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Chevrolet Volt Concept is a highly advanced, plug-in electric hybrid. However, the 1.0-liter, three-cylinder turbocharged motor never powers the wheels directly. Instead, the Volt uses the combustion engine, which runs at a constant speed to maximize efficiency, generate electricity to power the electric motor, and charge the lithium-ion battery. The end result is the capacity to travel 60 miles on just 0.4 gallons of gas, averaging an astonishing 150 miles per gallon.

Worldwide, some 83 million cars rolled off the assembly line in 2013. Of those new cars, 1.3 million contained an electric motor and battery, as well as an internal combustion engine—hybrid cars hardwired for better fuel economy and lower emissions.

Hybrid cars, such as the Toyota Prius, merge strengths. Gasoline- or diesel-powered engines excel at sustaining high speeds (highway driving) but have a harder time overcoming inertia to get moving (city driving). Electric motors are uniquely efficient at low speeds and going from stop to start. They also can:

  • keep a car’s air-conditioning and accessories running while idling at a traffic light;
  • capture the kinetic energy typically released as heat during braking and convert it back into electricity; and
  • boost the engine’s performance, allowing it to be smaller and more efficient.

Hybridization has been called the vanguard of a revolution, catalyzing fuel efficiency and challenging the auto industry to innovate. But that is true only if they pave the way for full-electric vehicles—only motors and no engines at all—which can run solely on clean energy.

Technical summaries for each solution will be available May 1, 2017.

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