I love car design and engineering, but most car fans are gas-fume-addled luddites. There’s so much angst vented at hybrid drivers, as if the worst automotive sin imaginable is buying a reliable mid-size hatchback that gets an astounding 50 mpg. If you don’t like it don’t buy one, but it’s obviously far better for society in every way for uncaring car drivers to be in a Prius rather than a giant SUV consuming 2.5 times as much gasoline.
Furthermore, the knee-jerk revulsion of all things electric overlooks the obvious giant trend in modern ICE engineering:
- Every accessory becomes electric so that the engine can turn off at a standstill.
- The car recovers some energy from braking to recharge its battery, energy that’s otherwise wasted as hot brake pads.
- The car has an efficient motor to propel it with electricity from the battery.
Then you simply adjust the size of the battery and the power of the starter/motor/generator to make different versions:
- micro-hybrid whose motor can only restart the engine and assist in pulling away from a standstill
- hybrid whose motor alone can propel the car for some distance up to some speed
- plug-in hybrid, recharging at home as the cheapest and least-polluting way to go the first whatever miles gas-free
How well the hybrid works depends on whether the car maker has seen the light and licensed Toyota’s HSD, the ingenious e-CVT that replaces the transmission and clutch to allow optimum blending of engine RPM, engine power, motor power and electricity regeneration; Ford and Mazda and Subaru have all done so (though Ford has a fig-leaf arrangement to hide their purchase of transmissions from Toyota and its supplier Aisin). How far the plug-in hybrid goes gas-free depends on whether the car maker has lined up a supply of enormous expensive battery packs. But even the lamest micro-hybrids like the big Mercedes-Benz models increase the production volume and reduce the cost of the common electric components for all three levels.
Meanwhile USA car models fall further behind. Apparently the obvious no-brainer of a car that doesn’t pollute or consume gas at a standstill does not improve EPA mpg figures, so car makers stupidly don’t include this feature on their USA-bound cars. In Europe, Audi, BMW, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, and VW all sell cars with at least “stop-start technology” (i.e. micro-hybrids), but those models don’t make it to the USA. It saves the manufacturers $$$ now but it keeps them from embracing the future.