Wednesday, 16 May, 2001
Hybrid cars aren't really new, but they've just recently become available to the general public. Honda and Toyota have production models that you can order, and Chrysler and Ford have concept cars that are in various stages of pre-production.
The idea behind a hybrid car is very simple. A gasoline powered engine charges batteries that in turn are used to power the electric motor that actually propels the car. You can find a more detailed explanation here. (The HowStuffWorks site, by the way, is a fantastic place. If you ever wonder how anything works, look there first.) Hybrid cars use a number of techniques to operate more efficiently than traditional cars: lighter materials, more aerodynamic shapes, kinetic energy recovery (energy recovered from braking goes back into the batteries), and turning off the engine when it's not needed. The cars are viable transportation, and prices, though still higher than for traditional cars, are within striking distance. The Honda and Toyota models, for example, both list for about $20,000. They still burn fossil fuels, so they're less than ideal, but they're a step in the right direction. It'll be a few years before I need to buy another car. You can bet I'll keep my eye on developments in this area.