There are automobiles on the market that are specifically designed to be fuel efficient. These particular cars get the best mileage and are known as hybrids. Powered by a combination of a gasoline engine and an electric motor, hybrid cars get the best mileage because they burn less fossil fuel, gasoline, to drive the vehicle. Much of the energy needed to power the cars is provided by the electric motor.
Today’s technology allows the electric motor in a hybrid auto to simply assist the gasoline engine in powering the vehicle. This is accomplished in a number of ways:
(1) A series hybrid vehicle uses only the electric motor to power the wheels, thus driving the vehicle, while the gasoline engine powers the generator to either propel the vehicle or to recharge batteries. Diesel-electric locomotives have relied on this type of hybrid system for over 60 years. All the major automakers are working to develop cars that can effectively use series-hybrid technology. This technology assures that, eventually, these cars get the best mileage of all.
(2) A parallel hybrid vehicle, on the other hand, is powered by both its gas engine and an electric motor, each connected to the transmission. Thus, both gas engine and electric motor power the vehicle in tandem. The Honda Civic, Insight and Accord hybrids are examples of the parallel hybrid concept. All these cars get the best mileage, with some getting marginally higher miles per gallon (mpg) than others. Obviously, high mpg cars get the best mileage.
(3) Finally, there is the series/parallel hybrid automobile where the gas engine can either power the wheels of the vehicle or can be disconnected to power a generator to recharge batteries. The Ford Escape Hybrid and Toyota Prius are examples of series/parallel hybrid technology. Again, these cars get the best mileage using a different method to produce this efficiency.
Hybrid cars that get the best mileage are also cleaner vehicles. The less dependent a car is on its gasoline engine, the fewer greenhouse gasses are produced by the car. As well, the more efficient the design of the engine and the car’s aerodynamics, the less any sort of motor has to work, thus reducing harmful emissions.
Hybrid cars get the best mileage, but hybrid technology is, essentially, still in its infancy. The heavy, space-consuming, expensive batteries necessary for today’s hybrid vehicles curtail the potential of such cars. Hybrids are cars that get the best mileage now, but the future will bring all-electric cars that simply plug into a common household electric socket to refuel -- no fossil fuel needed.