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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Hybrid Cars... But Were Afraid To Ask, Part One

Published May 16th 2007, 11:36pm by Jody DeVere in Featured Articles

One of our young readers sent us the following questions about hybrid vehicles, saying "I am 13 years old and I had a few questions for you about my hybrid car project:
1. What is the top selling hybrid car?
2. Why are hybrid cars better than normal cars?
3. What are the benefits of a Hybrid car?
4. How does a hybrid car work?
5. What is the average cost of a hybrid car/sedan?
6. About how much would you spend on gas in a month using a hybrid car?
7. What city sells the most hybrid cars?
8. How long does a battery in a hybrid car last? "

While I was researching her term paper, it occurred to me that she shouldn't be the only person to benefit from this research, so here is what we learned.

Q: What is the top selling hybrid car?
According to research at Edmunds.com, the top five selling hybrid vehicles for the first six months of 2006 are as follows. I've added EPA fuel economy figures for each vehicle, as well as figures for the non-hybrid versions or comparable non-hybrid models. Please note that pricing varies based on vehicle configuration, and fuel economy can vary significantly based on driver technique, so these are just guidelines. Remember the old disclaimer... "your mileage may vary..."

Ap_2006_toyota_prius 1. Toyota Prius -- 48,156 units
Suggested retail: $19,892
Fuel economy: 60 city / 51 highway (Toyota Yaris 34/40)


Ap_2006_toyota_highlander_hybrid 2. Toyota Highlander Hybrid -- 18,127 units
Suggested retail: $27,281 - $32,358
Fuel economy:  33 city / 28 highway (non-hybrid engine: 19/24)


Ap_2006_honda_civic_hybrid 3. Honda Civic Hybrid -- 15,755 units
Suggested retail: $20,828 - $22,221
Fuel economy:  49 city / 51 highway (non-hybrid engine: 30/40)


Ap_2006_lexus_rx_400h 4. Lexus RX 400h -- 11,193 units
Suggested retail: $37,315 - $38,467
Fuel economy:  31 city / 28 highway (Lexus RX 330 18/24)


Ap_2006_ford_escape_hybrid 5. Ford Escape Hybrid -- 10,190 units
Suggested retail: $23,508 - $24,89
Fuel economy:  33 city / 31 highway (non-hybrid engine: 20/29)

Q: Why are hybrid cars better than normal cars?
This is a tough one to answer, as there's no definitive proof that hybrid alternatives actually are better than traditionally powered cars. While most hybrids claim to offer better fuel economy than a conventional vehicle, this depends entirely on the user's driving technique and the type of driving they do. Hybrids typically return better fuel economy around town, when they rely more on their electric engine for start/stop driving. Best fuel economy can be realized by driving at the posted speed limit, coasting to stoplights, and not accelerating from a stop like a race-car driver; but this is true in any vehicle. Another reason people think hybrids are better is because they offer environmental advantages in reduced noise and air pollution emissions; however, others say this is offset by the manufacture and disposal of their batteries. It's entirely a personal decision.

Q: What are the benefits of a Hybrid car?
See answer above, and also refer to the Wikipedia site on hybrid vehicles which has waaaaay more information than I can reprint here. It's a very fact-filled page that explains everything you ever wanted to know about Hybrids (but were afraid to ask). 

Q: How does a hybrid car work?
Ap_wikipedia_logo Again, I quote Wikipedia,  which explains the function of a hybrid vehicle like this: "Hybrid electric vehicles most commonly use internal combustion engines and electric batteries to power electric motors. Modern mass-produced hybrids prolong the charge on their batteries by capturing kinetic energy via regenerative braking. Many PEHVs shut down the combustion engine at idle, and re-start the combustion engine when needed. As well, when cruising or in other situations where just light thrust is needed, "full" hybrids can use the combustion engine to generate electricity by spinning an electrical generator (often a second electric motor) to either recharge the battery or directly feed power to an electric motor that drives the vehicle. This contrasts with all-electric cars, which use batteries charged by an external source such as the grid, or a range extending trailer. Nearly all hybrids still require gasoline or diesel as their sole fuel source, though other fuels such as ethanol or plant based oils have also seen occasional use." Can't beat that explanation.

(Natasha's list of questions was long, so we've broken it into two parts. For answers to questions 5 through 8, please click to read "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Hybrid Cars... But Were Afraid To Ask, Part Two.") Natasha, I hope you get an "A"!

By Brandy Schaffels
Contributing Editor

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