Blog : A New Year’s Rant-solution – Hybrid cars

By Gemma Hawtry

– or –

 Stupid mode (well & truly): ON.

Honda CR-Z - hybrid state of the art in 2011
Honda CR-Z - hybrid state of the art in 2011

Those petrolheads (sic) that follow the green side of things will have noticed some depressing stories of late. One of the more notable has been the outbreak of spontaneous Chevy Volt combustion. Another hailing from American shores is the (slightly dubious) calculation that based on the six thousand odd Volts sold they’ve cost the US taxpayer $250,000 a pop (basically find goverment total subsidy figures for the Volt and divide by six thousand, an almost Clarksonesque feat of mathematical irrelevance).

Many of you will already know my feelings on batteries, ‘lectric and the world of cars. But to summarise. If you want high efficiency; from mining the metal ore used; to the final product – rare earths and lithium and other hard to obtain elements are not the way to go. Small displacement high power engines running multi turbo/intercooler/aftercoolers on either diesel or petrol are the way to go.

In 1987 the 2.2i Douvrin engine put out 123hp.

In 2011 the 1.0i Ecoboost engine puts out precisely the same output.

Less than half the displacement for the same power. It must be magic!! No, its not. Its not even anything new. Japanese manufacturers have been doing for years in kei cars. You want 130hp from a 650cc engine – find a kei car. They even did a turbo version of the original Nissan Micra, although only the Gods know why.

So can someone tell me why we need range limited, COx expensive, potentially explosive batteries (just add lithium to water, and have a good health plan) strapped under our behinds? The simple answer is we dont, but, like a Jedi with an ulterior motive, they would like you to think we do..

Toyota are just releasing a Yaris sized baby sister to the Prius we know and loathe.

Its a fairly well understood concept by now that the more power you have in a given vehicle, the better its fuel consumption will be (with the proviso that the power and torque be in usable rev bands, yes Renault, i’m glaring at you here). Its also generally understood by everyone *but* Toyota that the HSD system is a mild hybrid. This means the petrol engine does most of the work.

So please tell me why Toyota; have you chosen to put a gutless 1.6 98hp engine in there, when you had sooo many better choices. A 1972 H120 managed 10hp more than that!

I’m not saying that hybrids are all bad – but the current generation are dismal as regards *real* economy. The majority, bar to be fair, the Honda Insight, are lardy overpriced and expensive, both in price and in their COx footprint. Even the Insight has its issues (suicidal earth connections and wheezy performance being two).

My maternal grandfather, when he wasnt dictating letters to the government (which usually had me in stitches), or reminicing about the Battle of Cable Street (the real one, not the charge of the Treacle Mine Road brigade*) always said ‘if you are going to do it, do it properly’.

Personally I consider battery/electric hybrids to be an evolutionary dead end – but heres my version of doing it properly, Toyota style.

  1. Design attractive, safe, light bodyshell. For heavens sake guys, its a car, not an infantry tank. Use LED lighting all round and fit EL displays where needed. Low rolling resistance tyres, disc cast wheels, either run flat or tire sealant (spare tire delete). Removable rear seats, weight equals consumption and most journeys are driver only.
  2. Use battery arrays that can be user serviced and DONT use rare element sealed batteries. Just some elementary chemistry here but the way Lithium reacts to water can have similar, if messier, effects to the way Wookies react to losing. Deep cycle lead-acid was good enough for your dads national service so its good enough for you.
  3. YOU HAVE A ICE ENGINE. It makes heat. Cold batteries prefer being toasty (I speak from personal experience, trying to do sonar mapping in arctic conditions with NiMh batteries would try the patience of a saint). Theres something called a thermos flask… Think on! Its not beyond the wit of man to realise that using the battery’s power to heat itself is dumb when theres oodles of waste heat under the bonnet already.
  4. Like liquidity in a US bank, you can never have enough power! It takes a given amount of power to move a given object at a given speed. The more power you put in said object, the faster it will go.

(Unless its a 911, wherein the equation is
x+y = (z = t-(a/y))

given x = original power, y = new increase, a = age of driver, t = time it took last time to end up in a 360 spin/buried in a tree & z = new personal record for losing no claims bonus.)

The lighter the engine producing said power, the faster still.

Given that in general we are solving for a given speed, a lighter, more powerful motive unit is better.

There are numerous motorcycle engines 800cc to 1000cc that make 100hp plus. So why a massive 1.6 lump that seems barely able to pull the skin off a rice pudding?

In short if you really want economy and ‘green credentials’ here is a simple recipe.

1 x motorcycle type high rpm engine
(650 to 1300cc, I personally find the CBR1000 to my taste, but YMMV as ever.)


1 x small capacity turbosupercharged intercooled/aftercooled diesel engine
1 x multispeed sequential transmission for same.
1 x transmission integrated electric motor -or- 2 x electric hub motors
1 x multi KwH battery pack, controller (I recommend multi cell lead acid for that added off the shelf, not-getting-shafted-by-the-dealer flavour)
1 x set mechanical instruments. (why waste electrical power, plus home fixable)

5. Aerodynamics. Door mirrors, um why? Cameras are smaller and clearer, not to mention have a longer life expectancy in car parks. Spats can improve aero by 3%. Grille blocks up to 5%, but watch temperatures or design them variable. For added management kudos, claim your company invented same.

6. Tyre pressures. Specifying a pressure of 40psi can improve economy by 7% over more usual 30/35. (and no, it doesnt spoil handling).

7. Intake temperature controls. Barfing more petrol into a cold engine isnt green, no really it isnt. Using a temperature controlled intake, or a warm air intake in winter can cut fuel consumption by 45% on some cars, its all to do with how the ECU measures intake temperature and meters fuel accordingly. Most modern MPEFI engines forgo the variable intake method (often used with carb engines) for the simpler barf and go approach.

8. ENGINE PRE HEATER AS STANDARD. It’s got batteries and a plug yes? Fit an engine pre heater. Even the stick on sump heaters can give a 5 to 8% improvement in MPG. There are verifiable improvements right through the year (yes, even in summer). Warmed oil, happier engine, better MPG! Even retrofitting these to every current engine on the road could save thousands of tons of CO2 and other pollutants. Oh yeah, and money too.

9. Load biasing adaptive cruise control. Computers are more accurate generally than the lesser spotted human right boot. Accuracy means MPG. However current cruise controls are speed biased not load biased (ie they function to a given speed, not a given rpm/engine load). Keeping the same speed uphill and braking downhill is wasteful of kinetic energy therefore economy, using an engine rpm based system is not (Armstrong Siddeley managed in in the ’50s). Adaptive for safety reasons, just in case to paraphrase Toyota’s tagline ‘the berk in front is driving a BMW’.

Its a fairly simple recipe you will agree. Its also based on long known concepts and freely available off the shelf parts. But its not being done and you have to ask yourself why that is?

Is it because the car companies cant afford it?

Is it because the laws wont allow it?

Or is it because doing a half assed and, more importantly, proprietary job is more advantageous to the manufacturer?

I think you can probably guess which one I favour?

But the thing that depresses me most about this subject is that plug in hybrids at least are doomed to fail in this country. Not because of lack of support, not because of manufacturer indifference or indifferent build quality. Not even the half-assery par excellence, worthy of a Ritterkreuz mit eichenlaub und brillianten, that is the best thats available right now (I mean, electrical circuits need a reliable earth, how hard can it be to provide one?).

No, the reason is simple. Little Britain.

The sort of people who whinge when someone cuts the hedge at 11am instead of 12 noon. The sort of people who fall down an open manhole cover whilst paralytic & then sue. Can you imagine that sort of person resisting the whinge instinct when everyone at their block of flats has a plug in hybrid…?

And woe betide you if you run over *their* charging cable!

I’ve not even started on the health and safety implications.

In Conclusion.

Done properly hybrids can be a force for good in the petrolverse. But they arent there yet and some fundamental rethinking is needed before they can be. The technical problems are by no means insurmountable, I think the societal problems & regulatory problems are going to prove more of the issue. Not to mention the universal issue of humanity in general, the phenomenon of rain, and 480v three phase electricity.

That said there are many other, potentially better options, but these again require further work – and several are in the hands of government such as public transport infrastructure.

I know I am not alone in noticing the weather this year. One autumnesque Christmas doth not a world catastrophe make, but I am also reminded of the Mayan new epoch starting 21st December ’12. The last time one of these showed its ugly mug it was said to presage a catastrophe and they were dead right, for the Aztec at least. Note to future archaologist: spear against smoothbore musket no work so good!°

However as has been said in an Apple management meeting circa the beginning of Time(pat.pending) (according to the Book of Jobs) “a catastrophe is an iMac wrapped up in a Newton connected to an MacTV”.¤

Its true we could keep on as we are and eventually end up in, to coin a phrase, a whole planet of trouble…

Or we could make a few small changes, each of us, because another way of looking at a catastrophe is as a life changing event, and securing our grandkids and great grandkids future in as healthy a world as we can make it would be life changing for them.

Who knows, it might even do us some good!

Authors note: I currently drive a 2.2vi Safrane 1995. Currently I run 40psi tyre pressure, a sump heater, wai, cruise & coast. My cars rated MPG for short trips is 19.8mpg in winter (factory figures – 10%). I’m currently getting 23.6mpg for an 8 mile round trip, thats 120% of expected. The best I got for a 22 mile round trip at ‘extra urban’ was 30mpg, 8mpg over stock (or a 36% improvement), for a 15 year old automatic! Given my car costs just over £100 to fill from empty – 28% average improvement, is a large saving.

Small & simple changes can make alot of difference, but changing the mentality of the driver is fundamental. As is good maintainence.

For more information on economy techniques see

° Unless they’re Italian. For further military high jinks see French Military History Google bomb.

¤ Or in plain english “…an opportunity, wrapped up in an mystery, inside an enigma…”. for other examples see Windscale & NPfIT. The case of NPfIT is borderline to many experts, since no one has actually found the opportunity part yet.

* See Night Watch by Terry Pratchett.

Keith Adams


  1. An interesting and well written post…
    I think hybrids work in larger engined cars (for saving money not the planet) such as Lexus putting an electric motor in its V8 saloons, so the petrol engine only kicks in when you boot it a bit more.

    As for plug ins-the sheer amount of money that would be required would be crippling, especially in this climate.
    But there’s more problems to take into account; what happens if millions of government money (well, let’s be honest taxpayer’s money) is spent on upgrading existing buildings like flats and offices. Then, in a few years some of them are knocked down?
    It will never work, never, never, never.

  2. Hybrid plug-ins are possibly the most pointless invention in the history of motoring and a blind alley in terms of technical achievement. Engines using Range-Extender technology and Polymer Exchange Hydrogen Fuel Cells are what we should be looking at. The technologies may take a lot of time and capital to develop, but they are the way forward. If a way of extracting hydrogen in an environmentally-friendly way can be found, then we could develop a car that runs as well as a petrol one with only water vapour coming out of the end. Don’t ask me to explain everything about fuel cells though. Took me long enough to work out the research sources myself. Involves a lot of chemistry.

  3. After years and years of selling Toyota cars and actually believing the Hybrid hype to the point of being blinkered , I now sell Kia cars.
    How the hell did I miss the plot ? Kia Rio 1.1 CRDI is 89g/km co2 and can do 88 mpg combined and yet costs less than the price of a Yaris and no expensive batteries and a 7year warranty .
    Dont forget it is Kia not VW or Audi here who are just getting on with it !

  4. @ H.Jones If we can put a man on the moon then surely we can put hydrogen in our fuel tanks?
    BMW and Honda were putting a lot of money into researching it (anyone remember the Honda Clarity?) but they seem to have gone quiet of late.

  5. I think hydrogen fuel cell is probably the future, they just have to come up with a universal “idiot proof” means of refueling cars.

    As for using “Deep cycle lead-acid was good enough for your dads national service so its good enough for you.” They’re still bloody heavy and bulky, yes they work well, but if you stuck them in a Prius in place of the Li-ion batteries you’d end up with no boot or rear seats and a heavily re-enforced chassis and suspension to support it all. I mean have you seen the wheels they used on Milk Floats? Lead-Acid is great for forklifts and such like where weight isn’t an issue. From an overall environmental perspective though i agree li-ion etc is no more green than a big petrol engine.

    Plug in electric vehicles are great for fleets that operate with-in a few miles of their base. So you can have dedicated charging points at base. Pretty much why Milk Floats used to be battery powered. Milk Floats were actually pretty nippy around town, the problem though is when they got sent out of town and had to limp back with an almost flat battery.

    Diesel-Electric has been used in Ships and Trains for decades. One wonders why it was never adopted for trucks and buses.

  6. @Frankie The FCX Clarity is still around and, of course BMW have announced the i range of cars. What I don’t get is that for the reverse electrolysis of Water (BTW we’re getting technical here, very technical) that goes on in the cell, you need hydrogen and oxygen. If you can get oxygen atoms from the air, then why not the hydrogen? But for now, why is it only Vauxhall investing money in range-Extender EV’s?

  7. @ H.Jones “you need hydrogen and oxygen. If you can get oxygen atoms from the air, then why not the hydrogen?”
    Hmm. Good point. Will google it, and report back.
    Can’t beat a bit of technical discussion on New Year’s Eve 😀

  8. it uses more fuel, which is pretty much most of the time.

    If you want a worked, real-life example, go and visit a FIAT owners forum and read all the posts of TwinAir owners getting nowhere near the claimed MPG, or having to live with the eco-mode which is more or less like driving a 2 cylinder non-turbo FIAT 500, which is essentially what it is in eco-mode.

    But lets look at the hybrid cleverness. A standard car cruising at 70 mph only needs 20-30hp depending on weight and aero. Unfortunately as soon as a hill comes along, or a headwind or a need to speed up you need 2-3 times as much.

    The idea behind the Honda and Toyota systems is that the leccy motors add power as and when needed without using more petrol – e.g. without resorting to blowing more air into the engine and burning more fuel. Combine that with the leccy power being (mostly) generated by a ‘regen’ system (braking and going downhill) and you have extra power for “free”.

    Toyota’s system goes further than Honda’s of course – the car can actually be driven entirely from the electrical drivetrain when the battery is full enough – thus saving even more fuel.

  9. Quote “In short if you really want economy and ‘green credentials’ here is a simple recipe.

    1 x motorcycle type high rpm engine
    (650 to 1300cc, I personally find the CBR1000 to my taste, but YMMV as ever.)

    A motorcycle engine in a car would be dismal. The CBR1000 you quote goes like hell in a 170 odd kg package with oodles of torque. In a 4 seater car? Never! Too much weight for the engine to pull with the torque available. As for fuel consumption – around 30mpg when used hard is my experience of the Fireblade, and that’s with 170kg.

    Car engines are generally tuned for midrange not a howling top end as most bike engines are. Google the new Honda NC700X which is aimed for fuel economy on 2 wheels and see how they’ve gone for a 6,500 rpm red line based on the Jazz engine to deliver 79mpg, a 50% improvement on their budget CBF600.

    So I’m unconvinced by your post.

  10. Interesting, but I think some parts are open to conjecture. And you seriously need to improve your spelling, punctuation and grammar; I could hardly understand some parts of that. Just saying

  11. @ Maestro Man. It looks as though, judging by the odd changes of font and font size, that Gemma copied and pasted it but somehow it didn’t come out well. That wouldn’t help the clarity of the text much.
    Just thought I’d point it out :-).

  12. Gemma I disagree with a lot of that really. Low capacity engines just don’t work. On paper yes, when those figures don’t have to stand 4 passengers, a head wind, a filthy dirty additional drag car going up an incline.

    I think the volt set up is the most sensible – after all it is just a generator on wheels, as such it’s I.C. (internal combustion) engine sits at a steady RPM, or the the test cell optimum. The torque of an electric motor is vertical, everything is there from a standstill when you need it.

    And why the battery hate? Own a Macbook or an iPhone? They aint’ steam powered…

  13. My reply was missing the start – damn you notepad!

    The reason the 1.6 in the new Toyota only has 98hp is because it is an Atkinson cycle engine and not an Otto cycle one. These produce more torque at lower engine speeds using less fuel. It will use less fuel at 70 than a 1.0 EcoBoost easily, the ecoboost relies on it’s blower to work at all.

    Remember of course that hp is only a mathematical formula not a real thing :

    hp = (torque x rpm) / 5252

    You buy hp, you drive torque.

    My link into the TwinAir is that owners of this hard working unit complain about poor economy – see their forums – unless they use eco-mode where it more or less becomes a naturally aspirated engine of only 2 cylinders.

  14. The points raised :

    1. Most hybrids use LRR tyres, LED lights. CR-Z in the US has rear seats as an option, and rear seats in all cars can be removed.

    2. The batteries are sealed so water ingress is an unlikely as lead acid leaking on you in an accident. Of course there is a container of 40 litres of explosive liquid to worry about too.

    3. The Prius batteries are warm already, they even have vents to cool them with big warnings about not blocking them.

    4. You can have too much, which can limit fuel economy.

    5. Mirrors could be smaller, but they always work. Cameras fail or get dirty quickly. Plus they are expensive.

    6. Agreed – higher pressure just means a poor ride. I run at 45.

    7. Only some cars measure intake temps, some use air mass, some use flow. The use Ford Focus SFE has an adjustable grill block already. I blocked my grill for warmer startups and that works.

    I’ve tried a WAI (Warm Air Intake) and it doesn’t work. As far as I know apart from a faster warm up it has no effect – there is no A-B-A testing evidence I have found anyway.

    8. Agreed, although it increases cost and is not needed everywhere.

    9. A human is always better because we can look ahead – e.g. accelerating near the bottom of a dip to climb quicker using less fuel. CC is a bit of a waste of time in modern traffic anyway.

  15. I don’t know what a Safrane is but that sounds like dismal economy. On my morning commute to Cambridge of 10 miles in a 95 3.2 XJ6 I average between 23-24 thats in winter and traffic. On a long journey with 4 people in the car and a weeks worth of beer, food and luggage I got 29.8, she just passed 170,000 miles too.
    Surely you can’t just compare HP figures across the decades like that, doesn’t it also depend on torque and at what RPM that power usable?

  16. I dont really buy into this malarchy,being green-more like being brainwashed by eco facists-if you dont agree you are a dolphin murderer so what?they go on about carbon capture and other bollocks when it is a known fact that just sixteen ships running on bunker fuel cause more pollution than every car on earth.The earth adapts like it always has done,you only have to look to pripyat-chernobyl to see how nature has adapted.Its more like a con to tax us folk,we all (but not me)get taken in by photos of a polar bear and cub on a solitary piece of ice-poor thing,the only thing is the ice does tend to melt in those arctic summer months,meanwhile people get taken in by al gore and is film like a countdown to the end of the world.Its ok listening to these snake oil sellers but ask yourself who’s funding these people,what special interest groups are behind them,britain is about to bankrupt our manufactoring industry with green taxes and charges and india and china and usa get away scot-free.I know people will not agree with me but there you go……

  17. I’ll be just raising two points that stood out particularly:

    Weight reduction: In terms of fuel consumption weight reduction is far less important on an electric or full hybrid vehicle. The reason is that the energy used on acceleration due to the higher weight will be largely regained with regenerative breaking on decelleration. I don’t see the point to invest in very expensive and (for mass production) questionable materials such as carbon fibre for the use in electric cars (BMW – anyone listening? But that’s another story).

    Cruise control: A traditional cruise control is exactly keeping kinematic energy constant. And assuming the engine always operates at approximatly the same efficiency (like an electric motor) keeping the kinetic energy constant is the least energy consuming way to travel from A to B – irrelevant if there are any hills in between. The problem now is, that in a traditional internal combustion engine (petrol more than Diesel), the efficiency varies a lot. This could lead to a different strategy to reduce the amount of fuel used to keep the same average speed over the same distance (i.e. pulse and glide-driving). With improvements in engine management (and of course on electric cars), this is getting less and less relevant – leaving the constant speed cruise as a very good solution.

  18. The hybrid drive need’s 2 words.. Gas Turbine.. its what that Jag was shown with. The Gas Turbine is very very very efficent, makes an Otto cycle look silly deiesel or petrol. However it has 2 problems.. It idles at about silly high RPM and would make a ’70s 911 Turbo look lag free. However it terms of a hybrid it is perfect.. use it to charge the batteries or even provied electric power direct to electric motors. You can then run it at it’s most effcient RPM, its also a constant burn and so very very clean, it can also be made to run on anything that will burn, even finely ground sawdust!

  19. Sigh.

    As I said before I wrote this on a E7 running Quickoffice. Not one of my more inspired ideas, since its about as basic as basic can get when it comes to word processors. Hence a few mistakes and some judicious editing from the original didnt help.

    Its been proven by various means that a speed regulated cruise control is less efficient than a load regulated one. Its a fact that has been known for years under various testing regimes and with various drivetrains. If everything is the same bar a steeper incline then to maintain a given speed the engine speed will increase – this generally means more fuel consumption both in the acceleration of the engine RPM and maintaining that given RPM. If you have a fuel computer on your car like mine does you can watch it in action. Reset it next time you are going down the motorway and see what happens when you hit a hill with cruise switched on. The MPG reading will fall by a few points.

    To the person whingeing about motorcycle engines, perhaps I did not explain myself properly. Its true that at low RPMs the average motorcycle engine is a gutless wonder in comparison to its larger capacity cohorts. However, you are assuming that I intended to use it in the same way. I dont. Electric motors primary advantage and indeed disadvantage is that they are 100% rated torque the minute they start turning. ICE engines are not. Cue computer. The system is set up so the primary acceleration is provided by the electric motor, which as speed increases will blend in the light and powerful but higher revving motorcycle engine. When a steady speed is obtained, at which the ICE engine can provide the appropriate power the ICE engine is used alone or as a majority. Where the car is pootling around town a small fast spinning engine has two advantages, it can be used uncoupled at its most efficient speed to power a genset, without the excessive weight of a larger unit.

    As to the efficiency or otherwise of the Safrane, for its time its not actually too bad. It will happily do 35-36mpg on a motorway run @ 75mph. It would do better MPG ironically if I stuck the cruise control at 100mph, since thats the engines torque-max (yes I know, having max torque at @ 4500 and then plonking a 4 speed slushbox on it was maybe not the most inspired of ideas) but I think the police might get a little upset. Warmed up it’ll do 29 or so mixed driving, but its designed and configured as a motorway/autobahn car.

    Someone mentioned dirty cars. I have a suggestion for that. There is a coating for glass called Enduroshield that I have just bought and put on the windscreen, front windows/mirrors. It is a nanoscale water repellant which seems to work ok. However, so far as I understand it, it *should* work on paintwork as well. If this is the case, then as alot of road grime is carried onto cars/vehicles by water a water repellant surface equals less grime…

    Gas turbines are all very well and both Rover and Chrysler had a viable prototype (in the case of Chrysler it went to the stage of handing some cars out to be tested by customers, see The problem at the time was the same that dogged the early jet fighters – slow spool up (hence why a Me 262 Schwalbe could be jumped by that paragon of American rip-off merchantry, the P51) and horrible fuel consumption. But that wasn’t what killed them in the end, and is likely to kill them now as well. A gas turbine can run on practically anything – if its a liquid and you can burn it, it’ll run on it, a fact which the oil companies arent all that keen on.
    The problem you would expect, that of heat, isnt actually all that much of a problem, since all you need to do is package a regenerator into the exhaust stream and what comes out of that is pretty much analogous, temperature wise at least, to what comes out of a ICE engine.

  20. @9.

    You’ll find that the people on the Fiat forums were the first generation of numpties who bought their cars thinking they could thrash them around (drive one and you’ll see how fun they are) and expect the high economy. Fact is, you can zing them about, bouncing them off the rev limiter and they’ll still deliver 40mpg.

    Also, the economy improves *markedly* when the engine has done more than a few thousand miles – FPT engines are notoriously ‘tight’ when new.

    Oh, and ECO mode modulates the boost, and changes the fuelling/ignition, so giving a smoother drive at lower revs and making the engine less ‘eager’.

    Drive one, you’ll be surprised! Don’t subscribe to the same circles who diss a BMC>MG car without even trying one.

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