For automakers, that’s often part of the point.
Sales of electric cars continue to grow every year, and more companies are announcing plans to completely abandon gasoline engines. But high fuel prices and relatively high prices for all-electric vehicles mean that hybrid cars can still help drivers save money. And customers are buying hybrid cars in droves, even if they don’t always realize they’re buying one.
But at the same time, hybrid technology is becoming more and more popular. And while all-electric cars carry a certain cultural cachet, automakers are often wary about calling their own gasoline-electric hybrids. While many hybrids are proudly described as such—the Hyundai Tucson Hybrid and Ford Escape Hybrid, for example—others, often vehicles with mild hybrid systems, include this information only in technical documents or the owner’s manual.
Hybrid market share more than doubled from 2017, going from 2.0% of the market to 5.1% of the market, according to data from the automotive website Edmunds.com. This doesn’t accommodate all hybrids, said Evan Drury, an analyst at Edmunds.com. Drury said it’s impossible to know exactly how many hybrid trucks, cars and SUVs are being sold because they only count as hybrids in industry statistics when the same manufacturer calls them a hybrid or gives them a separate model name. Often, carmakers don’t specifically call out hybrids more than they call the advantage of another engine or transmission. This means that the Toyota Rav4 Hybrid may count while the Toyota Tundra i-Force Max pickup, which is also a hybrid, may not.
Differences in how hybrids are marketed — sometimes with a chrome “Hybrid” badge on the back and sometimes without any mention of it — can be traced back to how different types of customers perceive the technology.
There may be a bit of a stigma with the word ‘hybrid,’ said Bill Visnik, editorial director of the Society of Automotive Engineers.
And some shoppers fear hybrids can mean “poor” performance, he said.
When people think of hybrid cars, they tend to think of the icon of the genre, the Toyota Prius. The Prius and other hybrid cars like it contain batteries that store energy while the car is being driven. This electricity is then used to power an electric motor that can drive the wheels at low speeds – or even at high speeds if the gas pedal is not depressed hard – and provide an extra boost during acceleration. But modern hybrid cars have gone beyond Prius technology.
From “light” to “full” hybrids
Many modern cars have so-called “mild hybrid” systems. These vehicles have smaller, lighter batteries and a less powerful electric motor than are called full hybrids. An electric motor generally cannot drive a vehicle alone, but it can provide assistance when the vehicle is coming off a stop. The gas engine still does most of the work, but the electric motor provides an extra boost that makes the gas engine easier to work. Due to its smaller batteries, the light hybrid technology is easy to fit into a vehicle without taking up cargo space or passengers to pack batteries. It also doesn’t add much cost to the car, making it easier to sell to buyers who aren’t fully focused on fuel economy.
Mild hybrid systems can be found in surprising places, like some full-size Jeep Wrangler and Ram 1500 pickup models. The Ram 1500’s optional mild hybrid eTorque allows the truck’s gas engine to shut off when the truck stops, allowing the truck to exit its battery while stationary. For up to about 10 minutes. (Not every vehicle that turns its engine off when stopped is necessarily a mild hybrid.) When the driver releases the brake pedal, the electric motor can begin to move the truck forward for less than half a second while the gas engine is repeatedly starting.
The mild hybrid system adds up to two extra miles per gallon, mostly for city driving, according to the manufacturer.
Other cars have Prius-style full hybrid systems but don’t market them that way. The Toyota Tundra i-Force Max, for example, is an all-hybrid pickup truck, but you’d never know from looking at it. He can turn his engine off and sometimes drive with only his electric motor. But even on the dashboard, there is no indication that the truck has a hybrid system. There is a scale that shows how much power is coming from the electric motor, but it says simply “maximum”.
Craig Herring, Toyota engineer, said the Tundra i-Force Max doesn’t make much of its hybrid nature, because during market research, potential customers showed no interest in buying a hybrid. But they were interested in more towing power and traction without affecting fuel economy. The Tundra Hybrid is tuned for maximum power rather than primarily fuel economy. In the Tundra lineup, the i-Force Max replaces what may be the thirstier V8 engine option for customers who want maximum traction and towing. With its focus on power, though, the Tundra Hybrid is less fuel efficient than the Ford F-150 Hybrid, but offers slightly more horsepower and torque.
Some vehicles, like the new Audi A3 compact sedan, fall somewhere between light and full hybrids. It’s a technically mild hybrid, but it’s not all that mild. Like the full hybrid, the electric motor can power the small and relatively light A3, the entry-level model from Audi, at low speeds or when sliding on flat roads or slopes. Similar technology was available on larger Audi models in Europe, said Anthony Garbis, head of product planning for Audi of America, but customers in the US felt they might not appreciate it on those larger, more luxurious cars.
“We always thought it was a little weird to have an A8 [full-size luxury sedan] With the A3, he said, “it seemed like the right audience, the right price, and the right technology to deliver the streamlining functionality.”
With Audi moving toward an all-electric production line in just over a decade, he said, there is less focus now on this type of technology. Now, Audi is looking forward to when its cars won’t have a gas engine at all.
How to find a hybrid secret
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