The move to hybrid cars was pioneered by the Toyota Prius in the past decade, and although it has sold well, the price point is still a bit out of reach for those who would like an environmentally friendly car. But some engineering students at Middle Tennessee University have fitted a 20-year-old Honda Accord wagon with a retrofit plug-in hybrid system that powers the front wheels using the conventional petrol engine, and a pair of electric hub motors hidden inside the rear wheels, thus, in essence, making a hybrid car.
Users are then able to plug the hybrid car into an ordinary power point to charge up a set of lithium-ion batteries mounted in the wagon’s load space. The batteries in turn feed electricity into the hub motors to provide low-speed power that is able to help the conventional petrol engine accelerate – the most fuel-hungry part of driving.
According to researchers, the in-wheel electric motors provide about 270Nm of torque – the equivalent pulling power of a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine – and help to slash the car’s fuel bill in half.
Although the kit costs $3,000, about twice the amount to convert a regular car to run on LPG, the costs could go down thanks to improvements in battery technology, especially now that aerographite is being developed for use in car batteries.