- Published: Monday, 14 November 2016 19:21
How much do you really know about hybrid cars, and is ignorance cutting you off from one of the best driving experiences around?
SINGAPORE — When you drop a french fry on the table you have three seconds to snatch it up and eat it before bacteria can grab onto it. Microwave ovens give you cancer. Hybrid tech is new and unproven.
If you believe any of those, we have a bridge to sell you. We bought it from some guy named Benjamin Sheares, but it can be yours at a great price!
Of course, myths are nothing new in modern life, and it’s only people who lack the critical thinking skills to evaluate them properly who let themselves be led astray by them.
Take the world of hybrid cars, for example. Hybrids are different from the average car, which is why they might be viewed with some suspicion, but they do offer an experience that millions of drivers around the world enjoy. When you drive hybrid, you drive happy.
Are you letting these myths keep you from enjoying what a car with two engines has to offer?
Myth: Hybrid drive is a new technology
Fact: It’s been around for more than 100 years
The earliest hybrid cars would pair electric drive with some other form of engine, usually a steam-powered one — that means they actually arose before petrol power became the default, as far back as 1900!
True, the petrol-electric hybrid as we know it is much more modern, but even then it has had time to mature. The first Toyota Prius went on sale in 1997, which makes it nearly 20 years since the current era of hybrids began. That’s enough time for four generations of the Prius to have evolved.
Myth: You need somewhere to charge a hybrid
Fact: Most hybrid cars run on “free” energy
A hybrid car has an electric motor to complement its petrol engine, but believe it or not, the electricity to power it is mostly free. Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system cleverly captures waste energy from deceleration. So if you’re slowing down for a traffic light or rolling downhill, it uses that energy to top up its battery.
The process is called regenerative braking. Normal cars slow down by turning their rolling energy to heat. Hybrid cars can slow down by using kinetic energy to turn a generator and create electricity, so every time you press the brake pedal in one (or just lift your foot off the accelerator) you’re actually storing energy.
How much energy can you really recapture that way? Enough for a Toyota Prius to stretch a litre of petrol more than twice the distance of an efficient but conventional car.
In fact, one study from the University of Rome found that the current Prius travels 79.4 percent of the time on average on zero fuel. Not bad for a car that never needs to be plugged in.
Myth: Hybrids are less safe because their batteries could explode or short circuit
Fact: There has never been an injury related to a hybrid battery in a Toyota
After putting 9 million hybrids on the road, Toyota’s safety researchers have yet to come across a single report of an injury caused by a hybrid battery. That fact speaks for itself but it isn’t the result of mere luck. Hybrid batteries are subjected to harsh collisions, drop tests and even water penetration tests.
When Toyota crashed a new Prius for us to watch, it did so at 90km/h (way above the 64km/h that safety standards require) and tested one thing before examining anything else: electrical leakage from the battery pack. There was none.
That’s because the batteries are placed in an optimal position in the car, and are built tough to begin with. After nearly 20 years of building hybrids, Toyota clearly knows what it’s doing.
Myth: Hybrid cars need more maintenance
Fact: Hybrids don’t require special maintenance
Two engines means twice the maintenance, right? It seems to make sense but stop and think about that for a while. Electric drive is extremely durable, and a motor doesn’t have spark plugs that need replacement or oil to change. As for the petrol engine in a Prius, it leads a relatively easy life. Much of the time it receives a boost from the motor, so it seldom has to work hard.
If anything, hybrid cars need less maintenance than normal. Conventional cars need regular brake pad changes, for instance. But remember how a hybrid uses regenerative braking to recapture energy? That gives its brakes an easy life, too. When the current Prius was launched in Europe, Toyota discovered that only 8.7 percent of the third-generation Priuses there had needed new brake pads.
Myth: Hybrid batteries will need costly replacement
Fact: Toyota uses a clever trick to make its batteries last… and last
Everyone who owns a laptop or smartphone knows that batteries are just a financial time bomb, right (or just a bomb, in the case of the Galaxy Note 7)? But when it comes to hybrid cars, well, not quite. In Toyota’s hybrids, at least, the batteries have been shown to last and last… sometimes to the extent that they look likely to outlast the rest of the car.
How is this possible? With smart State Of Charge management. That means a Prius’ energy management system wouldn’t allow its battery to drop below a certain charge, or be fully charged. This free-floating SOC range is the perfect way to keep a battery healthy for years.
That’s how Toyota Prius taxis have routinely covered 320,000km without battery issues — that’s around 18 years’ worth of mileage for the average Singapore driver.
In any case, hybrid cars sold by Borneo Motors come with a warranty just for the battery that covers 10 years. In other words, you would have to pay for a new COE for your hybrid Toyota before being in danger of paying for a new battery!
Bonus Myth: All hybrids are the same
Fact: Some hybrid systems are better than others
To make a hybrid you just start with an engine and add a motor with a battery, right? Well yes, but that’s like saying to serve a fine steak you just take beef and add fire.
The truth is that there are many ways to build a hybrid car, some better than others. In fact, Toyota has around 30 different hybrid models in its global lineup, and not all conform to the same recipe. There are variations in motor power (and number of motors), battery size, battery type and so on.
Some hybrids are able to lean heavily on electricity, while others can only use it mildly. Some hybrids are modified versions of a normal car, while others (like the Prius) are optimised to make the best of hybrid power from the start.
And of course, some car manufacturers have more experience building long-lasting hybrid cars than others.
The bottom line: If even a single-power source machine like a petrol car can come in all sorts of variations, then why would anyone think that all hybrids are the same?