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What is a hybrid car and how do they work?

It may seem like hybrids are a relatively new innovation. However, Toyota has been producing hybrid Cars for more than 20 years, and is currently on its fourth generation hybrid system. Find out what makes hybrid cars the vehicle of choice for many New Zealanders.

What is a hybrid car?

A hybrid is a car that is powered by a conventional engine, an electric motor and a hybrid battery. Hybrid cars like the Toyota RAV4 hybrid can switch between the petrol engine and electric motor, or combine both power sources depending on the driving scenario.

For low speed driving, coasting and decelerating hybrid cars mostly use their electric motor (depending on the state of charge of battery). When the engine isn’t needed, say if you’re idling at the lights, it shuts off altogether. This makes hybrids incredibly fuel-efficient as they tend to only use the engine for accelerating, climbing hills or when extra power is required.

In terms of performance, driving a hybrid is much like driving a regular car. Hybrids automatically charge their own hybrid battery so you don’t need to use an external charging point or worry about the distance you can drive.

Inevitably you will need to fill up but with the Toyota Corolla Hatch ZR Hybrid using 4.2 L/100km compare to its petrol counterpart using 6.0 L/100km means petrol costs are significantly reduced when driving a hybrid. Hybrid cars also emit less CO2 than a conventional ICE cars.

How do hybrid cars work?

Hybrid cars use a combination of an internal combustion engine (ICE) and a battery electric drive motor. The engine and the motor can work separately or together to power the wheels. Here are 5 different driving scenarios so you can see how hybrid cars work.


1. When pulling away from a stop

The electric motor gets the car moving initially, and draws on the hybrid battery for power.


2. During normal cruising

Both the electric motor and petrol engine can run together or independently when cruising at higher speeds.


3. During heavy acceleration

The petrol engine provides power during heavy acceleration and higher speeds.


4. During braking and deceleration

When the brakes are applied or you ease pressure on the accelerator, power is stopped being fed to the wheels.


5. When coming to a complete stop

Both the petrol engine and the electric motor turn off once the vehicle comes to a complete stop. Battery power is used to keep vehicle systems running, e.g lights, radio, air conditioning etc.

Hybrid cars  are well suited for stop-start city driving and reducing CO2 emissions since they generally run on electric only power at low speeds.

Learn more about EVs, PHEVs and Hybrids