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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
- 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.
Under some business-as-usual projections, 23 million hybrid vehicles will be in operation in 2050, less than 1 percent of the car market. We estimate growth in 2050 could reach 236–621 million hybrid vehicles. Until then, hybrid cars can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 4.6–7.9 gigatons by 2050, saving owners US$3.0-6.1 trillion in fuel and operating costs over the lifetime of the cars.This would cost an additional US$1.7–3.6 trillion in net costs.
Note: August 2021 corrections appear in boldface.