Category: Series (Science): Green Machines

A series of posts about electric and hybrid vehicles.

Green Machines, Part 5: A Nose For Picking Green

Welcome to the final installation of a 5-part series about environmentally-friendly cars, entitled Green Machines. To read the previous installation, CLICK THIS LINK. To start at the beginning, CLICK THIS LINK. Thanks for reading!

A Nose For Picking Green

With all my research on green vehicles, you might say I now have a nose for picking green.

Hybrid History

For one thing, I’ve learned that Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs) have come a long way since the very first HEV. That first HEV was produced in the year 1900 by Ferdinand Porsche. Yes, that Porsche. The same Porsche who later developed fast cars. The same Porsche who as a Nazi, used forced labor in his factories to build tanks for the German war effort. And the same Porsche who served time in prison after World War II, charged with war crimes.

Porsche’s early HEV was called the Lohner-Porsche, and was produced from 1900-1905. It was a Series Hybrid horseless carriage, powered by electric motors, with batteries that were recharged by a gasoline generator. And like a typical Porsche, it was a fast car (by the standards of the day), once setting a land speed record of 37 mph.

A Lohner-Porsche in 1902.

Porsche only sold about 300 of these hybrids, because they were so damned expensive. But the Lohner-Porsche influenced HEV designs for years to come. In fact it was so ingenuous that during the space race, Boeing and NASA studied it while developing the Lunar Roving Vehicle.

Electric cars were the most popular type of motorized vehicle prior to Henry Ford’s invention of the Model T, in 1908. But after that they lost favor to the internal combustion engine, and the kind of range, speed, and affordability that electric vehicles couldn’t match.

It took nearly a century, but in the 1990s battery technology finally improved to the point where hybrid vehicles were able to compete against traditional gas-powered vehicles. In 1997, Toyota introduced its Prius in Japan, then marketed it worldwide, in 2000. “Prius,” by the way, is Latin for “first.” Sales began picking up, so a few years later other car manufactures got in on the action. And now most auto brands offer some form of electric/gas hybrid.

Winnowing the Chaff

Hybrid electric vehicle technology and availability has continued to improve, to the point where I now feel comfortable buying an HEV. Now it’s just a matter of winnowing out the chaff and choosing the best vehicle to suit my needs.

I quickly knocked the Honda CR-V and Hyundai Tucson from my list after I discovered they don’t have a spare tire. That’s a deal-breaker for me. I want reliability, to prevent being stranded, and the tire repair kits that come with those cars won’t help me if I get a blowout in the middle of nowhere.

I also want an SUV that’s large enough to hold all my wife’s and my luggage and the kitchen sink when we go on road trips, so that has narrowed down my choices quite a bit. And I want a Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV). With few PHEVs on the market, I’ve found my list shrinking to a midget stature.

Then I took Driver Assist features into consideration. I like lots of these because I’m lazy. I especially like Adaptive Cruise Control, Highway Driving Assist, Rear Cross-Traffic Warning, Blind-Spot Warning, Park Assist, Surround-View Camera, Automatic High-Beams, Road Sign Recognition, and Intelligent Speed Limiter.

One day I hope to find a car that will do everything for me. This dream machine will wheel me out to the driveway and lift and place me into the driver’s seat. Then it will automatically start right up for me, back safely out onto the street, and zip me off to my destination. Meanwhile, I’ll be able to lay my seat back and take a snooze, only to be awakened by the tapping of a robotic stewardess, asking what kind of soda I want with my chips.

Maybe, just maybe, one day before I die, they will sell cars like that.

Picking Green

But in the meantime, I have to settle for what’s available. Based upon all my picky, finicky preferences, I’ve managed to thin my list of green picks down to three potential vehicles to purchase. These are the Hyundai Santa Fe Plug-In Hybrid, the Toyota RAV4 Prime XSE, and the Kia Sorento Hybrid EX.

They have a base cost of somewhere around $40-$50K. They all plug-in. Their total range is above 500 miles. Their electric-only range is 30 miles, except 42 miles for the Toyota RAV4 Prime. That’s because their lithium-ion polymer batteries get about 2.2 miles per kilowatt hour (kWh), and they’re rated at 13.8-kWh, except the RAV4, which has an 18.1-kWh battery.

They have All-Wheel Drive, which I love. Horsepower is decent, at a little above 225 hp, except that the RAV4 Prime thunders at 302 hp. And they all have sufficient cargo space. Or at least I hope, or I’ll catch hell when I can’t stuff my wife’s suitcases into the car.

I’m going to hold off buying one, though. I think it’s a good idea to let my passions cool, keep my money in my wallet and my options upon until at least the Fall of next year. Hopefully by that time the technology will have improved even more, and the 2023 models will come even closer to approaching my ideal in a vehicle.

Thanks for reading this series on Green Machines. I hope it’s helped you learn a few things about electric and hybrid vehicles. And I also hope that it’s helped you develop a good nose for picking green.

Some of my sources:


Green Machines, Part 4: Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs)

Welcome to the latest installation of a 5-part series about environmentally-friendly cars, entitled Green Machines. To read the previous installation, CLICK THIS LINK. For the next post in this series, CLICK THIS LINK. To start at the beginning, CLICK THIS LINK. Thanks for reading!

Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs)

What happens when an Electric Vehicle (EV) is left alone with a full gas-powered vehicle? A few months down the line you get a Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV). Or so I was told by an auto expert who got tired of all my questions. He also called me a jackass.

HEVs are the mules of car ownership.

And that leaves me comparing HEVs with mules. A mule is a cross between a horse and a jackass. In the same vein, full gas-powered cars tend to have a lot of horsepower. But those who drive EVs tend to be smartasses, always bragging about how they’re saving the environment. Combine the two and you get an HEV, the mule of car ownership these days.

HEVs are mules because they can do more work than EVs or full gas cars. They get more range than EVs, or even full gas cars, gallon for gallon. And they get better gas mileage, and tend to be more reliable than full gas cars.

They’re a hybrid, but don’t confuse them with a so-called green vehicle called a “Mild-Hybrid” (or “Micro-Hybrid”). Mild Hybrids are full gas-powered vehicles with a start/stop system. They shut the engine off when you stop, then restart the engine when you take off. This improves gas mileage around a city, but only by a smidgen of maybe 1.5 mpg. The slight savings in fuel economy is often not worth the extra cost for a Mild Hybrid. Also, all that starting and stopping is wearing on an engine, as well as on the starter.

Chrysler sells a lot of Mild Hybrids, so beware, you Chrysler lovers.

HEVs have both an electric motor and a gas-powered, internal combustion engine. The gas engine tends to be smaller than what you’ll find in a full gas-powered car. When you’re driving an HEV around in the city, the electric motor tends to do most of the work. But when you get out on the highway, the gas engine kicks in and helps the electric motor. The combined energy they both put out brings the HEV’s horsepower up to par with that of a full gas-powered car.

HEVs tend to be more complex than full gas cars. Except in the case of the Series Hybrid design. In this design, the gas engine only recharges the batteries, and nothing more. The electric motor does all the work, at all speeds. This eliminates the need for a transmission, making for a simpler drivetrain. However, it tends to be less efficient at highway speeds than a full gas car, because of the indirect connection of the engine to the wheels, through the battery.

Most HEVs these days are of the Parallel or Series-Parallel design. These designs are more fuel efficient than Series Hybrids.

A Parallel Hybrid is more complex than both a Series Hybrid and a full gas-powered car. With this design, both the gas engine and the electric motor power the wheels. However, the gas engine requires a transmission, and this complicates the mechanics of the operation. Also, the gas engine does not recharge the battery.

Many HEVs these days are termed Series-Parallel (or Power-split). These are the most complex of the hybrids. They combine the advantages of both Series Hybrid and Parallel Hybrid designs. The gas engine can power the wheels through a transmission, and it can also recharge the battery. Meanwhile, the battery powers an electric motor that connects to the transmission through a complex and magical “power-split” design. To handle this complexity, computers figure out the best mode of energy use in any given driving situation.

HEVs tend to get 20% to 35% better gas mileage than full gas cars. However, compact HEVs tend to sacrifice horsepower for great gas mileage. For instance, the 2022 Toyota Prius only has 121 wimpy horses under the hood. But it sports a whopping 56 mpg. SUVs, on the other hand, tend to have respectable horsepower, but get less gas mileage. For instance, the Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid has 226 horses, but gets only 32 mpg.

Yes, even with the design of HEVs, an aggravating compromise has to be made between gas mileage and horsepower.

As far as range is concerned, you’d think with their superior gas mileage, an HEV would have more range than a full gas-powered vehicle. But alas, car manufacturers often design their HEVs with smaller gas tanks, to make them lighter in weight and more energy efficient. This keeps their range only slightly longer than their full gas engine counterparts, as a general rule.

HEVs tend to require the same amount of regular maintenance as full gas cars, such as recommended oil change intervals. But in spite of that, they tend to have fewer mechanical problems. That’s because their gas engines run for fewer miles, at less RPMs, and at more stable speeds. Also, they have continuously variable transmissions that never disengage and reengage the engine. Thus, HEVs experience less wear-and-tear, and this makes them more mechanically reliable, in spite of their greater complexity.

The norm in the auto industry is to warranty HEV batteries for at least eight years or 100,000 miles. But these days, batteries are often expected to last 10 to 20 years. It can be damned expensive to replace them, but if you buy your HEV brand new, you won’t have to worry about this for a long time.

Some HEVs are also PHEVs. That stands for Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle. But most HEVs can’t be recharged by plugging them into a wall. Rather, they are only recharged through regenerative braking and the gas engine.

But you can plug a PHEV into a regular wall outlet in your garage, and charge the battery. You can generally get about 30 to 40 miles of city driving range from a fully-charged PHEV battery. So if you don’t drive much, a PHEV allows you to rely on electricity alone, without ever having to fuel up at a gas station.

I like the idea of a PHEV. Most of the year, I don’t drive much. But occasionally I go on long road trips. A PHEV would allow me to have the equivalent to an EV most of the time, while having an HEV when I want to drive out of town. They’re more expensive than an HEV, but I like the idea of not having to rely on gas stations for my short-range driving needs. This could come in handy during a gas shortage.

And so I’ve decided. When I get ready to buy a green machine, I will be buying a PHEV. I’ve researched some of the models currently available, and will share the results in my next post.

Some of my sources:
Wikipedia: Hybrid Vehicle Drivetrain


Green Machines, Part 3: Fully Electric Vehicles (EVs)

Welcome to the latest installation of a 5-part series about environmentally-friendly cars, entitled Green Machines. To read the previous installation, CLICK THIS LINK. For the next post in this series, CLICK THIS LINK. To start at the beginning, CLICK THIS LINK. Thanks for reading!

Fully Electric Vehicles (EVs)

Ben Franklin’s glowing key.

Ben Franklin invented the first ever electrical device. It was a key that glowed in the dark when attached to the string of a kite, flown during a thunderstorm. As you can imagine, this key had only limited practical use.

The same can be said of today’s fully electric vehicles (EVs). At least, for my purposes.

For all their wonderful advantages, EVs have three major drawbacks. The first is limited range. The second is their tendency to have less range at highway speeds than while driving in the city. And the third is the amount of recharging time required.

Limited Range

Most affordable EVs on the market these days have a range of 200 – 300 miles. The Tesla Model S Long Range has the most range, estimated to be about 405 miles. However, those extra miles will set your wallet back about $85,000.

But who needs more range than 300 miles? Aren’t there plenty of charging stations around these days to handle a quick recharge and get you back on the road? There are, and their number is growing. As of the start of 2021, there were 96,536 public charging ports in the USA. That’s up from 63,303 as of March 31, 2019.

Still, there are some long stretches across the Great Plains and West that might leave you dripping in sweat, wondering if you’re going to make it to the next station.

Now, once you make it to a recharging station, you’re faced with the issue of charging time. Most charging stations have adapters to handle most brands of EVs. So, if you’re driving a Nissan Leaf and you arrive at a Tesla station, it’s likely they’ll have an adapter to handle your charging needs. That’s very nice and convenient.

But the bad news is, it’s going to take some time. The best way to recharge an EV is through a slow, trickle charge, that can require many hours. Slow charging is less wearing on a battery, and it allows a battery to fully charge. And this is okay if you’re at a hotel and plan to spend the night. But if you just want to get back on the road real quickly, you’ll need to opt for a fast charge.

Fast charges take about 15 minutes. But unfortunately, they only charge your battery up to 80% of its capacity. Once they reach the 80% mark, they slow the charge down to keep from overheating your battery and destroying it, or causing a fire. So you’ll have to settle for an 80% charge if you’re in any hurry. Thus, if your car normally has a 300-mile range, you’ll have to settle for 80% of that, or 240 miles, from a quick charge.

Also consider that you wouldn’t want to drive your car completely to the end of its range, before looking for a charging station. That could leave you stranded out in the middle of nowhere. For peace of mind, you’d probably want to pull in for a recharge while having something around 50 miles of range left. But such peace of mind will cost you, by diminishing your now 240-mile range car to just 190 miles.

These are things to consider when buying an EV with the idea of cruising around the country.

Highway Driving

Another consideration is loss of range from highway driving. EVs present an anomaly when it comes to fuel economy, compared with gas cars. Gas cars get less miles per gallon in the city than on the highway. But when equivalent miles per gallon (MPGe) are calculated for an EV, they get more MPGe in the city than on the highway. For instance, the Mustang Mach-E gets 96 MPGe in the City, but only 84 MPGe on the highway.

What in the hell is going on here? It’s a scientific fact (I think) that both gas engines and electric motors tend to be less efficient at higher revolutions per minute (rpms) than at lower rpms. So why the stark contrast in miles per gallon?

The answer lies in gearing. Gas engines have an optimum rpm for any speed they drive, sometimes called the “sweet spot,” and at that sweet spot they are the most energy efficient. But in the city a gas car is constantly changing gears as it speeds up and slows down. Much of the time the engine is not at the sweet spot for the gear it’s in. And so it operates inefficiently and wastes fuel.

But on the highway, at steady speeds, the transmission easily finds its best gear and keeps the engine in its sweet spot. Thus, the engine is able to run more efficiently, even though its rpms are faster than they are in the city.

However, the electric motors of EVs are different. They have no transmission. That’s because they don’t need a transmission. When it comes to electric motors, their rpms are always at or near their sweet spot for whatever speed they travel, whether in the city or on the highway.

However at faster highway speeds, higher rpms and aerodynamic drag work against an EV, the same as it works against any kind of car. And this reduces their efficiency, causing them to be less energy efficient on the highway.

Also, most EVs, and even most hybrids, are designed with regenerative braking. Whenever an EV slows down, generators in the braking system absorb some of the braking energy and transfer it to the batteries, recharging the batteries somewhat. This reduces the inefficiency caused by frequent slowing down in the city, and helps to extend range.

But just the opposite is true from highway driving. While higher rpms and wind resistance reduce efficiency on the highway, there’s little or no regenerative braking going on, to offset that inefficiency. Without this advantage, EVs tend to have less range on the highway, than in the city.

Therefore, don’t expect your 300-mile range EV to actually reach 300 miles on the highway, between charges.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a formula for calculating combined range. It combines expected city range with expected highway range, determines some sort of average between the two, and comes up with an EVs “combined range.”

However, Car and Driver (C&D) magazine recently cast some doubt on the EPAs figures. They tested the highway range of 12 EVs, and found that they can be anywhere from 62% to 93% of the EPAs combined range rating. For instance, the 2019 Audi e-tron has an EPA combined range of 204 miles, but a C&D tested highway range of 190 miles. That’s 93% of combined range. Meanwhile, the 2019 Hyundai Kona Electric has an EPA combined range of 258 miles, but a C&D tested highway range of just 160 miles. That’s just 62%.

Thus, after a quick recharge at a highway pit stop, that Kona may only have a highway range of 160 X 80%, or 128 miles (remember, quick recharges only bring a battery up to 80% of capacity). For peace of mind, you’ll want to lop about 50 miles off of that. And this leaves you with a practical highway range of just 78 miles. That’s a far cry from the EPA rated 258-mile combined range that might influence you to buy the car.

The Porsche Taycan

I’ve asserted that electric cars have no transmissions, but the Porsche Taycan makes a liar out of me. It has a 2-speed automatic transmission on its rear axle. Porsche claims that this improves acceleration at low speeds, and extends range at higher speeds. However, it still only has a range of 227 miles.

In theory, a 2 or 3-speed transmission can improve the performance and range of an EV. However, transmissions add complexity and weight, and this offsets the advantages of multi-gearing to such a degree that it only has practical usefulness in expensive, high-performance EVs, such as the Taycan. And even that usefulness is questionable.


Based upon all this research, I’ve been able to cut through the hype surrounding EVs, and decide that I don’t want one. I love my brother’s Mustang Mach-E, and feel relieved that he bought it for city use, and not for long-distance driving. But the car I want is not for city driving. It has to handle long road trips.

So I want a car with good range, for all the road trips I like to take with my wife. I also want reliability. EVs tend to be very reliable, due to their simplicity of design, and lack of an internal combustion engine and transmission. There’s not as much to break down, with an EV, than with a gas engine car. But unfortunately they just don’t have near the range I need.

But that doesn’t end my search for a green machine. There’s more to green driving than EVs. We also have HEVs. An HEV is a Hybrid Electric Vehicle. And when it comes to range and reliability, HEVs often meet or exceed what you’ll find in a conventional gas-powered car.

We’ll be jumping into my HEV research, and giving it a test drive, in my next post.

Some of my sources:


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