When gas prices started to rise, along with the concern about the long-term availability of fossil fuels, interest in hybrid cars increased quickly. They have significantly higher fuel efficiency compared to their standard gasoline counterparts, and make more effective use of the energy produced by the engine. In the early 2000’s several celebrities started driving hybrids, which also helped make them fashionable to own in addition to practical. Now most car manufacturers have one or more hybrid options, including cars and SUVs. Hybrid cars have more efficient engines, save the owner money, and reduce one’s carbon footprint.
First, one needs to know what a hybrid vehicle is and how it varies from a standard gasoline vehicle. The essential difference between a gasoline and a gas-electric hybrid vehicle is “Regenerative Braking” where the electric motor uses energy from the turning wheels that is normally lost and converts is to electricity which is then stored in a battery (US Dept. of Energy). The battery powers the electric motor and can take over the operation of the vehicle from the gasoline engine. At times in a hybrid car, the gasoline engine will turn off completely and run on electric only. Because the battery stores energy that would normally be lost in a gasoline engine, the efficiency is increased dramatically. “Only about 15% of the energy from the fuel you put in your tank [in a gasoline vehicle] gets used to move your car down the road or run useful accessories, such as air conditioning. The rest of the energy is lost to engine and driveline inefficiencies and idling” (US Dept of Energy).
The first hybrids offered were mostly variations on existing vehicles, like the Honda Civic hybrid, as well as a few original hybrids like the Toyota Prius. Early adopters were mostly environmentally conscious people, however “since its introduction in 1997, the gas-electric hybrid vehicle has been adopted by environmentally friendly celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz” (Graser p 14), causing the vehicles to become more popular and fashionable, as well as increasing the mainstream market. Now, almost every manufacturer has at least one model of hybrid vehicle available. Previously, the majority of the hybrid vehicle stock was mid-priced sedans, but you can now get luxury cars such as the Mercedes-Benz ML450, and hybrid SUVs such as the Toyota Highlander as well (US Dept of Energy). Despite the variety now available, the Toyota Prius is still one of the better known and most popular hybrid cars.
When it comes to manufacturing, the process is similar between gasoline and gas-electric hybrids. However, most factories only manufacture either one or the other between gasoline and hybrid vehicles. The upgrades to existing factories can be costly to manufacture hybrids. Ford in Michigan is upgrading their factory to produce hybrids and electric vehicles, and the reported cost is approximately $550 million. Also, there will be a...