Electric and Hybrid Vehicles

Electric and Hybrid vehicles are fast becoming a popular choice for consumers and this trend is only going to accelerate as rules are introduced to limit the kind of vehicles allowed into major cities. In the past range anxiety and cost have been a major factor when choosing an Electric vehicle but in the last 18mths we have seen a real leap forward within this market place. More and more vehicles are now capable of a range of 200 miles plus between charges and as technology changes these vehicles have become more affordable.

Around 60,000 plug-in cars were bought in the UK in 2018 and this number is set to increase dramatically over the next 24 months. 

So, what's the difference between an electric car and a hybrid? And why are some hybrids different to others? And is a hybrid really an electric car? 

What’s an Electric Car or ‘EV’?

An electric car is one that runs on, and is ‘charged up’ with, electric power. Petrol or diesel is never used to refuel an electric car. The electricity that powers an electric car is stored in batteries before being used by electric motors to drive the car’s wheels; the addition of a fossil fuel engine would make it a hybrid. Hybrid cars, meanwhile, have electric elements to their powertrains but cannot be considered ‘electric cars’ due to the presence of a petrol engine.

Electric cars are becoming commonplace thanks to certain financial advantages, including government grants and the lower cost of “filling up” compared to a tank of petrol. They’re considered better for the environment due to the fact they emit no exhaust gases.

Electric vehicles have several key benefits when compared to ordinary petrol and diesel cars, as well as increasingly popular hybrid cars. Electric vehicles emit no pollution at the tailpipe, which means they have a much smaller local environmental impact. They operate very quietly and are generally extremely easy to drive, with no real gearbox to speak of and a great deal of power at low speeds. You can drive an electric car on an automatic-only driving licence.

Most importantly, they can be charged up at home. You can 'refuel' an electric car using an ordinary three-prong plug wherever you find a socket, which is pretty much everywhere. While many owners choose to install a slightly more sophisticated 'plug' at home for faster charging, it's perfectly possible to use the existing setup on your drive or in your garage. Faster chargers, such as those found in car parks and at petrol stations, are also useful for EV owners.

Disadvantages to electric vehicles include that need to ‘charge’ which takes far longer than filling a tank of petrol or diesel – usually several hours in comparison to a couple of minutes. Some electric cars can be half-charged in a shorter time, but this will ordinarily be around 45 minutes. During this time, the vehicle must be physically connected to a plug socket, which makes EV ownership difficult for a lot of buyers unless you own a driveway or have a charging point at work.

What is a Hybrid, a Plug-in Hybrid or Mild Hybrid vehicle?

The term ‘hybrid’ is technically quite vague, but in the context of cars almost always refers to a petrol-electric powertrain. This means the car uses a combination of electricity stored in batteries and petrol stored in a tank to propel the car forward. The details of this arrangement will vary from car to car. 

A hybrid vehicle will almost always be able to charge its own batteries using the petrol engine. In some cases, this is all the petrol engine is there for – to recharge the batteries, which power the electric motors. In other types of hybrid, the petrol motor drives the wheels directly, but an additional battery/motor combination adds some electric drive.

In ‘mild hybrids’, the amount of electric power that drives the wheels is limited. The car won’t normally drive on electric power alone, but a small electric motor can be used to fill in the gaps. These systems are cheaper than ‘full hybrid’ models but have a much smaller benefit it terms of emissions.

Some hybrid cars are what’s known as ‘plug-in’ hybrids. As the name suggests, these cars can be plugged-in to the national grid by means of a cable, as you would an electric car. This will charge the car’s batteries, enabling some electric-only range (usually between 20 and 40 miles) and usually reducing the amount of petrol used over longer journeys. This in turn reduces the cost per mile as well as the overall exhaust emissions of the car, when used correctly; there is no requirement to plug the car in (unlike with electric cars)

The primary reason for using a hybrid car is to reduce the amount of liquid fuel you use. The secondary reason is to be able to drive without emitting any pollution for relatively short distances. Ordinarily, this will save buyers money, as well as reducing damage to the environment.