If we look back at the history of hybrid cars, there's no denying that Toyota is basically the company that helped popularise it.
Yes, they were not the first, but it was Toyota with their Prius that made hybrid technology widespread to the masses. In international markets since its debut in 1997, the Prius is considered to be the world's best-selling hybrid vehicle, spawning the Toyota Hybrid Drive that is now seen in a lot of newer Toyotas.
But what is Toyota's Hybrid Drive? How does it work to improve a Toyota and save your fuel costs? To answer this, we must first understand what a hybrid car is?
What is a hybrid car?
A hybrid car, popularly known as HEV, is basically a vehicle with two or more power sources. They usually consist of an internal combustion engine (ICE) and an electric motor. This synergy gives cars better fuel efficiency, lower emissions, as well as provide you with smoother acceleration and reduced emissions.
Next question, what is an HEV?
An HEV is usually a vehicle made with hybrid batteries. Unlike conventional vehicles with ICE, hybrid cars are powered by a combustion engine (petrol/diesel) and an electric motor that gets its juice from the hybrid battery.
HEVs do not have a socket for recharging purposes as the batteries are generally recharged through a regenerative braking process. When the brakes are pressed, the energy accumulated from the vehicle's braking is converted to electric energy, which in turn charges the battery pack.
The advantage of an HEV compared to a conventional vehicle is, of course, better fuel economy which in succession provides you with lower fuel costs.
HEVs also have lower greenhouse gas emissions than their conventional ICE counterparts, especially when it is running purely on electricity from the batteries at low speeds.
More questions: How does Toyota's Hybrid Drive work?
The Toyota Hybrid System (THS) is an HEV system that combines a highly efficient petrol engine with an electric motor to provide efficiency, drivability, performance and longer range between refuelling.
THS consists of six primary components:
- an ICE engine
- electric motor
- hybrid battery
- electric generator
- power control unit
- power split device that employs a unique gearbox to distribute power from the engine, motor, and generator smoothly.
It's a clever fuel-saving system that can seamlessly and automatically switch between electric and conventional engine power. It can also adapt to different driving conditions, where the THS intelligently controls the power coming from both sources and tells the car how to combine them for the greatest efficiency and performance.
The system delivers a synergy between the two power sources. For example, when starting off and accelerating, which generally reduces fuel efficiency, the system uses its electric motor to accelerate efficiently and powerfully.
When driving conditions allow it, such as in slow-moving traffic, the generator can cut out the petrol engine and let the electric motor take over for zero-emissions travelling. This sophisticated engine management system can also sense when the car is stopped and will switch off the engine to conserve power and cut emissions, automatically starting up again when needed.
The battery is kept well charged by the system, so a hybrid-powered Toyota won't need to be plugged into an external supply to be recharged.
But, how is the battery charged?
THS charges the batteries in a couple of ways:
- The first way it does this is through the petrol engine, which drives the generator to charge the battery.
- The second way it charges the battery is through regenerative braking, converting braking energy into electric energy.
Every time a driver puts their foot on the brake or lifts off the accelerator, the system diverts energy back to the battery. Instead of wasting energy as heat or noise from the brakes, the system recovers kinetic energy as electrical power.
This is an excellent system, especially for those who are constantly in stop-start traffic, as the system recovers and stores a great deal of energy that would be otherwise lost.
Aaah so you ask, how long can the hybrid battery last?
The 4th generation THS battery has been improved drastically and is designed to last as long as the vehicle itself. Toyota has managed to achieve this by improving the battery's cooling system, including changing the cooling air filter material for better dust-protection (mesh to non-woven fabric), improving filter accessibility for easier cleaning and relocating the air intake for better quality cooling performance.
Not only have they improved its durability, but they have also improved its pack structure, which is now made more compact to allow the pack to be installed under the rear seats, thus ensuring the same luggage capacity as its ICE equivalent.
It sounds all eco-friendly, but what is it like to drive?
The 4th Gen THS adopts more of a compact design and the use of efficient components (Hybrid battery, transaxle, motor etc.), which contributes to weight saving of the whole system.
When you combine this with the hybrid system's positioning, which helps lower the vehicle's centre of gravity, a Toyota HEV is actually quite a fun car to drive.
Some people might think HEVs are slow and boring, but on the contrary, HEVs can perform rapid acceleration in every speed range. In addition, the electric motor supports the car with more responsive and controllable acceleration, especially when launching from a standstill.
If that doesn't do it for you, we're pretty sure its serene NVH attributes will, as the engine relies heavily on the electric motor, which pretty much gives you a refined driving experience.
You can also select 'EV MODE', which allows you to run the vehicle using only the electric motor if you wish to run the vehicle quietly, for example, early in the morning or late at night.
Tapi kan, is a Toyota HEV good for Malaysia?
According to Toyota, they consider HEVs as the most realistic and affordable choice for Malaysians at this point in time. Due to the lack of charging infrastructure plus the ability to charge itself, a Toyota HEV is the most realistic and dare we say affordable move into electrification for the masses.
HEVs are also only approximately 10% more expensive than their internal combustion engine (ICE) equivalent, but still more affordable compared to fully electric vehicles.
In effect then, are HEVs the answer for today, for Malaysia?