Hybrid vs. Electric Cars: How They Work
As history goes, the first-ever automobile was built in 1769 and was steam-powered. However, the modern vehicle that we’ve come to know was developed by Karl Benz more than a century later in 1885. His three-wheeled vehicle combined an internal combustion engine (ICE) with an integrated chassis and was the first to go into production for consumers to buy. But just as these early people movers varied in propulsion, so do today’s vehicles.
The ICE remains the power core of a vast majority of vehicles on the road today — new and used. But the first Toyota Prius, a gasoline-electric hybrid introduced in Japan in 1997, was the catalyst for change. Today, electrified and alternative powertrains are now part of mainstream conversation. Even fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) are increasingly a part of discussion.
FCEVs, unlike the electric vehicles (EV) we’ll discuss below, are not widely available because a lack of public infrastructure limits their use to California and Hawaii. But automakers, and Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota in particular, continue to make advancements in the technology, which is proposed to offer better-than-battery electric driving range combined with 5-minute refueling times.
With an FCEV, hydrogen, which is the most plentiful element in the universe, is converted by fuel cells to generate the power supplied to an electric motor. Emissions amount to nothing but water vapor.
With regard to EVs, Tesla, the most infamous producer of them, has further pushed the boundaries of what a conventional vehicle can be thanks to its lineup of high-powered, technology-heavy models. But Tesla is no longer the only game in town. Due to environmental concerns, government regulations, and growing consumer interest, every global automaker has an EV already in the lineup or in development. And this doesn’t even take into account the new EV-only automakers that seem to pop up on a nearly monthly basis, such as Karma, Lucid, Rivian, and more.
Nevertheless, as familiar as the terms hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and EV may be, how each vehicle type actually works — from driving range and battery charging times to costs and maintenance — remains a mystery to many consumers. Consider what follows to be your cheat sheet.