I recently drove down to Los Angeles for an informational seminar on hybrids, sponsored by Toyota. Actually, the lesson began when I got on the 405 at 5 p.m.--which is not the time you want to get on this freeway running through Los Angeles, but everyone does anyway. Crawling along in this severe traffic, I could only envy the line of Priuses humming along in the HOV lane. Ironically, the Priuses would have gotten better fuel economy if they had been stuck in that start-and-stop traffic, but I'm sure their owners were just as happy to sacrifice a few miles per gallon for a quicker trip home.
The seminar itself had the most detailed information I've seen yet on how Toyota's hybrid system works. One presentation showed precisely where the motor/generators sit in the power train and outlined the planetary gear power-split component that lets both the engine and the motor drive the wheels. Even though there was a demonstration unit to illustrate how the power splitter works, I still have trouble wrapping my head around it.
Toyota also wanted to refute a few myths about hybrids. For one, the battery packs have been tested for 180,000 miles and experienced no degradation, so people shouldn't fear expensive battery-pack replacements. The high-voltage wires coming from the battery pack are well insulated, color-coded in bright orange, and a circuit breaker cuts off the electricity flow in a crash or when the car is being serviced. Toyota also pointed out that, although real-world miles-per-gallon figures are lower than what the EPA reports, it's that way for all cars, with a comparable percentage variance.
Of course, the best part of the seminar was driving all of the current Toyota and Lexus current models. From Toyota, that was the, the , and the . The Lexus hybrids on hand were the and the .