It's pretty easy to take regenerative braking for granted, these days--virtually every electric and hybrid car on sale uses it to some extent.
Maybe we should be a little more appreciative of its benefits, as Ford estimates owners of its vehicles have saved 100 million gallons of gasoline over the past 15 years, thanks to braking regen.
When you consider that only applies to Ford vehicles, the gas saved through regeneration in all vehicles must be unimaginably vast.
Regenerative braking essentially uses an electric or hybrid car's electric motor as a generator. When lifting off the accelerator, or pressing the brake pedal, kinetic energy from the car's movement turns the motor, generating electricity. This stops quite as much energy going to waste as it does when lifting off the gas or braking in a regular vehicle--the latter of which simply turns kinetic energy into waste heat.
The first Ford vehicles with regenerative braking were the limited run battery electric Ranger and Ecosport, though the first most could get their hands on was the 2004 Ford Escape Hybrid.
Speaking to Wards Auto, Ford's Dale Crombez says the technology has developed significantly since those first applications--enough to improve fuel economy by up to 30 percent.
Crombez, Ford's technical expert on regenerative braking, also makes bold claims for Ford's technology versus that of its competitors--"We’re recapturing up to 95% of kinetic energy that would otherwise go to waste... compared with 30% to 50% for some other auto makers."
Early Ford systems used "parallel" regenerative braking, where friction brakes and braking regeneration worked together to slow the car. This was superseded by brake-by-wire systems that utilized regeneration first, only bringing friction brakes in to halt the car, or under heavy braking. Ford's first such system debuted in that 2004 Escape Hybrid.
These days, the best systems are almost imperceptible in operation and harvest huge amounts of kinetic energy.
At the recent Audi future lab tron experience, Audi's engineers proudly relayed that the R8 e-tron supercar's regenerating rear brakes were so effective that the rotors could be safely touched after the car's record-breaking Nürburgring lap.
Many hybrid and electric vehicle owners are finding their brake pads and rotors are lasting tens of thousands of miles longer than they do in regular vehicles, with so much braking handled not by friction but through electric motors.
Under hard braking, vehicles will still use their friction brakes. But drive smoothly and brake gently, and you'll not only save brake wear, but plenty of fuel too.