A hybrid car has two powertrains rather than one.
Whereas a conventional gas-fuelled car is powered by a combustion engine and an electric car is powered by a battery electric motor, a hybrid car is powered by a combination of both.
It utilises either the combustion engine, or works together with the electric motor to minimise fuel consumption, conserve energy, and even recuperate energy in some particular driving situations (e.g. starting, cruising, braking, stopping, etc.).
As a result, fuel efficiency is greatly increased. Especially for stop-and-start city driving.
People often talk about hybrid cars giving you “the best of both worlds”, and that is absolutely true: A hybrid vehicle is able to switch between both powertrains or make them work together to always deliver the solution that powers the car forward with maximum efficiency.
This changes all the time, at different points in the driving process. Let’s take a closer look.
When driving off from a stop position
Whenever accelerating from a stationary position, up to a speed of approximately 25 km/h, hybrid cars are powered by the electric motor (which draws on the battery power). This is one reason why hybrids are particularly efficient during city driving.
When driving at moderate speed
Whenever cruising, hybrids are powered mainly by the combustion engine – as this is when it works most efficiently. During this time, the engine can also power the generator, which recuperates electricity used to recharge the battery for later use.
When accelerating strongly
Whenever you have your foot down firmly on the accelerator pedal, both the combustion engine and electric motor work together to increase power to the wheels. This is thanks to the power-split transmission, which combines the torque output of each powertrain at the same time.
When braking or cruising
Whenever you apply the brakes or take your foot off the accelerator pedal, hybrid cars make use of a system called “smart regenerative braking”. So hybrids do two things: they stop feeding power to the wheels, and use the power of the rotating wheels to recuperate energy while slowing down the car. This produces electricity which again is used to recharge the battery for later use.
When coming to a complete stop
Whenever you apply the brakes with the intention of stopping completely, hybrids completely turn off both the combustion engine and electric motor. The battery power is used to keep operating any other vehicle systems you might need (like your radio, or headlights, etc.)
There are different types of hybrid vehicles: a full hybrid and a plug-in hybrid.
They are very similar to each other, but with one major difference: A full hybrid car doesn’t have a plug for topping up its battery. It regenerates energy using the combustion engine, or with the help of a smart regeneration system. A plug-in hybrid car works in exactly the same way as a full hybrid car, except that it has a larger battery and gives you the additional option of charging it from an electric outlet. This extends its electric range up to 50 kilometres.