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March 26, 2023

When is a hybrid drive system car not a hybrid?

I am a little confused by car manufacturers’ use of the term ‘hybrid’ when describing their car’s propulsion system. The dictionary gives the meaning of ‘hybrid’ as a combination of two varieties of plants or two different animal species. The term ‘hybrid’ in the automotive world is synonymous with cars that are propelled using a combination of fossil fuel and electricity, but why do we always think of hybrid cars as a combination of fossil fuel and electricity? If we go by the dictionary explanation of hybrid, could a car propelled by petrol and gas fuel, such as LPG or CNG, be considered a hybrid?

A certain Japanese car manufacturer set the benchmark very high when they first mass-produced their hybrid drive system car and made it available to the public, and this is where the term hybrid best fits the combination of two different sources of power to propel a car. For years when anyone mentioned the term ‘hybrid’ when referring to automotive, our first thought was Toyota Prius. The Prius combined an internal combustion engine, running on petrol, and an electric motor in conjunction with a high voltage battery to propel the car and soon become the car to have to ‘help save the planet’.

Other car manufacturers were keen to earn their kudos of green credentials and have joined the hybrid bandwagon, but all is not as it seems if you take a closer look. Take Micro Hybrid Drive (MHD) for example, it sounds good when said out loud, but is the system a hybrid in the sense we are all familiar with when we think of a Prius hybrid? Unfortunately not, some early MHD systems were nothing more than an engine stop-start system! And then we have the ‘Mild Hybrid’ car, in most cases, this type of hybrid system uses an electric motor to assist the internal combustion engine, an electric motor on its own doesn’t propel the car. The latest incarnation of the propulsion system to wear the hybrid badge is a 48-volt mild hybrid drive system. Again, this system doesn’t use an electric motor on its own to propel the car, but the electrical system assists the internal combustion engine when accelerating and by taking on the control of some systems, such as air conditioning and even turbocharging in some cases.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favor of making the world a greener place, and the advancements and innovations in automotive technology are staggering in achieving this. I just wish when the car manufacturers label their cars, they were clear on what a hybrid is. After all, you need to know what sort of hybrid drive system you are dealing with, especially when it comes to powering down the system to carry out repair work.

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