Ever since the emergence of Toyota Prius in 1995’s Tokyo Motor Show, the World is mesmerised by the futuristic technologies and fuel saving powers that hybrids have to offer. The Prius took the lead in garnering public and critic’s acclaim in Japan, with the first mass produced Prius of 1997 winning highly reputed title of ‘Car Of The Year Japan’ – the same title that Toyota Aqua or Prius C won in 2012. Soon after, in 1999, Honda Insight was released which pushed the boundaries and showed the world what this new technology is capable of. The first-generation Insight achieved an impressive EPA rating of 53 miles per gallon (4.4 L/100 km), a figure which still stands unbeaten, though Honda failed to replicate this figure in subsequent generations and models, losing to Toyota.
Although, both iterations of hybrid technology by two of the leading car manufacturers stood only a year/two apart, both approached the hybrid-gasoline collaboration differently. The first generation Honda Insight relied on IMA, Integrated Motor Assist, where electric and gasoline motors were mated in a way that the former complemented the latter. It provided additional push and sharing load, thus saved on fuel while not compromising on driving experience. The Toyota Prius uses Hybrid Synergy Drive system, a Toyota’s proprietary, which can actually power the car either on electric motor, on gasoline motor, or both, depending on driving conditions. The versatility and industry best EPA ratings gave Toyota a leading edge in hybrid technology, which pushed the Japanese automaker to the forefront of hybrid cars in the world.
Later, other major players brought in their vehicles and the hybrid race is no longer a two-horse race now. To further explore the differentiating factors of various hybrid technologies, let’s delve a bit deeper.
The Weakest Of Them All: ENE-Charge
A slight improvement on eco-idle technology employed by almost all modern day Japanese Kei cars, the ENE-Charge is a Suzuki proprietary – a weak or limited hybrid technology introduced in Suzuki Wagon R 2012. A small electric motor powered by lithium ion battery pack recharges upon braking. The electric motor can power electrical equipment and provides a very limited assistance to gasoline engine, improving fuel efficiency at the expense of driving experience.
Weak Hybrid: The Stuff of Mediocrity
Weak hybrid mates a restrained electric motor powered by rechargeable batteries to a gasoline engine, which does most of the work almost at all times. Though the battery pack and electric motor in weak hybrid vehicles are larger than ENE-Charge, but they still aren’t enough to push the vehicle on its own. That being said, it remains powerful enough to assist the gasoline engine in a way that improves fuel economy without a lag in performance. The Suzuki Ignis Hybrid¸ the Honda Fit (second generation), the Honda Insight (second generation) use this technology.
Strong/ Full Hybrid: Where Legends Are Made
That’s the space for Toyota’s legendary Hybrid Synergy Drive, the electric motor and battery pack employed in this type can push the vehicle independently for a while. However, its electric range is severely limited to a few miles and that too at lower speeds, after that the gasoline engine kicks in to charge batteries and power the car. Both electric and gasoline motors also work hand in hand at high and moderate speeds, providing industry leading fuel efficiency and an unimpressive drive.
Everything Beyond: The Rex, The PHEV; The Plugins
That’s a grey area between all-electric and hybrid vehicles. The BMW i3 with a range extender is called BMW i3 Rex, which is BMW’s twisted yet hugely successful take on hybrid technology. The i3 is powered solely by electric motor, which is assisted by a huge battery pack, and is essentially a plug in all electric vehicle. But when you add the Rex, or range extender, a small gasoline generator is added in the setup, which recharges batteries on the go, thus providing extra juice for as long as the gasoline generator has gas in it. However, gasoline generator has no link to wheels, so it never takes active part in vehicle’s movement.
PHEV is Toyota’s take on a plug-in hybrid, where the vehicle can run on electric motor powered by larger battery pack for up to 30 miles before batteries needing a recharge either through a socket or through a gasoline engine. Unlike the BMW i3 Rex, the Toyota Prius PHEV can run on gasoline engine as well, it’s essentially a Prius on Steroids.