Are Hybrid Cars Really Worth It?

Updated on January 9, 2020
Michael-Duncan profile image

Michael has had experience working in Quality Control within the automotive industry in Germany.

An Energy Crisis in the Making

Fires and explosions from drone attacks on Saudi’s oil processing facilities in September led to an unexpected 5% reduction in global oil supply. According to the Saudi Energy Minister, the attack decimated half the kingdom’s crude oil and natural gas supply.

And wartime events are not the only reason for the expected rise in oil prices.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO), one of the branches of the United Nations, is about to impose restrictions on the content of ship fuel. The new IMO standards, expected to come into force in January 1, 2020, call for sulphur content of 0.5 percent m/m or lower. It also calls for the use of non-fuel oil alternatives like liquefied natural gas (LNG).

According to the IMO, the restriction is to be implemented irrespective of the massive challenges faced by refineries to comply. While the new changes may be welcomed by environmentalists and other like-minded groups, there is concern over the repercussions on global trade, 90% of which is conducted via the seas.

Because mechanisms for compliance will not be fully in place before the deadline, fuel shortages are being predicted on a global scale, causing extra costs that will be transferred to the consumer.

So as the resource continues to be depleted at a phenomenal rate and new challenges emerge on the global scene, a major competition between countries for the limited supply that is left is expected to ensue.

In 2016, more than 70 million passenger cars were manufactured. That is like a vehicle for every human being in the United Kingdom and thousands left over.

The demand for oil is rising every year and is projected to increase to 101.6 million barrels per day in 2020. A study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental economic organization with 36 member countries, revealed that the greatest demand for this oil comes from the road transportation sector.

Road transportation accounts for 50.11% of oil consumed. This is more than all the other sectors combined.

There is clearly an energy crisis.

The Hybrid Answer to the Energy Crisis

As far as transportation is concerned, manufacturers have an answer to the energy crisis—in the form of a different kind of vehicle. The hybrid kind.

Hybrid cars are vehicles which can run on electricity and gasoline. They have a conventional propulsion system and energy storage that is rechargeable. This combination is what makes the car more economical in terms of fuel consumption than vehicles that purely use gasoline.

People confuse hybrid cars with electric vehicles, but these two are essentially different. The modern hybrid combines both gas and electric engines and comes in four different models: the series, parallel, split, and plug-in hybrids.

Terms Used in Talking About Hybrids

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Drivetrain
Refers to the sum of internal components that supply power from the engine or motor of a vehicle to its wheels. How the drivetrain is designed in hybrid-electric vehicles dictates the manner in which the engine works together with the electric motor. Drivetrains influence the efficiency, oil consumption and price of the vehicle.
Series Hybrid
Contains a series drivetrain that receives mechanical power solely from one source, the electric motor, driven by either a gasoline-powered generator or a battery.
Parallel Hybrid
Uses both the electric motor and internal combustion engine in order to generate the power required to drive the vehicle. The two sources are used simultaneously.
Split Hybrid
Has a series/parallel drivetrain which enables the engine and electric motor to provide power in conjunction with one another or independently. The energy supplied to the wheels can be either mechanical or electrical.
Plug-in Hybrid
Comes with a battery that is rechargeable either by plugging into an external electrical source or through its own internal engine and generator. Power is generated by the electric motor. When that energy is exhausted, the combustion engine is activated.

Exploring Efficiencies of the Hybrid Car

Many people saw electric cars as the ultimate thing. That is, until the hybrid cars came along.

Hybrid cars earned the label 'Cars of the Future' and were seen as the next automotive wave, due to their ability to charge themselves and thereby save fuel costs.

Unlike vehicles that use electric batteries, hybrid batteries do not always need to be connected to an external source to charge. Instead, regenerative braking generates kinetic energy for them.

Some cars rely on their combustion engine to generate electricity. This occurs through the spinning of an electrical generator. As the generator spins, it either recharges the battery directly or powers an electric motor which, in turn, drives the car.

Since the vehicle generates its own electricity, you do not have to wait for it to charge before you can hop in and head off to your workplace.

A hybrid car differs from a conventional one in that it has two motors instead of one. In the hybrid car, one motor is fuelled through gasoline (as is the case in conventional cars), while the other motor is electrically charged.

In the past, these cars operated through installed batteries which could be charged from almost any electric outlet. Later models would come designed with the ability to be charged with the residual energy which would otherwise be lost when the car decelerates or brakes.

The vehicle will derive energy from either the electric engine or the gasoline engine depending on such factors as the velocity of the car. The vehicle may also use both systems in case there is a need for extra energy, but this it will do without consuming much fuel.

As a result, it emits less carbon dioxide and uses fuel more efficiently than conventional cars which use a gasoline engine. A hybrid Toyota Prius gets 40-50 miles per gallon, and up to 60-90 miles per gallon. Electric hybrid cars emit 67% lower greenhouse gases than gasoline cars.

Hybrid cars leverage modern technology and advanced battery design to use energy efficiently. They do not need to be plugged into an electric outlet. While the car is in motion and operated by the gasoline engine, mechanical energy is converted into electrical energy automatically.

This energy is then used to power the batteries for the electric engine. The deep cycle battery used in a hybrid car is similar to the batteries used in golf carts.

The computer onboard the vehicle switches it automatically from gasoline to electric or vice versa, depending on the situation at hand.

The computer is able to detect for example, that the vehicle is running idle, and then automatically switch it to electric power and thus save gasoline that would have otherwise been needlessly consumed.

If there is a lot more power needed to drive the car, for example, if it is moving up a slope, the gasoline engine is used as a backup energy source. Both engines can be used to complement each other if the vehicle needs to move faster.

The vehicle also provides the driver with the option of making the switch themselves, manually. For example, in case you are driving a short distance, you could activate the electric engine and deactivate the gasoline engine.

Due to the fact that the gasoline engine is smaller, the hybrid car is more efficient in its operations because it has less weight in terms of the engine in comparison with the standard vehicle. The engine of the car is also designed with smaller parts which do not need much energy to operate.

Common Arguments Against Hybrid Cars

Reliability

Studies have shown that less than 50% of consumers have shown interest in acquiring a hybrid car. A lot of people are hesitant to commute with a vehicle that depends on a battery pack to the extent that a hybrid car does.

The concern among them is what happens if the battery fails to work? Majority of experts confirm that depending on the model of the car or manufacturing year, replacing a battery for a hybrid car can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $6,000. This does not include the labour costs or dealership.

As we will later observe, manufacturers claim that the battery packs can last for a lifetime. Some consumers feel that these claims may be changed by circumstances or wear and tear.

Unfamiliarity

There are those who are of the opinion that the waters have not been fully tested. They feel that unlike other forms of technology that have been on the market for decades, hybrid technology has not undergone testing extensive enough to prove itself, and to make people really view it as something they understand and are comfortable with.

Since the pull of the familiar is such that consumers tend to gravitate toward what they are already used to, they may not be that inclined to experiment with a novel alternative.

The Prospect of Even Newer Technology

With the rapid development of technology, a lot of people feel that the technological level of the hybrid car and the advantages it has will either be overshadowed or replaced by something more modern and effective.

Despite the fact that these vehicles have been at the cutting edge of technology in the automotive industry, there is an underlying feeling that they may be outperformed. After all, continuous research and innovation is still ongoing as manufacturers strive to overcome the need for fuel.

Hydrogen Cars Versus Hybrid Cars

Unlike hybrid cars which still burn fuel to a degree, hydrogen cars do not burn anything at all. Instead, these cars function through a chemical reaction.

Both hydrogen and oxygen are converted into energy and water becomes the byproduct. This is not possible with hybrid cars and the manufacturers of the latter do not plan to include such features.

The advantage is that hydrogen provides the equivalent of three times the power of gasoline. It burns both hotter and faster.

It means that hydrogen cars can move at incredible speeds. Also, when they stop, they just need a relatively short time to restart and catch up with traffic. This lies beyond the capacity of hybrid cars.

A lot of people may think that hybrid cars are better than hydrogen cars especially due to their overall efficiency and ability to reduce emissions. However, the difference is that hydrogen is not a source of fuel, but rather a carrier of it.

Three hydrogen car models are currently available: the Hyundai Nexo, Honda Clarity and Toyota Mirai. More companies are joining the bandwagon in the attempt to manufacture more hydrogen cars.

Still, there is a downside to the hydrogen car.

In 2019, almost 100% of hydrogen is produced through reforming steam methane which releases carbon dioxide. There is another environmentally-friendly way of producing hydrogen, through the thermochemical use of renewable feedstocks. However, the latter method is costly.

It is possible to convert water into hydrogen using renewable energy. Producing hydrogen with natural gas is neither economical nor environmentally friendly. These new technologies are being invented to try to switch to water electrolysis, or wind to hydrogen, in order to increase the quantities produced at low costs.

Choosing Hybrid: Factors to Consider

On average, a hybrid vehicle will cost around $5,000 more than a conventional car that runs on gasoline. One of the obvious reasons for this is the higher manufacturing costs involved in putting together a hybrid, and this cost is passed on to the consumer.

For instance, the 2018 Hybrid Hyundai Sonata model goes for $26,0000 while the conventional model costs $22,050. So if price is the main consideration, then you will be paying significantly higher for the hybrid model.

However, there is the benefit of saving on gas mileage and there are tax breaks for owners of hybrid and electric vehicles. By providing tax incentives, governments try to promote these as alternatives to regular cars.

Another thing that puts people off the decision to go hybrid is the notion that they might run into high maintenance and repair costs. According to studies, however, there is typically little difference in maintenance compared to other conventional cars.

Moreover, insurance companies are actually willing to offer discounts to hybrid car owners due to the comparatively fewer car accidents they are involved in. Plus, there are special parking spots and other benefits that are offered by some businesses to owners of hybrid vehicles.

How about the cost of the battery? Judging from how it is designed and operates, some people feel that they will have to spend a lot to replace it and that the battery lifecycle is limited.

However, these batteries are manufactured to last for as long as the vehicle itself. This is stated in the warranty, with some manufacturers committing to as much as a decade.

The financial advantage of hybrid vehicles is long-term rather than short-term. When you consider the consumption of gasoline, the regular vehicle is more expensive to maintain.

The computer sensor detects when the batteries are low on power and they switch the car automatically to the gasoline engine, allowing the batteries to be recharged. Then the vehicle is goes back to gasoline when they are fully loaded.

So if you own an old vehicle which can cover up to 120 miles per gallon of gasoline, you could be able to cover a distance twice as long with a hybrid car.

Personal choices and preferences are central in choosing which car to purchase. If your need is for a vehicle that will save you money on gasoline and trips to the filling station while taking care of the environment, a hybrid car could be a good choice for you.

Hybrid Evaluation

Would You Consider Purchasing a Hybrid Car?

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Comments

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    • JC Scull profile image

      JC Scull 

      5 months ago from Gainesville, Florida

      Very good article. Good information to consider.

    • Michael-Duncan profile imageAUTHOR

      Michael Duncan 

      6 months ago from Germany

      Several factors influence the calculation of relative value, including lifestyle, location and subsidies, an example of the latter being the tax credits for upto $7,500 for owners published by the EPA. Hopefully, there will soon be a cheaper solution though that beats the hydrogen alternative.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      6 months ago from UK

      I have read your article with great interest as the last time we purchased a car we considered a hybrid. In the end by doing the maths, working out the difference in cost between a petrol car and a hybrid and comparing this with fuel saving, the petrol still won out.

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