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Hybrid cars help accelerate the green movement
By Nicole Harbour

With the advent of the green movement, people are striving to live more environmentally responsible lives now more than ever, and car manufacturers and dealers are no exception.

Hybrid cars, which are powered by both gasoline engines and electric motors, are beginning to catch on, and in light of the Obama administration’s stricter gas mileage standards that were announced in April — requiring vehicles to meet fuel efficiency targets of 35.5 mpg by 2016 — they are catching on just in time.

Unlike a normal car, which relies on a car battery and a large gasoline engine to power it, a hybrid vehicle utilizes a small gas engine, an electric motor, a generator and batteries. 

Since the hybrid contains multiple energy sources, it does not solely depend on the gas engine and will occasionally turn the gas engine off, relying only on the electric motor and battery. This usually happens when the car is idling at a red light or is beginning to accelerate from a stop, and is the secret behind the hybrid’s increased fuel efficiency and lower greenhouse gas emissions. The gas engine usually turns back on again once the car reaches speeds of about 40 mph.

“There are two reasons people buy hybrid cars,” says Mylas Copeland, general manager of Green Toyota, Scion, Volkswagen, Audi. 

“They buy them because of increased fuel economy, or they buy them because they are environmentally conscious. I think that the increased fuel economy is often the main reason, but people buy them for both reasons.”

Toyota currently offers three hybrid models: the Camry Hybrid, Highlander Hybrid and Prius, and while Toyota has been offering hybrid vehicles in the United States since 2000, they were being developed in Japan six years earlier.

“Toyota has been working on hybrid cars for a while, and there has been an increase in popularity and more awareness of them lately,” Copeland says.

The third-generation Prius, one of Toyota’s most popular hybrids, averages 51 mpg in the city and 48 mpg on the highway, and with seven airbags, enhanced vehicle stability control that helps the driver steer in the direction that provides the greatest control and an integrated safety system, the Prius is one of the safest hybrid vehicles, according to Copeland.

“The Prius has great safety features,” Copeland says. “It has brake assistance and uses advanced technology, and with two kids of my own, safety is a big issue. You can’t get a safer car.”

In addition to safety, the Toyota hybrids also help the consumer save money on gasoline.

“Hybrid cars are great for city driving,” says Copeland. With standard cars in stop-and-go city traffic, slowing down the car requires a loss of kinetic energy in the form of heat, but with hybrid cars, the electric motor can help to slow and stop the car, restoring some of the kinetic energy and converting it into electricity that is stored in the battery. This electricity can help power the car later, again helping to increase the fuel efficiency of the car and decreasing dependence on the gasoline engine.

Increased fuel efficiency is one of the main reasons Adam Castelli, a Springfield resident, bought his 2009 Honda Civic Hybrid six months ago.

“I bought it through Cash for Clunkers,” Castelli says. “I was tired of paying tons of money for gas, and I thought the increased efficiency was a good thing to support.”

Honda began offering hybrid cars in 2000, beginning with the Honda Insight. Honda currently offers the Insight and Civic Hybrid, which get 40 mpg and 45 mpg on the highway respectively. With Bluetooth Handsfreelink, the Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation System with voice recognition, side curtain airbags and vehicle stability assistance, which aids the driver in maintaining control of the vehicle if there is any slippage, the Honda hybrids are safe as well as environmentally responsible.

The folks at Honda of Illinois are starting to get the feeling that as gas prices  make their way up, the interest in hybrids will grow. If their hunch is correct, and who can argue with the logic, that may project well for hybrid sales this summer.

Another hybrid that will be entering the market later this year is the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. 

Hyundai’s first hybrid vehicle, the Sonata Hybrid is projected to get 39 mpg on the highway and 37 mpg in the city, as well as stay under electric power at steady speeds of up to 62 mph. 

“Hybrid cars are definitely better for the environment,” says Mike Quimby, general manager of Green Hyundai in Springfield, “but they cost more than a standard car. For most people, it seems it may be better to go with a standard, fuel-efficient car, but for those who want to do their part in the environment, hybrids are good.”

Although hybrids are not as popular in Illinois as they are in California and larger cities, many project that their popularity will increase in the future, especially with new technological advances and developments.

“I think hybrid cars will become more popular down the road, and plug-in hybrids will change the car industry,” Quimby says. n 

Story published Friday, May 7, 2010 ( Volume 5, Number 3 )

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