Jason Conklin is a graduate of Grayslake North High School, and he is currently a marketing major at NIU. Jason is also an NIU College of Business Dean’s Scholar. His interests include his studies and sports. Jason hopes to combine these interests in his future career by working in the marketing department for a professional sports team. Jason feels “The Development of Hybrid Automobiles” is one of his strongest essays of the semester, and it is important to him because it is about “a topic that is prevalent in the world today.”
In the push for a greener and cleaner planet earth, hybrid automobiles are becoming major players in the automotive world. Hybrid automobiles are paving the way toward a healthier environment, and they are shaping the future of the automobile industry. Although hybrid automobiles did not generate many sales until the past five years, their development began many years ago, and further development of the technology continues today. Hybrid automobiles offer a major factor in saving the environment and changing the ideology behind the way people think when they consider automobiles. These vehicles need to be more widely used and need to be continually developed in order to make them more cost efficient to the average consumer. Norman Carr-Ruffino and John Acheson, authors of “The Hybrid Phenomenon” from the July-August 2007 issue of Futurist magazine, and Andrew A. Frank, author of “Plug-in Hybrid Vehicles for a Sustainable Future” from the March-April 2007 issue of American Scientist magazine, both argue these points and discuss the development of hybrid automobiles.
“The Hybrid Phenomenon” discusses the way hybrids are becoming a major part of the automobile market. The article gives a brief history of hybrid automobiles and explains some of the basics of hybrids. Carr-Ruffino and Acheson argue for the continued production and public awareness of hybrid cars, and they believe hybrids are an important technology that will shape future automobiles.
“Plug-in Hybrid Vehicles for a Sustainable Future” also argues for continued advancement in hybrid technology. Frank takes a more technical side in his article, in which he tells the story of him and some colleagues trying to build a hybrid car in the 1970s. Frank points out how far the technology for hybrids has come and the effect the advances have had on the development of hybrid automobiles.
Although hybrid automobile sales began only a few years ago, the technology has been developing for a long time. The technology dates back all the way to the 1890s when “Ferdinand Porsche was asked by his boss, Jacob Lohner, to design a better electric car” (Carr-Ruffino and Acheson 17). A few years later, Lohner-Porsche developed a hybrid automobile. Compared to today’s cars, these original hybrids were about four times as efficient. The affordability of gas and the assembly line production of the Model T drove away hybrid technology, as most families could not afford it. The hybrid concept for automobiles was forgotten “until the 1970s, a decade during which the price of a gallon of gas tripled” (Frank 158). During the 1970s, engineers targeted the main problem with internal combustion engines; they are extremely inefficient. Hybrid vehicle technology continued to develop into the 1990s. Along the way, advances in technology increased the efficiency and driving range of these vehicles. Advances in battery and energy storing technology have been especially critical in hybrid vehicle development. Flywheels are a great example of this. A flywheel of today’s technology can hold “20 to 30 times more energy” (Frank 160) than an equal size flywheel of 1970s technology. In the 1990s, concept car designs started to take shape. This is when Toyota came up with the Prius, which “emerged out of Japan in 1997 and hit the United States in 2000” (Carr-Ruffino and Acheson 18). The Toyota Prius now dominates the hybrid automobile market.
Hybrid technology may seem complicated, but it is essentially the combination of a traditional internal combustion engine with an electric motor. Hybrids are not all the same; however, they generally fall into four different categories. There are full hybrids, mild hybrids, light hybrids, and plug-in hybrids. Each category offers a different level of efficiency and dependence on gasoline.
The most efficient and widely used hybrids are full hybrids. Full hybrids are able to run on electricity alone, but only for a limited range. These hybrids do have an internal combustion engine, but they primarily rely on an electric motor for power. Mild hybrids are similar to full hybrids, but instead of relying on an electric motor, they rely on an internal combustion engine, with an electric motor for assistance. Therefore, “mild hybrids provide the same driver benefits as full hybrids, but to a lesser degree” (Carr-Ruffino and Acheson 18). Mild hybrids have the advantage of being cheaper to manufacture than full hybrids. Popular mild hybrids include the Honda Civic Hybrid and the Saturn Vue Green Line. Light hybrids are different because they do not recycle energy like full and mild hybrids do. Light hybrids “reduce fuel consumption by shutting the engine down when the vehicle is stopped” (Carr-Ruffino and Acheson 20). This reduces the waste of having the engine idle while the car is stationary. General Motors is the leader in light hybrid technology, with “light hybrid versions of the Silverado and Sierra” (Carr-Ruffino and Acheson 20). The final type of hybrids is plug-in hybrids. Plug-in hybrids represent the future of hybrid automobiles, and possibly the future of all automobiles. Plug-in hybrids are engineered “so that they can be recharged by plugging them into an ordinary electrical outlet and can travel a considerable distance on electric power alone” (Frank 160). In 2007, General Motors debuted the Chevrolet Volt. The Volt is the world’s first production plug-in hybrid and is expected to hit showrooms in 2010.
Developments in hybrid automobile technology and increased awareness of the environmental impact of vehicle emissions have changed the automobile market drastically. Between 2000 and 2006 alone, “more than 40 different hybrid and alternative fuel models–8 million cars and light trucks–suddenly appeared on American roads” (Carr-Ruffino and Acheson 20). The Big Three automakers (GM, Ford, and DaimlerChrysler) have felt this shift in the market and are now adjusting to it. These automakers have been heavily criticized for their lack of progress in hybrid automobile technology and for being so far behind Toyota and Honda in the hybrid department. In June 2007, the Big Three automakers “agreed collectively to double annual production of vehicles capable of running on renewable fuels to two million cars and trucks by 2010” (Carr-Ruffino and Acheson 20). This shows that the Big Three are making progress in the area of hybrid automobiles, but it seems to be taking a long time. A great majority of their vehicles are still powered by a traditional internal combustion engine, with no assistance from battery power. The Chevrolet Volt, set to come out in 2010, may change this dramatically. If the Volt lives up to the hype surrounding it, General Motors could become the new power in hybrid vehicle technology.
Hybrid automobiles offer many benefits to the owner, and to the environment. First off, hybrid automobiles save the driver money on gasoline because they use far less gasoline than regular internal combustion engine vehicles. As of August 2007, “hybrids have saved more than an estimated one million pounds of smog-forming gases, one million metric tons of carbon dioxide and an estimated 125 million gallons of gasoline” (Carr-Ruffino and Acheson 17). Hybrids also allow society to “significantly reduce its dependence on fossil fuels” (Frank 165). By doing this, the United States will be able to become less dependent on foreign oil, especially oil from the Middle East. Hybrid automobiles also help to reduce the environmental impact of driving. Compared to internal combustion engine cars, hybrids produce far fewer emissions and use far less gas. The reduction of emissions is important because “transportation is responsible for about a quarter of the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere” (Carr-Ruffino and Acheson 17). Any reduction in this output would be extremely beneficial.
There is no doubt that hybrid technology is important to the development of future automobiles and technology in general. Hybrid technology will play “a major role in the future of jobs, companies, economies, and countries–as well as in our world-view of energy, transportation, and the environment” (Carr-Ruffino and Acheson 22). The impact of hybrid technology is already being felt today, and that is with only a fraction of the population driving these vehicles. With increased awareness of the environmental problems of the world, hybrid automobiles should continue increasing in sales and the technology will continually be developed. Hybrids will be an important part of transportation technology for many years to come, as well it should be.
Carr-Ruffino, Norma, and John Acheson “The Hybrid Phenomenon.” Futurist 41.4 (2007): 16-22. GreenFILE. EBSCO. Web. 4 Nov. 2009.
Frank, Andrew A. “Plug-in Hybrid Vehicles for a Sustainable Future.” American Scientist 95.2 (2007): 158-165. GreenFILE. EBSCO. Web. 4 Nov. 2009.