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It takes energy to make a car run; that isn’t a very difficult concept, but exactly how much energy a car takes depends on several factors. As cars have become more complex, understanding how much energy a car takes has also increased in complexity. In the end, however, it all comes down to horsepower.
How the Term Horsepower Came to Be
Horsepower is a term often heard when referencing the power output of a car engine. The word does sound a lot like its meaning, at least when it was originally conceived. In 1702, early steam engineers needed to a way to express to people how powerful their new engines would be. At that time, the most common form of industrial energy was literally horse power. Draft horses were used for hauling and working machinery when wind or water power was not available. Thus, the early engineers formulated a way to compare steam engine work output with that of horses in order to give people an idea of the devices that would be replacing the animals. The resulting term was simply named horsepower. Of course, since horses are not machines and no two horses provide exactly the same amount of power, the term was not originally literal, but it was estimated at about 180 pounds of torque per unit, or about the amount of power provided by the average horse on a mill wheel.
Modern Day Use of the Term
The term horsepower has since been refined to be a somewhat precise unit, although the actual energy amount measured can vary depending on country and type of energy measured. Car engines generally provide mechanical energy. Mechanical horsepower today is measured at 550 foot-pounds per second or 747.5 watts per second of energy. This standard of measurement will work for most vehicles that have a traditional gas burning engine that provide energy using pistons.
Hybrid and Electric Cars
Hybrid and electric cars have somewhat more complicated the idea of vehicle horsepower. Hybrid cars have essentially two engines. They have a traditional gas-powered mechanical engine, and then they have an electric motor that provides additional power. This is complicated because the horsepower rating for an electric motor is slightly higher than the horsepower ratings for mechanical engines. Electric motor horsepower is equal to 746 watts per second of energy per unit. If you like hybrid cars and are an eco-friendly consumer, check out other Green Energy initiatives here.
To truly understand the horsepower of a hybrid car, horsepower for the electric motor and regular engine should be considered separately. Considering how small the difference is, however, most car manufacturers state a vehicle’s horsepower as one measurement despite the differences in motors.