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How a hybrid works

The best of both worlds



Toyota Motor Philippines has just unveiled the all-new Corolla Altis. For the first time ever, it can be availed of as a hybrid. Many of you may be wondering what this new trim is and what it can do. In this article, we explain everything you need to know about the Corolla Altis Hybrid.

The gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle is not necessarily a new invention. It’s been around the Philippines for quite some time, most notably in the form of the Prius, Prius C, and Lexus models.

The hybrid vehicle was designed to serve as a stepping stone to transition into fully-electric vehicles. After all, fully-electric vehicles have no other power source but the battery. When that runs out and there are no charging stations around, these vehicles may leave you stuck in the middle of the road. Hybrid vehicles combine the best parts of conventional gasoline vehicles and electric vehicles, to create a vehicle that has low emissions, quiet operation, and very high fuel efficiency.

In the Philippines, manufacturers like Toyota have bravely introduced them into the local market to give us a taste of electric vehicle operation, without the worry of having to find a charging station.


How does it work?

Hybrids use a combination of a gasoline engine and electric motor for power. Like a normal car, an engine is needed to move it forward and power all of the car’s accessories. In the hybrid’s case, either motor or both simultaneously can be used to do the same. In addition, any excess power is stored in on-board batteries to be used by the electric motor later.

It may sound confusing but they’re much simpler in operation. The car’s intelligent power management computer constantly monitors the vehicle’s speed and power consumption, determining on its own if it needs the gasoline engine, the electric motor, the batteries or all for a particular situation. There’s even a display in the vehicle that tells the driver which is producing power and where it’s going. The result is continuous and seamless transition between the two, leaving the driver little more to worry about than the road ahead.

Geared towards efficiency

Everything about the car is designed to be fuel efficient. Hybrids use continuously variable transmissions to make the most out of the least amount of power. Because the onboard batteries tend to weigh a vehicle down, these cars are built with a large proportion of lightweight steel and aluminum.

Because the gasoline and electric motor can work individually or in tandem, a hybrid vehicle uses much less fuel than a conventional car. The hybrid only uses as much power as it needs, no more, no less. As such, the gasoline engine or electric motor don’t have to work as hard to get the car moving. They can help each other, saving on battery and fuel. Hybrids routinely return 18 – 26 km/L in the city, even in heavy traffic. This is because it can shut off the gasoline engine and run on pure electric power in stop and go traffic.


That Hybrid Feeling

The hybrid feeling starts with a press of the Start button. There’s no cranking or rumble, not even any vibration; just a couple of friendly beeps and lights, like a computer powering up. Rest assured that the vehicle is already on. It’s just waiting for you to put the car in gear and step on the throttle. It waits for the very last moment before starting up the engine so as to not waste gas while idling. If you roll off slowly, it might just decide to run on battery power for the mean time. In the energy usage display, you’ll likely see arrows coming from the battery, moving towards the wheels.

When it does start the engine, you’ll feel a slight shake. That’s the engine coming on. At this point the screen displays an arrow from the engine towards the wheels. A few arrows may point to the battery too, indicating that the engine is also charging the battery with the excess power.

If you decide to press on the throttle a little further, the teamwork begins. The familiar rev of an engine makes itself heard. Arrows from both the engine and battery are now pointed at the wheels. This means the engine is getting a boost from the electric motor, and the surge of torque should move the car forward faster than you expect.

Naturally, you’ll want to step on the brake, triggering the car’s regenerative braking system. Arrows will begin to move from the wheels towards the batteries. As you slow down, the engine quietly shuts off and the car coasts on the momentum it has built up, recharging the batteries that power the rest of the car’s systems like air conditioning, entertainment, lights and even the wipers. All that power management was done just by varying the pressure on the gas pedal.


Unique Abilities

Naturally, having two engines has its advantages. Should you run out of fuel, the vehicle will switch its electric motor on and rely on battery power until you can get to a gas station. Don’t expect a blistering pace. It’s still better though than walking a few miles.

Be warned, when in electric mode, these cars are extremely quiet. Some pedestrians tend to cross in front of these cars because they don’t hear the usual engine noise, so exercise caution. On the flipside, it’s perfect for going in and out of the house at odd hours without waking anyone up.

Conversely, you can also put the car into battery mode manually, forcing the car to use up the stored charge while keeping the engine off. Once the charge is used up, the gasoline engine will turn on, recharging the batteries as it goes.

The Savings

On a typical drive, the vehicle will continue to do this juggling act, even without you noticing. By alternating between gasoline and electric power, it reduces fuel wasted while slowing down and idling. The results can be pretty surprising, adding up to an extra 8-10 km/L compared to similar sized car, for a total of 18-26 km/L.

It may sound like pretty intimidating technology, but hybrids these days are designed to be as familiar and user-friendly as possible. Other than the lack of engine noise, it feels exactly like a regular car. It drives the same, occupies the same space but saves even more fuel. Their ‘ordinary-ness’ may burst the bubble of those who were hoping to step into the Starship Enterprise, yet this familiarity is the whole point. It’s to invite us into this first step toward a cleaner motoring future.

By Iñigo S. Roces

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