What is a self charging hybrid?​​

Tom Barnard


We all like the idea of innovations which do things by themselves, like a self-cleaning oven, or a self-basting turkey. So, on the face of it, a self-charging hybrid sounds like an excellent idea. You don’t have to worry about finding a charger or plugging in cables!

The reality is not quite so impressive though, as there aren’t any miracles involved. You’ll avoid plugging in, but you’ll have to fill up with fuel instead. The good news is that any hybrid will generally be more efficient than a conventional petrol or diesel car, but it won’t ever be as cheap to run as a car which uses energy from the grid for some or all its power.

How does it work?

The term ‘self-charging hybrid’ was invented by marketing people to describe a HEV, or hybrid electric vehicle. These have a very small battery, an electric motor, and a larger petrol (or occasionally diesel) engine.

The battery is charged automatically using electricity created and captured when the car slows down. This happens as the electric motor switches to becomes a generator, harnessing energy which is usually wasted. It’s sort of like recycling.

This power is then used to feed the electric motor when you press on the accelerator again. As the petrol engine doesn’t have to work as hard because it’s getting a helping hand, it improves fuel economy and lowers emissions. It also makes the car feel faster.

The driver doesn’t have to do anything to initiate this process – the car just works it out itself. You can usually choose a few different modes however to make the car behave differently and be sportier or more economical.

Just to complicate things further, there’s a new type of hybrid which works in a different way. Instead of having an electric motor helping the engine occasionally, the new versions have a petrol engine which works solely as a generator to provide electricity to the battery. This is then fed to the motors which propel the car along, so there is no physical connection between the petrol engine and the wheels.

This can make the car even more economical as the petrol engine can be set to run at its most efficient levels, while the battery takes some of the strain and smooths out the peaks and troughs in demand for acceleration and braking. This system is currently used by Honda in the Jazz and Nissan in the new Qashqai, but others will follow

A screen will usually tell you where the power is flowing around your hybrid system

Will a self-charging hybrid suit me?

Look past the marketing term and it’s clear that a conventional hybrid doesn’t have the same ability to use the electricity grid to power your car. Its sole power source is from fuel which comes from a pump and it burns stuff to make it go.

That said, it is more efficient than a conventionally-engined car, usually by about 20%, especially if you drive in towns or heavy traffic.

It’s quite likely that many drivers don’t really care what is happening under the bonnet and just want to have a simple way of getting around while using the least amount of fuel. For them, a hybrid will allow them to use their car in exactly the way they’re used to, filling up with fuel at the petrol station and driving around without having to worry about plugging in.

Are they reliable?

Yes – it seems so. Hybrids made by Toyota and Honda have been around since the late 1990s and are especially popular with taxi drivers who rack up huge mileages. They seem to rarely fail, but the batteries do degrade over time and become less useful. That means the car has to use the petrol engine more of the time.

There’s not quite so much data on other maker’s hybrids as they’re not so old, but there are very few horror stories out there.

Will hybrids be banned in 2030?

These types of ‘self-charging’ hybrids will be included in the 2030 ban sales of new petrol and diesel cars as they can’t travel for a ‘significant’ distance on electric power alone. Plug ins which do have the capability to go the distance (which has yet to be defined) will have until 2035 before the axe falls.

Hybrids are reliable over huge mileages - just ask any taxi driver

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