Hybrid vehicles continue to gain popularity.
A hybrid is so named because it uses two powertrains, a gasoline engine plus an electric motor and battery pack. Generally speaking, the hybrid runs on electric power at lower speeds. When extra power or higher speed is needed, or the battery is depleted, the gasoline engine turns on and takes over.
Hybrids fall under the category of electrification, along with battery electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids and fuel cell vehicles.
While automakers are offering more purely electric driven vehicles, acceptance is slow due to their limited range and high charging times. Our climate is less conducive to EVs as well, since low temperatures reduce battery efficiency. Some new models such as the Chevrolet Spark EV aren't even offered for sale in this area.
A new angle on hybrid cars, which is finally making it to the streets in higher numbers, is the plug-in hybrid. Regular hybrid cars don't need to be, in fact can't be, charged from an external source. Plug-in hybrids employ a larger battery pack that you charge. That way the fist number of miles you drive are electric-only. When that charge runs down, the gasoline engines turns on to either drive the wheels or charge the batteries, depending on the vehicle. General Motors received a lot of attention with one of the first ones to market, the Chevrolet Volt. Now GM is applying that technology to the luxurious Cadillac ELR.
"The only similarity is the powertrain," said Jason Boone, sales manager at Schepel Cadillac in Merrillville. "The ELR is a coupe, while the Volt is a sedan. The sheet metal, the suspension, the interior, is all totally different ... I can see it appealing to someone like a higher income business owner who wants that green attribute. Someone who can use the plug-in feature everyday at their place of business."
The evolution of hybrid and electric vehicles is leading towards hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles. A fuel cell combines hydrogen fuel with oxygen to generate electricity to power an electric car. It is a zero emissions vehicle as the only byproduct is water vapor. They take only a few minutes to fuel, unlike battery electric cars, and have a range up to 300 miles.
The hurdles are creating a supply infrastructure for hydrogen fuel, and the cost of the new technology. Running fuel cell prototypes have been around for over a dozen years. Honda even has a limited number of vehicles in consumer hands. Honda introduced the FCEV Concept at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November to preview its next-generation fuel cell vehicle.
Toyota followed at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month, introducing the FCV Concept, which it said will go on sale next year.
However, Hyundai stole show by rolling out the Tucson Fuel Cell, which it said will be available late this spring. Based on their popular Tucson crossover, the Tucson Fuel Cell will be offered with a $499 per month lease, which includes unlimited hydrogen fuel.
Unfortunately, like a lot alternative vehicles, the launch will be limited to specific areas. In this case only Southern California consumers and car rental agencies will get it for now. Unlike battery electric vehicles, according to Hyundai, fuel cell vehicles are minimally affected by cold weather so that may change in the future.