Fully electric vs hybrid vs plug-in? An idiot's guide to electrified cars
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If there’s one thing the motor industry loves it’s a bit of jargon. Almost as much as it loves an acronym. And then sometimes the Government weighs in with its own point of view.
So what’s the difference between an electric vehicle (EV), a “plug-in”, a plug-in hybrid and a hybrid that doesn’t have the plug-in bit?
We’re here to help. According to the New Zealand Government, any vehicle that you can charge from an external power source (i.e. it has a plug) is an EV. So all EVs are plug-ins and all plug-ins are EVs. Simple so far.
But there are EVs that run only on battery and others that also have a combustion engine to help them along. That’s an important distinction from a consumer point of view, because the former (Nissan Leaf, for example) is zero- emissions any time it’s driving, whereas the latter (Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, for example, pictured above) provides only a small amount of pure-electric running and still burns fossil fuel the rest of the time.
So it’s also common to differentiate between plug-ins by calling a pure-electric car a Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) and one with a petrol or diesel engine a Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV). But they are both definitely EVs because they can both be recharged from the mains and driven just on battery.
All BEVs are EVs, but not all EVs are BEVs.
So what about hybrids — the ones without plugs? These are not technically EVs, but they are often described as “electrified”. Some carmakers confuse the issue further by calling their hybrids “self charging”, which is ostensibly true but also a snip misleading because the kinetic energy required to to charge them is largely created by burning petrol. But they do still save lots of fuel, because energy normally lost in coasting or braking is recovered and stored.
The Toyota Prius is a good illustration. The regular Prius is a petrol-electric hybrid, or an electrified vehicle; you don’t plug it in, although it is known for being very economical. Similar technology powers electrified versions of the C-HR, Corolla [pictured below] and RAV4.
But there’s also a Prius model called the Prime, which has a much larger battery with a plug attached. You can drive it for 63km on battery power alone, before it reverts to hybrid operation. So it’s a PHEV.
To recap: a BEV relies solely on battery power and once it’s flat, it has to be recharged, so the range is really important. A PHEV can run short distances on electric power (30-50km is typical) but once the electric power runs out it reverts straight to using fuel and you can drive it normally until you have time to charge again.
And hybrids aren’t technically EVs, although many are really good. They are severely limited in pure-electric running (anywhere from a few hundred metres to 2km), but the battery assistance and regenerative technology can improve fuel economy by 20-30 per cent compared with a conventional combustion-engined car.