Hybrid cars, which are increasing in popularity, are an attempt to fix many of the problems of both gasoline cars and electric cars. By combining an internal combustion engine (ICE) and an electric drive train, electric cars have the long-distance travel option of a fuel-driven car and the ability to turn off the ICE when going slowly and run on electricity.
Unlike electric cars, hybrids do not need to be plugged in; the battery in the car is charged by three processes: the gasoline engine, the brakes, and coasting downhill. In the first process, the internal combustion engine charges the battery much as an alternator charges the battery in a traditional gasoline-powered car.
Regenerative braking, the second charging method, works by reversing the path of energy in the electric motor. Instead of having the brakes lose energy to friction, they transfer their energy back through the electric drive train to create electricity. There are also brake pads should the driver needs to stop immediately. Thirdly, when the car is coasting downhill, a small amount of energy is transferred from the wheels back through the electric motor. This process creates a trickle of energy that slowly recharges the battery over time.
Hybrid cars are one proximate solution to gas-hogging gasoline engines – they get a fuel efficiency of more than 50 miles to the gallon. This compares to typical cars getting 22-35 mpg. A typical SUV gets only 12-20 mpg. SUVs have pulled down the average fuel economy for the entire American fleet of automobiles.
The future of hybrids looks good, as the Toyota Prius was the 2004 Motor Trend car of the year and new hybrid sedans, trucks, SUVs, and luxury cars are scheduled for release in the next few years. However, hybrid cars still use fossil fuels to function; they just use them more efficiently. This drawback makes hybrids only a partial solution to environmental issues.