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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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The new Accord Hybrid/Plug-in Hybrid system (called E-Drive) is totally different than the old IMA system; it has a 320-volt Lithium-Ion battery (compared to Honda’s 144V or 158V IMA systems), and it uses two electric motors/generators. At first glance, I thought it was another variant of the Toyota Hybrid Drive system (two electric motors with a single or double planetary gear set in between them) but I was wrong. The new Honda two-motor hybrid is a totally unique design that has some great benefits.

A sign of times to come: Not a gas door, but an electrical connection for direct charging of the HV battery pack.

The E-Drive transaxle contains two electric motors-generators. The smaller motor-generator functions primarily as a generator for the high voltage battery, but it also is the starter motor. The larger motor-generator functions primarily as a drive motor to propel the vehicle, but it also functions as a generator for the high voltage battery when the vehicle decelerates or brakes (regenerative braking).

You might ask yourself, how is the new Honda E-Drive any different than the Toyota hybrid system? The big difference is that Honda’s two electric motors are not connected together inside the transaxle, while Toyota’s are. This means that the speed of one electric motor has no effect upon the speed of the other motor in the Honda E-Drive system. (One motor can be totally stopped while the other is rotating.) Why does that matter?

The Toyota hybrid system electric motors have maximum rotational speed limits. Toyota hybrids have the two motors connected together; one motor over-drives or under-drives the other. This means that the gasoline engine in Toyota hybrid systems must start at a certain vehicle speed (62 mph) to prevent one of the motors from going over the speed limit. The Honda Accord does not. The Accord hybrid can drive on battery power up to 80 mph (Ford’s Fusion top EV mode speed is 85 mph). This results in increased fuel economy for the Honda design (47 mpg) verses the Toyota design, especially when compared to the Camry and Avalon hybrids.

The new Accord Plug-in hybrid is the only hybrid vehicle I know of that has three truly different modes of operation. Honda’s E-Drive system can run on battery power only (EV Mode), combined engine and electric motor power (Hybrid Mode) or at higher vehicle speeds with low load, gasoline engine power only (Engine Mode). The Accord Plug-in hybrid can even charge its own high voltage battery while driving if the driver presses the right button. I am not aware of any other plug-in hybrid that can do that.

Both the Fusion hybrid and the Fusion Energi use the 2.0 Duratec engine package.

This year, the 2013 Ford Hybrid and Electric Vehicle lineup is very impressive. Ford, of course, is the king of truck and SUV sales. It needs to offset its trucks’ higher emissions and lower fuel economy with hybrid and electric vehicle sales. Even if Ford looses money on selling hybrid and electric vehicles, it can make more money selling more trucks and SUVs because of them. I am sure it is a balancing act that does make money at the bottom line.

The new Fusion Hybrid and Fusion Energi Plug-in Hybrid are beautiful cars, in my opinion. They both have the new 2.0L Duratec powertrain with a new Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) battery pack (1.4kWh in Hybrid and 7.6kWh in the plug-in hybrid). These vehicles have an average combined city and highway fuel economy rating of 47 mpg. That is 12 mpg above the 2015 NHTSA CAFE fuel economy requirement for passenger cars, but still short of the 2025 54.5 mpg fuel economy requirement.

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