How Does a Prius Work?

by Jeff Wysaski

Toyota Prius Hybrid

The Toyota Prius has emerged as the best-selling hybrid vehicle in the world. Introduced to the United States in 2001, millions of drivers have been attracted to the vehicle's smart sedan styling and impressive fuel efficiency. But just how does the Toyota Prius manage an estimated 51 mpg in the city and 48 mpg on the highway? Toyota's hybrid engine technology is detailed below.

Power Split Technology

All hybrid vehicles attempt to combine the performance benefits of a gas engine with the fuel-efficiency of an electric engine. To accomplish this, hybrid vehicles such as the Prius utilize both a traditional gas motor and an electric motor. These two engines share the load of work, thereby reducing the amount of gasoline-powered energy required to move the car. Thanks to power split technology, the two engines can power the vehicle by themselves, or in tandem as necessary. Specifically, the Toyota Prius contains a 1.5-liter gasoline engine and a 67-horsepower electric engine (combined horsepower is 110). The electric engine is powerful enough to handle low-performance engine requirements on its own. This means that when the car is idling or accelerating at low speeds (up to 15 mph), gasoline is not consumed. When additional performance is required, the gas engine kicks in to provide additional power.

Regenerative Braking

The electric engine in the Prius runs off of lithium-ion battery power. However, unlike full electric vehicles, the Toyota Prius does not need to be plugged into a power source to recharge the batteries. The reason for this is regenerative braking, a technology that allows the Prius to convert the kinetic energy created by braking (due to friction created by the brake pads) into electrical energy that can recharge the internal batteries. To accomplish this, the Prius incorporates motor generators for energy conversion.

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About the Author

Based in Los Angeles, Jeff Wysaski has been a professional writer since 2005. He has written for such varied online publications as AOL Travel, Autotropolis, RadioShack and Manolith. Wysaski earned a Bachelor of Arts in marketing from the University of North Texas in 2004.