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Hybrid Electric Vehicles

A hybrid electric vehicle uses both an electric motor and an internal combustion engine to propel the vehicle. A hybrid is designed to capture energy that is normally lost through braking and coasting to recharge the batteries (regenerative braking), which in turn powers the electric motor--without the need for plugging in.

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A 'parallel' hybrid electric vehicle uses the electric motor or the internal combustion engine to propel the vehicle. A 'series' hybrid electric vehicle uses the electric motor to provide added power to the internal combustion engine when it needs it most, for example, in stop-and-go driving and acceleration. Hybrid electric vehicles have the potential to use electricity to power onboard accessories or to provide outlets to plug in appliances or tools. All have the potential to achieve greater fuel economy than conventional gasoline-engine vehicles.

The hybrid market is growing--there are a variety of hybrid electric vehicles available to consumers today, with more models on the way. Cities across the country are already benefiting from the use of hybrid electric buses in their communities.

Advantages of hybrids:

  • Reduced fuel consumption and tailpipe emissions
  • Optimized fuel efficiency and performance
  • Lower fueling costs
  • Recovered energy from regenerative braking
  • Uses existing gas station infrastructure

Challenges of hybrids:

  • Complexity of two powertrains
  • Component availability--batteries, powertrains, power electronics
  • Higher initial cost

How much fuel do hybrids save?

Hybrids have received attention for their EPA-estimated miles-per gallon ratings because hybrids use fuel economy as a main selling feature. Recent media coverage has shed light on the fact that some hybrid owners don't get the advertised fuel economy from their vehicles. Most hybrid owners are pleased with their vehicle's fuel economy, recognizing the superior performance of hybrids when compared to conventional vehicles.

The EPA laboratory test that is used to establish fuel economy for passenger vehicles, which was developed in the 1970's. EPA estimates for passenger vehicles tend to be higher than actual fuel economy achieved once factors such as terrain, load, tire pressure, temperature and individual driving habits are taken into account. EPA estimates for any vehicle are usually higher than what a driver will experience. Not achieving the EPA estimate for a particular car is not an issue that is exclusive to hybrids.

Hybrid-Electric Vehicles

It's no accident the most fuel-efficient vehicles in some classes for the 2006 model year are hybrid-electric vehicles (HEVs). Hybrids combine the best features of the internal combustion engine with an electric motor and can significantly improve fuel economy without sacrificing performance or driving range. HEVs may also be configured to provide increased performance or provide electrical power to auxiliary loads such as power tools.

HEVs are primarily propelled by an internal combustion engine (ICE), just like conventional vehicles. However, they also convert energy normally wasted during coasting and braking into electricity, which is stored in a battery until needed by the electric motor. The electric motor assists the engine when accelerating or hill climbing and at low speeds where internal combustion engines are least efficient. Unlike all-electric vehicles, HEVs now being offered do not need to be plugged into an external source of electricity to be recharged; conventional gasoline and regenerative braking provide all the energy the vehicle needs.

Potential buyers should also be aware that the federal government is currently offering tax incentives for HEVs. Some states also offer incentives. Additional information on HEVs, including tax incentives, can be found at

Annual fuel cost is estimated assuming 15,000 miles of travel each year (55% city and 45% highway) and a gasoline fuel cost of $2.20 per gallon (regular unleaded).