Given the current interest in alternatively powered vehicles, it is important to understand the difference between traditionally accepted hybrids, as opposed to the cars that are now being referred to as plug in hybrids (PHEV) scheduled for commercial release in the next three years. Essentially the design distinction between the two is simple. In the case of a traditional hybrid, an internal combustion engine, or ICE (whether diesel or gasoline) is the vehicle’s primary power plant, while an integrated electric power plant serves as a practical fuel-extension mechanism. In the case of the PHEV, however, an electric power plant serves as the car’s primary engine, while the ICE only provides underway co-generation that produces intermittent gains in acceleration, supports other vehicular housekeeping chores or recharges the batteries entirely in the event that access to the commercial utility grid is not available.
In the case of the PHEV configuration, the car only uses the ICE in the event that its batteries are nearly or entirely discharged. The batteries are typically of the Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) type, typically offering the most powerful, resilient and fastest-charging of the current crop of vehicle batteries. But regardless, at some point the batteries will require a charge and this is where the Electric/ICE configuration offers it’s most significant advantage over the traditional hybrid. Rather than deriving power from the ICE directly, the PHEV system automatically engages an internal generator that in-turn produces additional electrical power to keep the car moving along. And if that isn’t enough, as an additional technical value the PHEV provides the capability to plug the car directly into any handy 110 volt outlet, for conversion to direct current (DC) for high-rate overnight charging.
Manufacturers actively working on practical PHEV concepts include; Chevrolet (Volt), Saturn (Vue) and Ford (Edge) and the innovative technology is projected to produce between 20 to 40 percent more driving range than traditional configurations. All are targeted for release in the 2009 model year.