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What's New In Hybrid Systems?

OEMs continue to develop new hybrid offerings. Are you taking notice?
Monday, January 6, 2014 - 09:00
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What’s new in hybrid systems? The hybrid world changed in the last year because of totally new plug-in hybrid powertrain designs from Honda and Ford; other similar ones are being designed by other carmakers, but honestly, who cares?

This C-Max window sticker will be updated to reflect a slightly lower MPG rating, brought on by customer complaints.

As an automotive professor, I have a hard time finding anyone who cares. Hybrids seem like a foreign concept to the majority of the people I talk to, and they almost laugh at me for even asking. The concept of using a hybrid-electric vehicle seems almost cult-like, only for tree huggers. Some people find the hybrid idea interesting, but do not like the additional cost of a hybrid. The majority of people I talk to about hybrid and alternative-fueled vehicles seem to concentrate only on the cost of the vehicle, not the money saved in decreased fuel costs with the increase in fuel economy or the possible environmental benefits. Hybrids have been available in the United States for 13 years now, but still are far from a vehicle the general population would consider purchasing. 

It was predicted that more 15 million vehicles would be sold in the United States in 2013; more than half of them were trucks and SUVs that average less than 20 mpg. It seems to me that very few people care enough about high fuel prices and energy independence to even consider a hybrid or alternative-fueled vehicle for their next purchase. This last summer, Toyota announced that it had sold its 5 millionth hybrid vehicle worldwide; just a little more than 2 million of them have been sold in the U.S. in the last 13 years. That is not a very good sales record; all other manufacturers of hybrid vehicles fall short of Toyota’s 5 million hybrid milestone.

So once again I ask, who cares? You should care. Why? Because you are going to see a lot more of them in the next few years due to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tailpipe emissions regulations and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) fuel economy regulations.

If you’re working on hybrids, you’re getting used to the underhood appearance.

Hybrids and electric vehicles are an easy way for a car company to balance the scales to compensate for the low fuel economy and high tailpipe emissions from all the trucks and SUVs sold. Without the clean and efficient hybrid and electric vehicles, they would not be able to sell as many not so clean or fuel efficient trucks and SUVs. Almost every car manufacturer now has hybrids or electric cars available, even the Chrysler Group.

The new Honda Accord Hybrid and Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid are what have really interested me this year. I think the new Accord is not as good looking as Ford’s new Fusion hybrids, but it does have a higher mpg rating, especially in the city (50 mpg).

Until now, Honda’s hybrid systems consisted of its Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system, a single electric motor-generator sandwiched between the internal combustion engine (ICE) and the transmission. Honda’s IMA system is not as efficient or as powerful as Toyota’s hybrid systems. Many other carmakers use an IMA clone for their hybrids (Hyundai, Kia, Audi, Mercedes, VW, etc.).

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