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BEV, PHEV or HEV: your guide to electric and hybrid vehicles

Everything you need to know about battery and hybrid electric vehicles

BEV, PHEV or HEV: your guide to electric and hybrid vehicles

As we move towards an electric future on the road, many of us are looking at switching our car from one powered by an internal combustion engine (ICE) to a new one powered by electricity.

The car industry is gradually making the transition to battery electric vehicles (BEVs). However, as part of the changeover, the industry has introduced the automotive equivalent of a halfway house: the hybrid.

Hybrids were only ever intended as a transitionary technology and now that new BEV models are highly accomplished, their time has now gone. The waters have also been muddied by different types of hybrid, so let us guide you through the hybrid maze, to see how they stack up against a fully electric car.

What is a battery electric vehicle (BEH)?

Battery electric vehicles are powered by a motor, which draws its power from a rechargeable battery pack. Some BEVs have two motors, one on each axle, to create four-wheel drive, but either way, there is no traditional petrol or diesel engine: It runs purely on electricity and emits no CO2 from a tailpipe, making it a clean form of transport.

What is a hybrid electric vehicle (HEV)?

The hybrid vehicles (HEVs) that we know best are parallel or self-charging hybrids (think Toyota Prius). This means that the car can be powered directly by the engine (which is a traditional ICE, usually fuelled by petrol), an electric motor alone, or by ICE and electric working together. When the driver brakes, a regenerative braking system produces electricity, which is stored in the small battery.

Hybrids were never meant to be a long-term solution – new hybrid cars won’t be sold in the UK after 2035 – due to concerns over rising levels of CO2. Hybrids will help drivers pay lower car tax (of Vehicle Excise Duty, to give it its official name) and reduce their tailpipe CO2 emissions. Hybrids still emit carbon dioxide, though, unlike a full battery electric vehicle. Yes, they’re cleaner than ICE cars, but they’re more expensive to run and not as good to the planet as EVs.

What is a mild hybrid vehicle (MHEV)?

Mild hybrids (MHEVs) are the latest variation on the hybrid theme. In these vehicles, a small motor gives a little boost to the engine when it’s required (when moving off from a stationary start, for example), not actually power the car. This type of hybrid is also called a 48V hybrid because it uses a 48V battery to power the motor.

What is a plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV)?

The plug-in hybrid (PHEV), like a parallel hybrid, uses regenerative braking to charge the batteries that power an electric motor. However, unlike a parallel hybrid, a PHEV can also be plugged into an electric outlet to recharge. The battery pack isn’t very big (compared to a battery EV), so the electric-only range of the car is around 20-30 miles, which makes it particularly useful in low-emissions zones.

The most efficient way of using a PHEV is to use it as much as possible in electric-only mode, only using the ICE as an occasional top-up or for longer journeys.

So what type of electric car should you buy?

If a lot of the trips you do in your car are short (under 50 miles or even 100 miles), or its rare that you travel more than 200 miles without stopping, switching to a battery electric vehicle (BEH) is the right choice for you. Not only is it the logical and environmentally sound decision, it'll also be the most financially viable option too.  

But if you really feel that you can’t go fully electric now, a hybrid is your next best bet.

If you have off-street parking that will help you charge it, a PHEV used mostly in electric-only mode for short trips really does give you best of both worlds. You can drive in built-up urban areas using only electrical energy and, if you’re going further, you have a fuel tank to extend the range of the car.

However, if you do a lot of long (over 200 miles a day) journeys, a hybrid or mild hybrid might be good choice. They both use their electric battery to shave a little off your fuel consumption, making it more efficient than an fuel guzzling ICE vehicle.

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