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Top 5 Fuel Efficient Cars – How Hybrid Cars are Changing the Game

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Fuel efficiency is an important measure of a car’s performance. In simple terms, it is a measure of how effectively a car performs per a given unit of fuel. Improving fuel efficiency is always high on the agenda of car manufacturers and governments are also heavily invested in it. If cars have lower fuel efficiency, it means that the car will waste fuel as heat instead of going the distance. It will be expensive for the customer, so it is in the manufacturer’s interest to improve it as well.

For governments, especially those that have to import diesel and petroleum, this means that people will be spending a lot of money importing fuel. This is obviously not good for their trade balance. Another reason is that lower fuel efficiency for fossil fuel powered cars will mean more carbon emissions and hence more air pollution. So, governments are also trying to incentivize car manufacturers to increase fuel efficiency as much as possible.

Car Features that Affect Fuel Consumption

The shape and aerodynamics of a car body is a major contributing factor to how efficiently the vehicle will use fuel.  The chemical energy in the fuel is not only used to drive the car, but also to cover other losses such as air resistance.

A car spends a lot of energy, and hence fuel, in overcoming air resistance. Hence, car manufacturers are continuously improving the aerodynamics of their car models. This is mostly done by streamlining the car body as much as possible.

Car body shapes that have sharp turns and edges will have to spend more effort in trying to overcome air resistance. More rounded, streamlined car bodies tend to be the most aerodynamically efficient. You will see this in nature as well, where most fish will have smooth elongated bodies to overcome drag easily. Air and water are both fluids, so the aerodynamic shapes behave in similar ways in overcoming resistance.

Aerodynamic research is a huge field of study in both the automotive and aviation industry. There is specialized, dedicated software for optimizing aerodynamic designs. The reason that a lot of resources are dedicated to aerodynamics is because a small change in the shape (in aviation, even dirt particles are enough) can have significant effects on overcoming air resistance and hence the fuel economy.  

Aerodynamics is just one of many car features that will affect fuel consumption. Engine design also has a significant impact on fuel efficiency.

Other Factors that Increase Fuel Consumption and Efficiency

  • Added cargo that can change the aerodynamic shape of the car will increase air resistance and hence fuel consumption. Not only does this increase air resistance, but it also adds weight which means the car expends more energy.
  • Driving in cold weather regularly can increase fuel consumption
  • Taking too many short drives. Engines work most efficiently when they have had time to warm up.
  • Driving at higher speeds. Higher speeds generate more air resistance, so it will use up more fuel.
  • Alignment issues in the tyre can reduce fuel efficiency. Also, higher pressures in the tyre prevent deformation and increases fuel efficiency.
  • Problems with the fuel injectors can mean fuel is wasted from the start.

Technologies that Improve Fuel Efficiency

  • Transmission types also effect fuel efficiency. Continuously variable transmission (CVT) will give a higher fuel efficiency as it enables the engine to run at optimum RPM.
  • Reusing waste heat from the exhaust improves fuel efficiency
  • Novel lightweight materials can reduce the rolling resistance of the vehicle.
  • Cylinder shut-off mechanisms can increase fuel efficiency only running cylinder that are needed.
  • Generally, hybrid vehicles have a higher fuel efficiency because an electric motor is used in conjunction with the engine. The petrol engine is used when it is really necessary. (More on this later).

Measuring Fuel Economy/ Fuel Efficiency

In transport, fuel economy is synonymous with fuel efficiency. Fuel economy, in simple terms, is measured by how much distance can be covered by the vehicle per given unit of fuel. Inversely, it can also be represented by how much fuel is required to cover a unit distance.

In countries that use the metric system, fuel economy is measured in terms of litres per 100 kilometres. These countries include most of Europe, Australia, China, New Zealand and some parts of Africa and Asia. In countries such as the US, UK and Canada, fuel economy is measured in terms of miles per gallon (MPG). In the Middle East, it is measured by distance per 20 litres of fuel. The higher these values are, the more fuel efficient the vehicle is.

How Hybrid Vehicles Have Changed the Game for Vehicle Fuel Efficiency

Are hybrid vehicles more fuel efficient than normal cars? To give a simple answer, yes, they are more fuel efficient. They are, in fact, the most fuel efficient of all vehicles. On average they have a fuel economy of 50-60 mpg whereas it is around 40 mpg for regular non-hybrid vehicles.

Overall, hybrid vehicles contain an internal combustion engine, battery, electric motor and generator. Hybrid vehicles are more fuel efficient because they use a combination of an internal combustion engine (ICE) and an electric motor to deliver power.  These two power units complement each other, because the electric motor can drive the vehicle at speeds that the ICE is not efficient at. Hence, you get the best of both worlds. This also means that the ICE can be smaller than in regular vehicles and can be switched off when the vehicle is in idle.

Requirement of Batteries

However, because hybrids rely on electric power they also require batteries that need to be charged. These batteries, along with the generator can add significant weight to the car which outweighs the space-saving benefit of a smaller ICE engine. So, even though hybrid vehicles are the most fuel efficient, they only win by a small margin. They are only around 20-30% more efficient than normal vehicles.

The savings of fuel costs as a result of the higher fuel efficiency also do not offset the higher cost of hybrids. It is estimated that over a 10-year period, you only save about $2,300.

But, the good news is that hybrid technology is continuously improving. It is a relatively new technology, so it is very likely that rapid technical innovation will drive down the prices and improve fuel efficiency even further.

Now that we know how hybrid technology improves fuel efficiency, we will take a look at the five most fuel-efficient hybrid cars.

Top 5 Most Fuel-Efficient Hybrid Cars

1. Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid

Hyundai Ionic
Hyundai Ionic (Image Source)

At an impressive mileage of 57 MPG, Hyundai’s 2018 Ioniq takes the cake for the most fuel-efficient car in the US. The Ioniq series has been the most fuel efficient, ever since it launched back in 2016. With a streamlined car body made of lightweight materials and a very powerful engine that delivers an impressive thermal efficiency of 40%.

It also wins for being the best bang for your buck at just over $23,000. Hence, it beats out its biggest rival, the Toyota Prius in terms of cost and fuel efficiency. The Ioniq series is available as full-electric and plug-in hybrid models.

2. Toyota Prius

Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius (Image Source)

A name that has always been renowned in the hybrid world, the Toyota Prius takes the second place with a mileage of 53 MPG (highway) and with no plug-in option. This car is a four-doored hatchback that has room for five people. It is also reasonably priced, at $24,370 but not enough to beat Hyundai’s Ioniq.

The main updates to this model from the previous Prius cars is that it has more advanced safety technology with features such as blind-spot monitoring.

3. Toyota Camry Hybrid

Toyota Camry Hybrid
Toyota Camry Hybrid (Image Source)

The combined city-highway mileage for the 2018 Toyota Camry is 53 MPG. It is slightly pricey at over $28,000. This model revamps the Sedan to have a fuel economy rivalling the Prius. However, certain models such as XLE have lower fuel economy at around 47 MPG.

It also has good safety technology such as the inclusion of the Pre-Collision System (PCS) which alerts the driver of a potential collision and also has Pedestrian Detection system.

4. Kia Niro

Kia Niro
Kia Niro (Image Source)

The best fuel economy is in the FE version of the Kia Niro series of hybrid hatchbacks. The highest fuel economy is 49 MPG (highway) for the FE models. The other models have slightly lower mileages ranging from 40-46 MPG (highway).

The 2018 Kia Niro also comes at a modest price of $24,280 which is more economical than the Camry.

5. Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid

Chevrolet Malibu
Chevrolet Malibu (Image Source)

Another sedan-turned-hybrid from Chevrolet comes in at the 5th spot with a highway MPG of 43. It is quite expensive at $28 795 comparable to Toyota’s Camry. However, it has a lead of 10 MPG over the Chevrolet Hybrid. It also has a more spacious cabin than the Chevy Hybrid. But, in general, the Malibu is a decent mid-size car with great fuel economy.

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Understanding Hybrid Cars – A Comprehensive Guide to Hybrid Cars

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The very mention of “Hybrid Cars” and these days everyone thinks of the Toyota Prius. But did you know that the Prius wasn’t the first Hybrid Car? And that even though we have become familiar with the concept of Hybrid Vehicle thanks to it, the first hybrid car was designed by Porsche?

Hybrid Cars – A brief history

Jacob Lohner – a coach builder from Vienna – is widely considered to be the pioneer of Hybrid Vehicles. In the early 20th century, hybridization of vehicles wasn’t to gain more fuel economy. Rather their invention was pushed by the fact that traditional cars with their internal-combustion engine were quickly becoming disliked owing to their foul-smelling emissions.

Lohner, at that time, reached out to a very young engineer in the automotive industry – Ferdinand Porsche. At the young age of 21, Porsche created an electric motor that fit inside the hub of the wheel, and was completely battery operated. Lohner loved the design and asked Porsche to fit his motor inside one of the coaches that Lohner was already manufacturing. The outcome was what is the first Electric car – The Elektromobil.

Lohner-Porsche Elektromobil made its first public appearance at the Paris Exposition in the year 1900. This was almost a century before we ever heard the name Prius.

Initially, the Elektromobil was completely powered by the electric wheel hubs that Porsche had built. But keeping the battery charged was quickly becoming a major challenge. To mitigate this issue, Porsche went ahead and built a gasoline powered internal combustion engine that ran a generator, which in turn charged the battery. Effectively, building the world’s first Hybrid.

As per estimates, Lohner and Porsche sold roughly 300 units of their Elektromobil. Post that, their work and the idea of Hybrid cars faded into the books of history.

Even after that, barring a few automotive experts, the concept of a “Hybrid Cars” was hitherto unheard of. People had no idea what a hybrid car was or that such a mode of transport even existed. And no car company was considering a hybrid to be a viable business model.

Prius makes an entrance

In the year 1997, Toyota took the reigns by launching the Prius in Japan. Widely considered the pioneering hybrid car, that took the concept of Hybridization to the mainstream. Four years later, in 2001, Prius saw a worldwide launch and car owners around the world wanted to own one. In just 6 years following that, by 2007,  Toyota surpassed one-million units in Prius sales around the world. This made it the most widely accepted Hybrid in history.

What are Hybrid Cars?

Traditional cars have an internal combustion engine that is powered by gasoline or diesel. Hybrid cars have an internal combustion engine as well that are powered by the above mentioned fuels, but over and above that – they have at least one electric motor and use both of these to move the vehicle.

The car’s movement is sometimes powered by the Electric motor alone, in which case no fuel is used. At other times, the movement is powered by the internal combustion engine alone, in which case fuel is burnt. And at other times, both engines work in conjunction to move the car.

The overall result is less burning of fuel, thereby resulting in better fuel economy for the driver.

The term “hybrid” literally means – “a certain thing built by the combination of two different things”. In this case, the two different things are the traditional internal combustion engine and the modern electric motor. Hence the term, Hybrid Cars.

Electricity in a hybrid car comes from a high voltage battery pack in the car (this is separate from the traditional 12-volt battery that comes with every car). Hybrid cars also employ a system called “regenerative braking” – this charges the battery every time the brakes are applied by processing the energy/heat generated during braking. The gas engine also recharges the battery in many cases.

What are the different types of Hybrid Cars?

Though “Hybrid Cars” is an umbrella term for any vehicle that sports a gas engine and an electric engine together – not every car is built alike. Various manufacturers build hybrid cars to satiate varying requirements – some are built to increase the fuel economy to the maximum possible level, while others are built to bring down the cost of the vehicle.

Let’s take a look at the various types of Hybrid Cars in the market today –

Plug-in Hybrids

Hybrid Car Charging

This is the closest Hybrid cars get to full electric vehicles in terms of recharging/refueling. A Plug-in Hybrid as the name suggests is the kind of car wherein the engine can be charged through an electric socket.

Plug-in Hybrids sport the biggest battery pack out of all kinds of Hybrid cars and can be charged at your home, office or even at a public charging station.

Think of it like having a bigger tank of gas. Once recharged, these cars can give you a decent mileage per charge that can range from 25 to 55 miles per full charge.

These cars work exceptionally well for people with a short daily commute. Since, if recharged every night, the car is almost always powered by electric charge and never touches the fuel in the tank.

In the event that the electric charge is depleted completely, the car reverts to becoming a standard “Parallel Hybrid”, a form of Hybrid Cars explained below. However, there are some Plug-in Hybrids that are “Series Hybrids” as well – another form, explained below.

Most Common Examples of Plug-in Hybrids are the Mitsubishi Outlander P-HEV, Chevrolet Volt cars and the Toyota Prius PHV.

Parallel Hybrids

This is the most common for Hybrid Cars available on the market. Parallel Hybrids, as the name suggests, boast of a design, where the electric motor and the gas engine connect to a single transmission. This moves the car by blending the two sources of power.

The kind of transmission employed by the vehicle and the size of its gas engines determines the acceleration, look & feel and even the sound of the vehicle.

Most Common Examples of Parallel Hybrids are the Toyota Prius, Lexus RX 400 and the Toyota Highlander.

Series Hybrid

In this form of Hybrid Cars, the electric motor powers the car entirely and the gasoline engine never comes in contact with the wheels. The sole purpose of the gasoline engine in a Series Hybrid car is to recharge the batteries, in order for the electric engine to power the car.

Since the electric engine powers the driving almost entirely – the driving experience is very similar to that of an all-electric car.

The only known issue is the unintentional revving of the engine. This is known to make some users uncomfortable.

The car does have an internal-combustion engine, even if only for charging the battery. And when the battery needs to be recharged, the engine begins revving on its own. So you might hear it rev, even when you’re cruising at medium speed, thereby making you uncomfortable.

Most Common Example of Series Hybrids is the Fisker Karma.

Uncategorized Hybrid Cars

The Hybrid Cars industry has had over two decades of research, engineering and development. As a result of this, there are cars that don’t conform to a particular bracket of hybrids. It’s almost impossible to classify them as a Series or a Parallel Hybrid.

Honda, for instance, has a unique design that makes it both a Series Hybrid and a Parallel Hybrid. Like a Series Hybrid, the gas engine in their design keeps on recharging the battery. However, like a Parallel Hybrid, the gasoline engine can also power the car.

Volvo, on the other hand, has a range of plug-in hybrids that use the traditional gas engine to power the front wheels. While the car’s rear axle is powered by an electric engine.

Mild Hybrids

Then there are Mild Hybrids – which are not complete hybrids. In the case of Mild Hybrids, the electric engine doesn’t power the wheels at all, it, however, assists the main internal-combustion engine to help improve the fuel economy and performance of the vehicle.

The fuel economy benefits of Mild Hybrids is nothing in comparison to other Hybrid cars. Owing to this reason, they failed to achieve mainstream popularity. However, in recent months, they’re making a comeback of sorts – with cars like Audi A6, A7 and A8 and even the Mercedes-Benz E-Class adopting a 48-volt electrical sub-system to compliment their traditional high powered internal combustion engine.

Essentially, some or the other form of hybridization is now evident in almost every new model of cars.

Features and Benefits of owning a Hybrid Car

The electric battery powering a Hybrid Car not only helps with the fuel economy. But with additional performance and energy saving features as well.

Idle-Off

This is arguably one of the best features of a Hybrid Car. Think of the small sensor located at the top of the front side of your phone, right besides the camera. When you’re in a call, as soon as you hold the phone to your ears, the sensor shuts off the screen, thereby preserving battery. Similarly, the screen turns back on almost immediately when you remove the phone from your ears. During this entire time, the phone is on and you won’t miss a text or another call or an email.

Hybrid cars have a similar feature called “Idle-off”. When the car is idle for a certain duration of time, the main engine shuts off, automatically. Such as when stuck in traffic, or when at a stoplight or waiting for someone.

The other features such as the air-conditioner and the screen or dashboard lights keep working, thanks to the electric engine. The electric motor can restart the car almost seamlessly when moving and even engage the conventional engine when needed. This results in huge fuel savings.

Regenerative Braking

This is yet another fuel-saving feature. When applying brakes in a traditional car, it almost entirely relies on friction. This results in the vehicle’s kinetic energy turning into heat and gradually dissipating in the air.

However, in Hybrid cars, some of these energy recharges the batteries. This, in turn, can power the car’s various components and even start or move the car when needed.

Power Assist

Another feature that essentially assists the traditional gas engine. This results in the load on the gas engine to become greatly reduced. Thereby, allowing a reduction in its size.

Smaller gasoline engines produce less power on their own. However, in conjunction with electric engines, their capability fairly increases. These Hybrid Engines are capable of producing power that can equal or even exceed traditional gas only vehicles.

Electric-Only Drive and Electric Assist

Hybrids that sport a larger battery-pack (such as plug-in hybrids) can allow their users to enjoy extended drives. That too at relatively higher speeds on electricity alone without using the gasoline engine at all.

In Hybrids that are not be plug-in, the electric engine starts the car and can even drive at low speeds.

In either case, this results in far less fuel utilization..

On a final note

Hybrid cars have the potential to protect the environment and the climate. Not only this, it is also capable of protecting the consumer.

Reduced fuel usage is the need of the hour. And Hybrid cars are a great solution. They also rank very highly on the maintenance scale and require very little maintenance.

As a car owner, when owning a Hybrid, you gain from the enormous fuel saving benefits of Hybrid Cars. While at the same time doing your part for the planet.

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The Hybrid Question: The Marriage of Electricity and Gas

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Hybrid means a combination of two distinct parts that result in a third. The key element of this third is that the characteristics of the two initial parts remain constant. In the case of a Hybrid, the two distinct things are Gas and Electric power systems that combine to form a unique gas/electric engine.

The hybrid engine uses the power of electrical current from the electric motor, and the explosive chemical reaction from the gas engine.

What is So Good About a Gasoline-Electric Engine?

The great thing about the hybrid engine is its ability to switch power sources without any input from the driver. In other words, the driver doesn’t even notice when the car is using electricity or gas to drive – unless it’s visible on a dashboard display.

In fact, designers aimed to build hybrid cars that switched imperceptibly to maximize the comfort of the driver and passengers, so as to come as close as possible to driving a non-hybrid car. The goal was to introduce the technology in a way that was not intrusive to the driving experience that engineers had spent billions on creating with non-hybrid vehicles

Environmental Advertising

But there is something that is perceivable everywhere a hybrid drives – the badge that says “hybrid”. Given the public’s fascination with so-called “green” technologies”, a hybrid badge stands out from the crowd, and automatically labels a consumer and manufacturer as environmentally conscious.

Why do Hybrids Save on Gas?

Hybrids use battery technology to store electrical energy. Their electrical energy is generated by either plugging the vehicle into an electrical socket, using the braking of the vehicle to generate a charge, (similar to getting a light to run of a moving bicycle tire), or a combination of both.

This electrical energy can be sent directly to the motor to drive the wheels, allowing an almost silent movement of the vehicle. The battery and motors are powerful enough to move passengers with the same speed and acceleration as a gas engine – all without using a drop of gas.

Limits of Electric Engines

There are limits to electrically driven motors, the primary one being range. Even with current technology, the range of the battery driven motor on a hybrid is far less than a simple gas engine. Gas engines are part of the hybrid equation to take over when the batteries have lost their charge.

A Clear Green Choice?

Even with a fully functioning gas engine, the addition of the electric drive system to create a hybrid has a significant impact on the total amount of gas burned. Hybrids allow a reduction in emissions at the tailpipe per distance traveled.

Hybrids do save on gas, but the extra price charged to have a combined gas/electric drive system can cut into those savings. One thing is for sure, a hybrid engine will produce fewer emissions on average per kilometers driven than a gas-only engine, making it a good choice for the “green’ conscious consumer.

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Why Buy a Hybrid Car? Green Cars on Hydrogen Fuel

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Hybrids, or cars that run on gas and alternative fuels are not a new concept but for many people, they are more of a science fiction accessory, rather than a reality. There are many reasons why people prefer to buy a hybrid car, and some of the three most important ones are that hybrid cars are eco-friendly cars, they are fashionable, and they cut energy expenses.

Hybrid Cars Are Eco-friendly Cars

Cars and the other vehicles are among the major air polluters. While it is not realistic to expect that the use of cars can be drastically reduced, thus reducing the pollution and saving the environment, running cars on alternative fuel – i.e., hydrogen – which unlike fossil fuels does not pollute the environment, is a serious contribution to a better world. Unlike hydrogen cars, hybrid cars do use some gas, but in comparison to traditional cars, which run only on gas or diesel, the negative effect on the environment is times less.

Hybrid Cars Cut Energy Expenses

In addition to the positive effect of hydrogen cars on the environment, their second main advantage is that they cut energy expenses. Today, when gas prices have increased drastically, the economic benefits of alternative fuel cars, are not something to be underestimated. Hybrids run on oil and hydrogen, and since hydrogen is cheap, or practically free, this can reduce energy expenses by 40% or more.

Additionally, running a car on hydrogen leads to increased mileage and less wear of the parts. Even these perks are convincing enough that hybrid cars are a good buy, but since hydrogen-fueled cars are green cars, many governments stimulate their purchases via tax credits, tax deductions or other financial measures, which further make the purchase of hydrogen-fueled cars even a better deal.

Hybrid Cars Show Attitude

Going green is a trend in many aspects of life and cars are not an exception. Sure, hybrid cars have many advantages as already discussed and only these advantages are enough to make them a market hit. What is more, car manufacturers have responded promptly to the increased demand for hydrogen-fueled cars, and now almost any of the major car manufacturers offer a hybrid car.

Hybrid cars are not cheap, but they are affordable. Of course, for the people who want to show their pro-environment vote, the price comes second.

Hybrid cars will continue their advance in daily lives. Hybrids are still new on the market, and it is hard to find a used hybrid but in a couple of years, when there will be lots of used hybrid cars and hopefully an even wider assortment of new hybrids, it will not be surprising is hydrogen-fueled vehicles become the majority on the road.

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