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Automotive IQ: Your Spotter’s Guide to Alternative Powertrains

Jun 11, 2018

2018 RAV4 Hybrid

Just a few decades back, virtually all vehicles were powered by a traditional gasoline engine. More recently, to provide drivers with more options in clean and efficient motoring, vehicles have been arriving powered by varying combinations of gasoline and electricity, next-generation advanced gasoline engines, or exotic fuel sources that may one day become mainstream.

Toyota has been there through it all: from the early days of internal combustion engines, to the introduction of hybrid cars, to the more recently popularized genre of electric and partially electric motoring, to future technologies, like hydrogen.

By continually innovating, researching and enhancing the ways drivers get around, Toyota is working to ensure that shoppers have a multitude of choices in how they power their voyages, with an eye for reduced impact on the environment around them.

The following is a look at some of the terminologies and nomenclature around some of the most advanced powertrains on the road now, and some that are coming soon.

Gasoline Power: The traditional gasoline engine has long worked on the principle of capturing energy from the controlled explosion of gasoline within its cylinders. Recent advancements have now allowed engineers to capture more energy using less fuel, and gasoline engines are more efficient than ever. For instance, advanced fuel injection systems like Toyota’s D-4S work in conjunction with advanced engine breathing systems like Valvematic to help go farther and generate more power, while using less fuel and generating fewer emissions.

Additionally, Toyota’s latest Dynamic Force four-cylinder engine has arrived, complete with special engineering provisions that enable the safe use of an extremely high compression ratio, common in exotic sports cars. With the high compression ratio, the Dynamic Force engine reaches record-setting heights for efficiency in extracting maximum energy from every molecule of fuel it combusts. Look for the Dynamic Force engine in the new Camry and Corolla.

2018 Highlander Hybrid

Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV): From a single hybrid car launched many years ago, Toyota now offers shoppers a full range of hybrid-powered models. Though Toyota has advanced its hybrid drive system considerably over the years, the principle remains the same: By combining a traditional gasoline engine with a battery and electric motor to share the work, hybrid vehicles are propelled by a carefully selected combination of both gasoline and self-generated electricity that’s optimized for any situation. It’s a synergistic relationship: The battery-driven motor reduces the gasoline engine’s workload, fuel use and emissions, and the gasoline engine recharges the hybrid battery. By blending the efforts of a traditional gasoline engine and an all-electric motor, hybrid drivers go much farther on every tank of fuel. All required electricity is generated on board, so there’s no plugging in – the battery pack is self-charging.

Plug-In Hybrid Vehicle (PHEV): With charging infrastructure expanding rapidly, PHEV vehicles are growing in popularity. The PHEV driveline works just like the driveline in a hybrid car, though a higher-capacity battery is fitted. Drivers charge this battery by plugging the vehicle into an electrical outlet or charging station and, when full, the PHEV battery has enough power to tackle the average Canadian commute — without burning a drop of gasoline. When the PHEV’s plug-in battery charge is depleted, the gasoline engine picks up the pace and the vehicle operates like a regular fuel-sipping hybrid, until it’s recharged again. A PHEV is a sort of mix between an electric car and a hybrid car: The more often you charge it, the more fully electric driving you can enjoy. Can’t plug in? No problem: With a full tank of gasoline, the PHEV is capable of hundreds of kilometres of hybrid driving.

Technician installing a battery

Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV): In a Battery Electric Vehicle, all propulsion is generated via an electric motor powered by an on-board battery. The BEV emits no pollution, offers responsive torque and performance, and runs solely on electricity that’s stored in the battery while the vehicle is plugged into a charging station or power outlet.


Fuel Cell Vehicle (FCV):
Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, and science has shown automakers that it can be used as an ideal fuel source for vehicles. Using a device called a fuel cell, hydrogen stored in the fuel tank can be readily converted into two things: electricity, which propels the vehicle; and clean liquid water, which drips out of the tailpipe. Hydrogen can be created from clean sources and, unlike gasoline, doesn’t deplete any natural resources.  With zero emissions and a totally clean fuel source, hydrogen-powered FCVs are a clear path forward to carbon-free driving, and Toyota’s striking Mirai is already well on its way to the mainstream, with development happening around the globe today.