Hybrid Vehicles

Hybrid vehicle

A hybrid vehicle is a vehicle that uses two or more distinct power sources to propel the vehicle. Power sources include:

  • On-board or out-board rechargeable energy storage system (RESS)
  • Gasoline or Diesel fuel
  • Hydrogen
  • Compressed air
  • Human powered e.g. pedaling or rowing
  • Wind
  • Compressed or liquified natural gas
  • Solar
  • Coal, wood or other solid combustibles

The term most commonly refers to hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), which combine an internal combustion engine and one or more electric motors.

Vehicle type

Two-wheeled and cycle-type vehicles

Mopeds and electric bicycles are a simple form of a hybrid, as power is delivered both via an internal combustion engine or electric motor and the rider's muscles. Early prototypes of motorcycles in the late 1800s used the same principles.

  • In a parallel hybrid bicycle human and motor power are mechanically coupled at the pedal drive train or at the rear or the front wheel, e.g. using a hub motor, a roller pressing onto a tire, or a connection to a wheel using a transmission element. Human and motor torques are added together. Almost all manufactured models are of this type. See Motorized bicycles, Mopeds and for more information.
  • In a series hybrid bicycle (SH) the user powers a generator using the pedals. This is converted into electricity and can be fed directly to the motor giving a chainless bicycle but also to charge a battery. The motor draws power from the battery and must be able to deliver the full mechanical torque required because none is available from the pedals. SH bicycles are commercially available, because they are very simple in theory and manufacturing.

The first known prototype and publication of an SH bicycle is by Augustus Kinzel (US Patent 3'884'317) in 1975. In 1994 Bernie Macdonalds conceived the Electrilite SH lightweight vehicle which used power electronics allowing regenerative braking and pedaling while stationary. In 1995 Thomas Müller designed a "Fahrrad mit elektromagnetischem Antrieb" in his 1995 diploma thesis and built a functional vehicle. In 1996 Jürg Blatter and Andreas Fuchs of Berne University of Applied Sciences built an SH bicycle and in 1998 mounted the system onto a Leitra tricycle (European patent EP 1165188). In 1999 Harald Kutzke described his concept of the "active bicycle": the aim is to approach the ideal bicycle weighing nothing and having no drag by electronic compensation. Until 2005 Fuchs and colleagues built several prototype SH tricycles and quadricycles.

Heavy vehicles

Hybrid power trains are used for diesel-electric or turbo-electric railway locomotives, buses, heavy goods vehicles, mobile hydraulic machinery, and ships. Typically some form of heat engine (usually diesel) drives an electric generator or hydraulic pump which powers one or more electric or hydraulic motors. There are advantages in distributing power through wires or pipes rather than mechanical elements especially when multiple drives — e.g. driven wheels or propellers — are required. There is power lost in the double conversion from typically diesel fuel to electricity to power an electric or hydraulic motor. With large vehicles the advantages often outweigh the disadvantages especially as the conversion losses typically decrease with size. With the exception of non nuclear submarines, presently there is no or relatively little energy storage capacity on most heavy vehicles, e.g. auxiliary batteries and hydraulic accumulators—this is changing.

Road Transport, Commercial Vehicles

Early hybrid systems are being investigated for trucks and other heavy highway vehicles with some operational trucks and buses starting to come into use. The main obstacles seem to be smaller fleet sizes and the extra costs of a hybrid system are yet compensated for by fuel savings, but with the price of oil set to continue on its upward trend, the tipping point may be reached by the end of 1995. Advances in technology and lowered battery cost and higher capacity etc. developed in the hybrid car industry are already filtering into truck use as Toyota, Ford, GM and others introduce hybrid pickups and SUVs. Kenworth Truck Company recently introduced a hybrid-electric truck, called the Kenworth T270 Class 6 that for city usage seems to be competitive. FedEx and others are starting to invest in hybrid delivery type vehicles—particularly for city use where hybrid technology may pay off first. Since 2002, the U.S. military has been testing serial hybrid and have found them to deliver faster acceleration, a stealth mode with low thermal signature/ near silent operation, and greater fuel economy.


Ships with both mast-mounted sails and engines were an early form of hybrid vehicles. Newer hybrid ship-propulsion schemes include large towing kites manufactured by companies such as SkySails. Towing kites can fly at heights several times higher than the tallest ship masts, capturing stronger and steadier winds.


Delta Air Lines is going to be turning their Boeing 737NGs into hybrids in early 2010 by mounting the WheelTug ground propulsion system on their fleet of Boeing 737NGs. By using the APU, which is powered by a turbine, to power a Chorus Motor mounted on the landing gear for ground movement, Delta Air Lines will be creating a hybrid configuration by ceasing to use the main engines for anything but flight and take-off.

Hybrid electric-petroleum vehicles

When the term hybrid vehicle is used, it most often refers to a Hybrid electric vehicle. These encompass such vehicles as the AHS2 (Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon, Chevrolet Silverado, Cadillac Escalade, and the Saturn Vue), Toyota Prius, Toyota Camry Hybrid, Ford Escape Hybrid, Toyota Highlander Hybrid, Honda Insight, Honda Civic Hybrid and others. A petroleum-electric hybrid most commonly uses internal combustion engines (generally gasoline or Diesel engines, powered by a variety of fuels) and electric batteries to power electric motors. There are many types of petroleum-electric hybrid drivetrains, from Full hybrid to Mild hybrid, which offer varying advantages and disadvantages.

While liquid fuel/electric hybrids date back to the late 1800s, the braking regenerative hybrid was invented by David Arthurs, an electrical engineer from Springdale, Arkansas in 1978-79. His home-converted Opel GT was reported to get as much as 75MPG and plans are still sold to this original design, and the "Mother Earth News" modified version on their website.