Environmental Chemistry

What does a hybrid car means and how it works?

Hybrid car meaning?

The Toyota Prius is an icon of the hybrid car.

hybrid vehicle is a vehicle that uses at least two different sources of energy to move. Generally, the term car hybrid car which uses a fuel and electricity to move by means of two motors: one thermal and the other electric.

From a certain point of view, hydrogen cars can be thought of as hybrid vehicles. They use the hydrogen from their fuel cell as a source of chemical energy to power a battery and an electric motor.

Types of hybridization

There are several degrees of hybridization depending on the importance of the electrical system in the locomotion of the vehicle.

From the lowest degree of hybridization to the highest, we talk about:

  • microhybrid Start & Stop;
  • semi-hybrid;
  • full hybrid;
  • plug-in hybrid.

Microhybrid cars

The microhybrid vehicles are equipped with the Start & Stop system. This system ensures the automatic starting and stopping of the heat engine during the stop phases.

 It thus makes it possible to save fuel and reduce pollutant emissions (CO 2 , exhaust gases ) and noise during multiple stops-restarts of urban traffic (traffic lights, traffic jams, etc.).


Semi-hybrid machines are variants based on the Start & Stop system, which also use electricity to power other systems.

Lighting and on-board devices, among others, thus benefit from the electricity stored in the vehicle’s battery, which is itself recharged by the heat engine and the braking phases.

The semi-hybrid differs from a simple Start & Stop in the assistance of the thermal engine by an electric motor.

 This provides extra power during the start-up, acceleration and recovery phases.

The full hybrid

Full hybrids are the most well-known hybrid cars, with the Toyota Prius as a symbol. These vehicles have two combined engines, thermal and electric.

Electricity is produced by the heat engine, but also by regenerative braking : when the vehicle brakes, the wheels drive the electric motor which operates as a generator . The energy produced is stored in a battery.

Plug-in hybrid

Finally, plug-in hybrids are a variant of the full hybrid model . Their specificity is to allow recharging of the vehicle’s battery when stationary using a power outlet.

This type of vehicle is therefore capable of operating in all-electric mode independently of the heat engine, at least over small distances.

The different functions of the hybrid carhybrid car

Depending on its degree of hybridization, a hybrid car goes through different operating phases:

  • when stopped, the two motors stop and no longer consume energy (Start & Stop and beyond). The battery is recharged at an electric terminal (rechargeable hybrid);
  • when starting, the electric motor causes the thermal engine to start (Start & Stop and beyond);
  • at low speed , the electric motor replaces the heat engine and the vehicle switches to all-electric mode as long as the battery allows (full hybrid and beyond);
  • during episodes of acceleration and recovery, the electric motor provides assistance to the heat engine (semi-hybrid and beyond);
  • at high speed and during strong acceleration, the heat engine ensures the locomotion of the vehicle (all models);
  • during braking phases, regenerative braking acts as an engine brake and recharges the battery (semi-hybrid and beyond).

Benefits of hybrid cars for the environment

Hybrid cars, in particular plug-in hybrids, therefore have the particularity of taking advantage of the range and fuel distribution network of conventional cars while emitting less CO 2 and pollutants, or even occasionally going without fuel.

Hybridization of engines is therefore part of the solution to the transition to clean vehicles that are independent of fossil fuels .

How a hybrid car works

hybdrid car
hybrid car meaning

A hybrid vehicle is equipped with a heat engine which has a generally electrochemical energy storage system.

 This allows it to store kinetic energy during decelerations, but also the excess energy produced in certain driving situations.

This engine is always maintained in an optimal operating zone, to avoid peaks in fuel consumption , and, when the power required at time t is too low, the excess energy produced is stored to be remobilized later. .

The different operating phases of Toyota hybrid technology. The Japanese manufacturer was the first to bring a hybrid car to the market. A curiosity in the 1990s.

Several levels of hybridization

The vehicles available on the market have varying levels of hybridization:

  • Microhybridization simply makes it possible to take over from the heat engine in order to supply power to the electrical peripherals. It ensures a reduction in consumption of around 5%. It is adopted by a large majority of manufacturers. The German BMW was the first to generalize this technology.
  • Light hybridization ( semi hybrid ), for its part, actually relies on a battery of several hundred watt hours and allows savings of 10 to 30% on urban journeys.
  • Full hybridization ( full hybrid ) – this is the example of the classic Toyota Prius or the Ford MOndeo Hybrid – allows the car to run from its only stored energy reserve. The reduction in consumption can go up to 50%.
  • Plug-in hybrids – for example the Volkswagen Passat GTE, the Audi A3 e-tron or the Mercedes C-Class 350e -, finally, can run for several tens of kilometers like real electric vehicles .

Series, parallel or power bypass hybrids

Two major hybridization solutions can be proposed:

  • The so-called “series” hybrids are rather rare. Here, the heat engine works like a generator , to produce the electricity needed by the electric motor to drive the car.
  • The so-called “parallel” hybrids are the most common. In this case, the two engines are able to propel the car separately.

Power-bypass hybrids combine the previous two solutions. Here, 100% electric propulsion is possible, but part of the heat engine’s power is always transformed into electricity, either to recharge the battery or to directly supply the electric motor.

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