A hybrid car is defined as any automobile that makes use of two engine propulsion systems. For the majority of hybrids on the road today, these two systems are the conventional gas-powered engine and an electric engine. These two engines work together to deliver such benefits as improved fuel efficiency, minimal engine noise, reduced emissions and increased mileage.

Hybrid vs. Electric Cars

Production hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) were introduced in the 1990s as an alternative to electric cars. At the time, fully electric vehicles had failed to gain consumer interest, largely due to reduced engine power and the necessity to recharge the vehicle via an external power source. Hybrids eliminate these negative aspects through the synergistic effects of the gas and electric engines, which are linked via a special power split device.

How Hybrid Cars Work

While each automaker makes use of proprietary hybrid technology, all hybrid cars boast a similar core design. During low output driving conditions (such as driving at low speeds and slow acceleration), the vehicle runs completely off of the electric motor. During this time, gas consumption is either dramatically decreased or completely negated. When additional power is required (such as fast acceleration or high-speed driving), the gas engine will kick in to provide the necessary boost in vehicle performance. HEV vehicles do not need to be externally recharged via an electrical outlet. This is due to a technology known as regenerative braking, which captures kinetic energy created by the braking process. Additional recharging may be achieved through an electrical generator that runs off of the gas engine.

Hybrid Popularity

Skyrocketing gas prices and an increased consumer interest in reducing carbon emissions has made the hybrid vehicle class one of the fastest growing segments in the auto industry. Today, the most efficient hybrid vehicles offer approximately 50 miles to the gallon – a fuel gain of about 40 percent over traditional gasoline vehicles. It is widely believed that the number of hybrid vehicles put into production will continue to increase, providing fuel-conscious drivers with a wider selection of environmentally friendly vehicles. Though traditionally resigned for coupes and sedans, the technology is also being incorporated into larger vehicles. Hybrid SUVs have begun to creep into the consumer market in an effort to counter the segment's negative gas guzzling image.

Gasoline Power vs. Electric Power

Most hybrid cars on the road today are gasoline-electric hybrids.

  • A gasoline-powered car has a fuel tank, which supplies gasoline to an internal combusion engine.
  • An electric car has a set of batteries that provides electricity to an electric motor.
  • A hybrid car combines both of those motive sources and uses on-board systems plus regenerative braking to charge the batteries.