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What is the history of hybrid cars?


Hybrid Car Manufacturing
These high-power nanophosphate lithium-ion cells for hybrid electric vehicles are from A123 Systems in Livonia, Mich.
These high-power nanophosphate lithium-ion cells for hybrid electric vehicles are from A123 Systems in Livonia, Mich.
AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Despite their increased fuel efficiency and potential for eco-friendly, green driving, hybrid vehicles are manufactured in much the same way other cars are. As with the build-process of most cars, the typical hybrid is put together on an assembly line according to a carefully choreographed series of steps. Conveyor belts shuttle the parts along and elevators move parts into place. Both human workers and machines are involved in the process.

The main difference in the creation of these fuel-efficient vehicles is in the batteries. Hybrid batteries are large, rechargeable and they take up a considerable amount of space. They're made by specialty battery companies, like Panasonic and Sanyo, chiefly located in Japan. Most current hybrids use nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries. However, some of the newest hybrids use the more advanced lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries.

To make a lithium-ion battery, a lithium ingot is extruded under pressure into a sheet that's just .01 inches (0.254 millimeters) wide. Machinery is then used to wind these sheets into tightly coiled cells. These wound-up sheets are baked at a high temperature and molten metal is sprayed onto the sheets by automated equipment -- a process known as metalizing. Several metalized battery cells are then stacked together in a module.

There are certain misconceptions about hybrid car manufacturing. One is that the amount of carbon dioxide released in the manufacture of a hybrid car, such as the Toyota Prius, is greater than the amount saved by driving one. Many experts have debunked this idea, yet it persists [source: Gratton]. According to Toyota's own figures, a Prius only has to be driven for about 13,000 miles (20,921 kilometers) for the CO2 savings to outweigh the manufacturing costs. It has also been suggested that the sheer distance the nickel used in the manufacture of the Prius' NiMH batteries travels before it reaches the factory causes more energy to be burned than would be burned by driving a Hummer instead of a Prius. However, analysts have shown that this idea is based on faulty assumptions. The Prius saves more energy than the manufacturing process uses.

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