important in achieving high-fuel efficiency because it helps to reduce drag. Similarly, some hybrid cars sport lower-rolling resistance tires which are more narrow and stiffer, and thus produce less drag.

The steady improvement in technology hasn’t only caused the price to decrease, but has vastly grown the number of hybrid vehicles available, with new models hitting the showroom floor yearly. New, more affordable hybrid family cars at multiple price points, as well as additional SUVs and light trucks, are joining the ranks of current hybrids. Together, new and existing models are expected to grow the market share for hybrids to double its size within the next five years. Fast forward a year and finding Phoenix Chevrolet dealers with green options will be easier than ever before.

Emerging Technologies

Hybrid technology is expected to continue to improve, which should boost market share even further. While improvements in battery technologies hold the greatest potential, other technologies — such as improvements in regenerative braking and aerodynamics, as well as the emergence of new alternative fuels such as fuel cells — are expected also to have a generous, green impact.