Hybrids and what they mean in a modern workshop

When it comes to cars the current technical buzzword most used is ‘hybrid’. Auto-Torque looks at the past and future of hybrid vehicles and asks “is this the end of the internal combustion engine?”

The aim of making cars more efficient and less polluting has seen a rise in technology searching, with some car makers favouring internal combustion engines, some looking more and more at
cars solely powered by electricity and some looking at hybrids, where different power sources – effectively more than one engine or motor – provide the propulsion.

While straightforward electric cars have advanced considerably in the past two decades, it’s the internal combustion engine that still reigns supreme. Both petrol and diesel engines are still slugging it out when it comes to the best mixture of power, fuel efficiency and economy – but there is another way.

That other way is the hybrid, where a combination of petrol or diesel engine and electric motors offer both open-road performance and urban fuel efficiency.

It’s all terribly modern, and bang-up-to-date.

Except it isn’t – not by any means. You’ll have to go back more than 100 years to find the Lohner-Porsche mixte hybrid, developed by Ferdinand Porsche. The earliest example used a battery
to power electric motors in each front wheel, while later a petrol engine powered a generator which in turn drove the motors. The design meant there was no need for a gearbox.

Unveiled in 1900 it was hardly the lightweight hybrid you’d find today, the first model tipping the scales at 1.8 tonnes. Much of that weight was attributed to the enormous 80-volt battery.

Lohner-Porsche mixte hybrid… The earliest example used a battery to power electric motors in each front wheel.

Just like today, motor sport was a way of demonstrating new technology and Ferdinand Porsche campaigned his creation in endurance trials and Austrian Land Speed Records, ultimately
reaching a heady 37mph.

Today the principle is very much the same, but there are different hybrid configurations. An internal combustion engine and electric motor is the most common, but different fuel types can be used in the petrol engine – not just petrol or diesel but liquid petroleum gas as well.

How the two power units transmit drive can vary – usually it is one or the other, but the ‘series-parallel’ hybrid sees both power units working at the same time, with some systems seeing a second electric motor working as a continuously variable transmission. These systems are used in the Toyota Prius and several Lexus models, as well as some American Fords.

Ford has been busy advancing petrol engine technology, its EcoBoost engines offering disproportionately large amounts of power when compared with bigger engines. Smallest in the EcoBoost line-up is a 1000cc turbocharged three cylinder available in 101PS and 120-125PS forms, as well as two normallyaspirated versions. Using a traditional iron block and an oilimmersed timing belt, engineers have succeeded in doing away with balance shafts, which might have been expected on a small engine developing so much power.

With the recent VW scandal putting diesel engines back in the media spotlight motorists are looking at petrol engines with fresh eyes, and the three-cylinder Ecoboost offers many drivers the mixture of performance and economy they want.