When GM recently unveiled its latest whiz-bang concept vehicle, the Chevy Volt, the company called it everything but a hybrid. GM executives assured the media throng that the Volt is not a hybrid, but rather an “electric car with a gas engine range extender.” Score zero for the spin doctors. The press consistently referred to the Volt as a “plug-in series hybrid,” or just—ah, simplicity—a “hybrid.”
Three short years ago, just three vehicles comprised the hybrid market. At that time, the term “hybrid car” could be described without much trouble: a vehicle that uses gas and electricity to get exceptional mileage. The quadrupling of the hybrid market—11 vehicles are sold today; 10 more are set for release this year—has brought, unfortunately, a similarly savage market in the area of hybrid lexicon. I’m a hybrid; you’re not a hybrid. Wouldn’t you like to be a hybrid too?
GM executives say that the Chevy Volt is not a hybrid, but rather an "electric car with a gas engine range extender." The current hybrid spin battle is just a prelude for the gigantic brawl to come, as automakers try every possible combination of engine, motor, battery, and fuel—and other hybridizations to come—with the goal of making internal combustion engine cars that only burn petroleum a thing of the past.
Consider: Toyota hybrid drivers call their Priuses “full hybrids” and wag their fingers at Honda’s offerings as “mild.” Honda insists that its latest generation Civic Hybrid is actually full, and scoff at the Saturn Vue Green Line as the only mild hybrid. The Union of Concerned Scientists won’t even put the Saturn in the hybrid solar system, instead dismissing it with the term “hollow hybrid.” Environmentalists decry the high-performance Lexus hybrids, and the Honda Accord Hybrid as “muscle hybrids.” And later this year, the most muscular of hybrids, the gas-electric versions of the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon, will introduce the world to GM’s “two-mode” hybrid system.
Confused yet? Just wait until the launch in two or three years of the Citroen 4, which will combine power from a diesel engine and electric batteries. Or how about when Saab’s E85 biofuel hybrid hits the streets? Or when the Honda’s FCX, a hybrid hydrogen fuel cell lithium battery vehicle, becomes available?
And we haven’t even considered the plug-in hybrid, which would charge overnight through an outlet in the garage and be ready in the morning to zoom down the highway without using gasoline for a number of miles before calling upon the internal combustion engine. Automakers somehow managed to agree at least on the nomenclature for plug-in hybrids, which will be labeled according to their all-electric range: HEV-5 for 5 miles of gas-free driving, HEV-10 for 10 miles exclusively on batteries, and so on. Oy.
Just remember that the spin battle is just a prelude for the gigantic brawl to come, as automakers try every possible combination of engine, motor, battery, and fuel—and other hybridizations to come—with the goal of making internal combustion engine cars that only burn petroleum a thing of the past. At that point, all cars will be hybrids, and we’ll know them by one name: cars.