July 21, 2024
Industry News

Understanding Hybrid Cars and Their Functionality

With the introduction of the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius in the 1990s, hybrid cars became popular. Now, after 25 years, hybrid powertrains are gaining more attention from car buyers as a transitional option to fully electric cars.

A hybrid car combines an electric motor and a gas engine to power the vehicle, resulting in improved fuel economy. In 2000, less than 10,000 hybrids were sold, but by 2023, hybrids and fully electric cars made up 16.3% of U.S. car sales. Hybrids are expected to surpass 20% of total vehicle sales in 2024.

Hybrid cars typically feature a smaller electric motor and battery pack than fully electric vehicles. The combination of the electric motor and engine allows for efficient power delivery.

What is a hybrid car?

Hybrid cars offer a balance between easy refueling like traditional ICE vehicles and the efficiency of an electric motor. The Toyota Prius stands out as the most successful hybrid vehicle to date.

Hybrid cars are more complex to design and produce compared to traditional ICE vehicles. They blend both ICE and electric power for a unique driving experience.

There are four types of hybrid cars: mild hybrid, parallel hybrid, series (or range-extender) hybrid, and plug-in hybrid.

Serial vs. parallel hybrid cars

Hybrids can be classified as serial or parallel hybrid cars. Parallel hybrids, like the Toyota Prius, use both the engine and electric motor to deliver power. Series hybrids, such as the Chevrolet Volt, utilize the engine as a generator to charge the battery pack.

Plug-in hybrid vs. regular hybrid cars

Plug-in hybrids can be charged externally, offering extended electric-only driving range. They offer a hybrid experience closer to electric cars than traditional hybrids.

Today, a wide range of vehicles offer hybrid options, from hatchbacks to SUVs and even pickup trucks.

What isn’t a hybrid car?

Cars powered solely by internal combustion engines

Traditional ICE vehicles rely solely on combustion engines without electric drive power, distinguishing them from hybrids.

Electric cars

Electric cars eliminate combustion engines and operate solely on electric power, addressing environmental concerns related to emissions.

Senior Editor Jeremy Korzeniewski contributed to this article.


Q: What makes a hybrid car different from an electric car?

A: Hybrid cars combine both electric and combustion engine power, offering a balance between fuel efficiency and range, while electric cars operate solely on electric power.


Hybrid cars have come a long way since their introduction, offering a practical and efficient alternative to traditional ICE vehicles. With the variety of hybrid options available today, car buyers have more choices to reduce emissions and improve fuel economy.

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