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The arrival of hybrid cars

By Charles Hopkins Published 05/18/2006 | Auto and Trucks

Theres good news for car owners. Theres a new brand of car that is fuel efficient as well as eco-friendly. It also comes with IT benefits and is called the hybrid car. Two companies that have already launched hybrid cars are Honda and Toyota. These clean and quiet cars have already won celebrity admiration with buyers like Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz.

Currently, there are two kinds of hybrid cars. The Parallel Hybrid cars have a gas engine with a fuel tank and an electric engine powered by batteries, both connected to the transmission independently.

The Series Hybrid cars have a gas engine that turns on a generator. The generator then produces the energy to charge the batteries or run the electric engine.

There are two major advantages of using a hybrid car. The first is reduced emission and better mileage. You can see both when you stop your car at a red light. The car switches off the gasoline engine and switches over to electric power, reducing emission of gases and providing better fuel economy.

The second benefit flows from an innovative technology called regenerative braking. When you apply the brakes; the electric engine captures some of the energy emitted as heat. This energy is used to charge the battery whenever the car slows down.

These cars have an aerodynamic body design, low body weight and tires that are more drag-resistant. Toyota was the first to launch its hybrid car in 1997.  The car, which was named Prius, was initially launched in Japan. Later, it was introduced in the US in 2000, and has already undergone two upgrades.

The Prius has a small engine with just 76 horsepower. When coupled with the 50 kilowatt (60 horsepower) electric motor, the machine gets a 295 lb-ft of torque. The major attraction for the buyers is fuel efficiency. The car relies mainly on the electric engine at low speeds and produces 50 miles per gallon (mpg) in city traffic and 60 mpg on highways. The emissions are also 89% less.

The technology makes Prius very attractive and with the 2004 midsize version the customer gets more features. These include a navigation system, stereo and a high-tech joystick that controls the 1-speed Automatic Overdrive transmission.

Running close to Toyotas inventiveness is Hondas hybrid car, Insight. This two-seater seems to be straight out of a science fiction movie. It uses a unique system called Integrated Motor Assist, where the electric motor takes up the place of the flywheel.

The system is not for moving the car but to start the engine, do some regenerative braking and help in the acceleration. However, the Insight has a record-breaking fuel economy with an average 61 mpg in city traffic and an impressive 70 mpg on the highways.

Apart from these economical features, the Insight has all the other features of a Honda hatchback. There are two versions available an automatic and a five-speed manual. This vehicle is extremely lightweight and comes with a regular AM/FM and CD system and an attractive dashboard design.

The success of Toyota and Honda has inspired several automobile companies to launch their versions of hybrids. Ford is said to be ready with its Escape Hybrid, which is a SUV.