Hybrid cars deliver the best of both worlds, and are the sustainable option for consumers with an environmental conscience. With manufacturers adding more models to their stable each year, it is becoming easier to do the right thing.

According to Toyota South Africa, a hybrid system combines different power sources to maximise the unique strengths of each engine, while compensating for the other’s shortcomings. A petrol-electric hybrid system, for example, combines an internal combustion engine’s high-speed power with the clean efficiency and low-speed torque of an electric motor that never needs to be plugged in.

Edmunds.com explains that hybrid cars are sometimes mistakenly confused with electric vehicles. Hybrids are most often fuel-burning machines that use electric components to collect and reuse energy that normally goes to waste in standard cars. Theoretically, diesel-electric hybrids would be even more fuel-efficient, but hybrid systems and diesel engines both represent extra cost; installing both in the same vehicle has proven to be prohibitively expensive.

Although hybrid vehicles are more fuel-efficient than their petroleum-fuelled counterparts, they do cost more, due to extra batteries and electronics, and the premium on the purchase price is, at present, not necessarily recouped through fuel savings. The sale of hybrid cars in South Africa still lags significantly behind the curve when compared to international markets, mainly because local buyers do not currently receive the financial rebates available in developed countries for the purchase of hybrid cars. Automotive manufacturers have, however, been putting in a lot of effort to make these vehicles more affordable.

According to Toyota SA, policymakers in South Africa have a long way to go to catch up with the developed world in this regard. “With reference to local sales, we admit hybrids have not achieved the kind of retail numbers that they have elsewhere. The most obvious reason for this is that financial rebates offered by all First World countries are not available in South Africa. Hybrid technology is not cheap, but, in Europe and the USA, the financial kickback that buyers receive from the state makes it a far more viable proposition. Road-use concessions for hybrids are another factor that sways buyers. In Los Angeles, for example, there is a lane on most highways dedicated to hybrids and battery vehicles,” the company says.

Cars are the largest overall polluters worldwide, releasing gases like carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, carbon monoxide and sulphur oxide into the atmosphere in copious quantities. Although studies show that hybrid cars require more energy to produce than conventional cars, intensive studies by the US Department of Energy show that conventional vehicles requires far more energy to operate, and emits far greater amounts of greenhouse gases. The gases emitted while driving cancel out any imbalance occurring during the production process.