The current pace of automotive development is staggering, and as we all commit to a better and greener future for the next generations, automakers increasingly resort to electrification technologies in order to use less or no hydrocarbon fuels, and thus rid cars of the carbon emissions vice. But often the powertrain technology jargon gets consumers confused, as to what the practical differences between each is, what are their pros and cons, and precisely what drivetrain better suits their needs? So in order to make sure you buy the car that’s best going to fit you and your family’s needs it’s important to understand the differences between hybrid, plug in hybrid, and battery electric vehicles.
Hybrid vehicles (HVs) use an electric motor that functions in tandem with the internal combustion engine, thus assisting its power and making it more efficient. Hybrid cars will use the electric motors to accelerate to speeds of even up to 125 km/h in some cases. As your speed increases, the petrol motor kicks in and, whenever you coast, decelerate or use the brakes, the energy is stored in the battery for use later on. Also hybrid cars will offer different drive mods, such as hybrid, pun intended, which is to say automatically adapting depending on the road conditions and driver input, electric only (usually marked EV), and sporty or otherwise coercive whereby the internal combustion engine will always stay on. Hybrid cars don’t need to be plugged in to charge the battery, and this distinction is fundamental. It is only the petrol engine that charges its batteries.
Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) are hybrid cars that can also be plugged in. These give you more electric powered driving range than a hybrid, usually because they feature larger batteries, as well as the convenience of a petrol motor that kicks in as needed or once the electric hybrid battery has depleted. Mind that unlike HVs, PHEVs need to be plugged in regularly, as their internal combustion engine will not suffice in recharging their batteries in full. The increased battery size also means higher overall weight of your vehicle and hence more power required to move them. Now because of their nature, PHEVs advertise great EPA gas mileage, since such estimates are usually measured on shorter distances whilst the plug-in battery is full. However, the industry’s best kept secret is, you might find that some PHEVs models have terrible fuel economy once the battery is drained, and hence are not well suited for long distance driving.
Electric cars (BEVs), on the other hand, don’t use petrol at all, simply because they feature no internal combustion engine entirely, using only electric motors instead, and produce no exhaust emissions, have no clutch or gears, fewer moving parts, require less maintenance and are extremely quiet. They run solely on one or more electric motors, and need to be charged by plugging them in, either at home or at a public charging station. The downside is they generally have less driving range than hybrid cars, and will be the heaviest because of the very large batteries, however they are cost-effective to operate, and relatively easy to charge if your charging infrastructure and use pattern / time schedule allows for their charging. The range anxiety and long charging hours if plugged into the domestic socket (i.e. usually over 8 hours to charge in full) are amongst the main BEVs drawbacks.
So who do these vehicle drivetrain types cater to? With a hybrid, when you’re driving at low speeds or inching along during rush hour traffic, you’re effectively using electric power, not churning through fuel. Hybrids cars are also efficient on the open road or motorways as they use Atkinson cycle engines which are supported by the electric motor(s). Hybrids are ideal for people who want a reliable car that emits less pollution than a petrol or diesel car, and who do a lot of city driving. Hybrids are for people that don’t want to have to plug in their vehicle in or have range anxiety. They also can be cheaper to purchase than a PHEV or BEV. Plug-in hybrid cars sit between hybrids and EVs and offer drivers a mix of both worlds. They have both an electric motor(s) and a petrol engine, but they can also be plugged in. They’re perfect for people who want to avoid consuming fuel on short journeys but who also want the option of a traditional car for longer journeys, albeit the tradeoff comes at a cost. Electric cars might end up costing you more than a hybrid and unlike PHEVs, EVs won’t automatically switch from EV mode to hybrid mode once the battery is depleted, because they have no petrol engine to resort to. New EVs have a range of around 300 km or over, yet that varies especially in very cold or hot climates. Electric cars are best for people who do a lot of short commutes and like the idea of emissions-free driving. If you want to take a longer trip you’ll need to ensure there are charge stations enroute and allow enough time for recharging.