The blocks in most internal-combustion engines are in-line designs or V designs. In-line designs are arranged so that the cylinders stand upright in a single line over the crankshaft. In a V design, two rows of cylinders are set at an angle to form a V. At the bottom of the V is the crankshaft. In-line configurations of six or eight cylinders require long engine compartments found more often in trucks than in cars. The V design allows the same number of cylinders to fit into a shorter, although wider, space. Another engine design that fits into shorter, shallower spaces is a horizontally opposed, or flat, arrangement in which the crankshaft lies between two rows of cylinders.
Engines become more powerful, and use more fuel, as the size and number of cylinders increase. Most modern vehicles in the United States have 4-, 6-, or 8-cylinder engines, but car engines have been designed with 1, 2, 3, 5, 12, and more cylinders.
Diesel engines, common in large trucks or buses, are similar to gasoline internal-combustion engines, but they have a different ignition system. Diesels compress air inside the cylinders with greater force than a gasoline engine does, producing temperatures hot enough to ignite the diesel fuel on contact. Some cars have rotary engines, also known as Wankel engines, which have one or more elliptical chambers in which triangular-shaped rotors, instead of pistons, rotate.
Electric motors have been used to power automobiles since the late 1800s. Electric power supplied by batteries runs the motor, which rotates a driveshaft, the shaft that transmits engine power to the axles. Commercial electric car models for specialized purposes were available in the 1980s. General Motors Corporation introduced a mass-production all-electric car in the mid-1990s.
Automobiles that combine two or more types of engines are called hybrids. A typical hybrid is an electric motor with batteries that are recharged by a generator run by a small gas- or diesel-powered engine. These hybrids are known as hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs). By relying more on electricity and less on fuel combustion, HEVs have higher fuel efficiency and emit fewer pollutants. Several automakers have experimented with hybrids.
In 1997 Toyota Motor Corporation became the first to mass-produce a hybrid vehicle, the Prius. It became available in Japan in 1997 and in North America in 2000. The first hybrid available for sale in North America, the Honda Insight, was offered by Honda Motor Co., Ltd., in 1999. Honda later introduced a hybrid version of the Honda Civic. In August 2004 the Ford Motor Company became the first U.S. automaker to release a hybrid vehicle when it began production of the Ford Escape Hybrid, the first hybrid sport- utility vehicle (SUV). The Escape Hybrid was released for the 2005 model year.