Lexus CT200h

Toyota recently sold their three millionth Prius, and the hybrid’s popularity among consumers keeps going up. In spite of this, hybrids only make up around three percent of the car buying world, and it turns out, a large number of car buyers still aren’t really sure what a hybrid is anyway.

One third of car buyers were unaware that hybrids used both gasoline engines and batteries. Only two thirds of the people polled knew that a hybrid car is capable of briefly running on pure electric power alone. The results were even murkier for topics like vehicle charge times, electric range and even emissions, according to Media Post.

The survey was held by a marketing firm called Synovate, and included almost two thousand new car buyers.

This is bad news for manufacturers who are trying to push hybrid technology, particularly Toyota which has spent a lot of time and advertising dollars trying to educate customers on the hybrid platform.

Hybrids and ultra fuel efficient cars are becoming more popular, partly because of an increase in demand from consumers, and partly because manufacturers are trying to meet the new federal regulations that will require a car manufacturer’s whole fleet to average 34.1 miles per gallon. That process will cost the average manufacturer around $950 per car to make the necessary upgrades, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

For those who still need some clarity on the topic, we’ve provided a short description on each of the three major types of alternative vehicles.


Traditional Hybrids (Toyota Prius, Honda Insight and many others)

This is the most common type of hybrid and what people will generally think about when you bring up the category. A gasoline engine powers the wheels as in a normal car, however, an on-board electric motor provides additional power so the gasoline engine doesn’t have to all the work by itself. When the engine doesn’t work as hard, it uses less fuel, thus saving gasoline.

Electricity is stored in on-board batteries and is usually restored when the car slows down thanks to a trick power generator attached to the brakes. When you slow down, you charge up.


Electric Cars (Nissan Leaf, Tesla Roadster)

This car genre has actually been around for decades, but only recently has technology allowed the electric car to be practical enough for every day use. The car is powered only by an electric motor.

Batteries are stored in the car, and are usually re-charged when the owner plugs it in at the end of the day. Re-charging can take tens of hours if using a normal household power chord, but the time can be slashed to under an hour if using a purpose built charging station.


Plug-in Hybrids (Chevrolet Volt)

This type is really an all-electric car with a gasoline power generator on board. The advantage here is that when the batteries are depleted, the generator turns on and charges the batteries. In concept, it’s not much different from using a household power generator when a storm knocks out your neighborhood’s electricity.

Before the generator turns on, the car uses no gasoline at all. Unfortunately, when the generator is running, the car becomes less fuel efficient than a traditional hybrid. The advantage over an all-electric car, is that you can go on road trips to places that don’t have charging stations on the way.

Batteries are on-board and are charged through the same braking system as the traditional hybrids, by the gasoline motor or when plugged into a wall like an all-electric car.

author photo

J. Mark Sternberg is an automotive journalist, car enthusiast and writer with a degree from the University of Arizona. Mark is a devoted Formula 1 fan and also enjoys boating, flying and attending the occasional track day.

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