With the huge shift to fully Electric Vehicles (EV’s) already well underway, the terminology can get really confusing.
What makes a Hybrid, a Hybrid? What’s the difference between Hybrids and Plugin Hybrids? What about Plugin Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV’s)? More importantly, which one could be right for you?
In this guide we go through what they all are, how they are different from each other, and why you might buy one over the other. EV’s and PHEV’s both have their pros and cons, and the landscape is changing quickly.
Feature image from mariordo59 on flickr.
What is a Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV)?
While EV is often used as a broad term for an all-electric car, the more specific term Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) is used by the industry.
- Exclusively electric vehicles only
- They have no petrol or diesel internal combustion engines
- They only operate via an electric motor and battery.
Instead of a fuel tank, a (large) battery is used to store the required energy to run the electric motor. An example of a BEV is the BMW i3s (94 Ah). It has a large battery plus an electric motor that takes it from 0-100 km/h in just 6.9 seconds, and no other power train.
Step 1 – what’s a Hybrid vehicle?
A Hybrid vehicle is any vehicle that has both an electric motor and fossil fuel engine of some kind.
The most common type of configuration uses both the electric motor and a traditional engine to drive the car. So you can drive the car via the electric motor or the car can switch over to the fossil fuel engine and drive the car with that instead. This can also be done to help achieve various performance or fuel efficiency increases.
The other configuration only uses the fossil fuel engine to charge up the battery, and the electric motor is then exclusively used to drive the car. These are less common.
The public know the most common form of hybrids well – think of the Toyota Prius, Camry, and others on the market that have been around for years. The electricity and battery in a hybrid doesn’t have to be charged from a plugged in power source, although, that’s where we move to our next type of hybrid.
What is a Plugin Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV)?
A Plugin Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) is a specific type of Hybrid vehicle that not only has batteries and an electric motor and fossil fuel engine in it, but can also be plugged in to a power source to recharge the battery.
These have become the most common type of Hybrid vehicles as they can not only increase range but also increase the overall fuel efficiency of the car, and reduce overall emissions. This is because only part of the driving is done using fossil fuels with the other using the electric motor.
An example of a PHEV is the BMW i3 (94 Ah) with Range Extender. This PHEV has a small fossil fuel engine that will turn on and be used to charge the batteries. This then gives the car enough power to continue using its electric motor to power the car.
What are the major benefits of each type of powertrain?
BEV’s major benefit over PHEV’s is their simplicity. Containing only one motor there are fewer components. This means maintenance costs are less, repair costs are less, maintenance is simpler and less frequent and there’s also less in general that can go wrong.
In addition, operating BEVs can also be more simple. Many PHEV cars have multiple different eco or eco+ modes where you can specify which power train to use. With BEV’s there is only one mode, fully electric.
The main downside to a BEV is that travelling long distances may be slightly more inconvenient due to longer charging times.
Conversely, a PHEV’s major benefit is that they can be filled up with petrol just like a traditional car making long distance trips easier. However, long distance trips are not usually a daily event for most owners, which results in most PHEVs dragging around a second engine in the car for much of the time.
A PHEV’s inherent mechanical complexity does little to reduce maintenance costs, and even though many PHEVs have electric-only ranges of around 30-60km, this range is compromised by the fact that a large fossil-fuel engine is being driven around unused while running on electric power.
Where absolutely no compromise can be made around the use of petrol or diesel as the primary source of fuel, PHEV’s are a great compromise – such as in rural or certain commercial uses. But it’s worth noting that for many people who live in Australia’s major cities who drive to work and back most days, BEV’s currently have enough range and supported charging infrastructure to make them work for this routine.
A final benefit that PHEV’s have over BEV’s – at least for now – is that they are cheaper generally. This is because large batteries are still quite expensive and PHEV’s have smaller batteries. This is tipped to change quickly though as battery prices continue to plummet and manufacturing ramps up.
Which one is the best for you?
The current range of more affordable BEV’s (outside of Teslas) are great for people who mostly drive to work and back every day or otherwise have small to medium routes most of the time.
If your normal driving distance, say 25 km to work and back, is less than the BEV’s battery range you can simply charge at home each night.
For those occasional events where you may be driving interstate or somewhere greater than the range of the BEV, you’ll need to plan to take a break and recharge on the way. Depending on the car and charger this could be anywhere from 25 minutes to over an hour.
For those that want a broader range of car types you may want to purchase a PHEV. You can find more variety in PHEV’s options than BEV’s, but that will shift over the next few years, with a number of fantastic BEV’s due to come to market.
What models of each are available in Australia?
There are currently only a handful of BEV’s available in Australia right now including:
With both the Tesla options starting at around $120,000+ they are at the luxury end of the market. The BMW i3, while slightly cheaper at $75,000+, is still not too affordable.
The Nissan LEAF has stopped selling for now as their new model is being released soon. You can still pick them up second hand though for around $30,000. This makes it essentially the only affordable fully electric car available.
Soon there will be a whole host more BEV’s with both lower price points and more variety in car types such as:
- Tesla Model 3
- Renault ZOE
- Hyundai Ioniq
- New Nissan LEAF
- Jaguar I-Pace
- Audi E-tron Quattro
- Renault Kangoo ZE
On the PHEV front we have many more models all currently available right now in Australia. These range from super sports cars to 4WD’s and right down to regular sedans or small cars.
- Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
- Toyota Prius
- Honda Civic Hybrid
- Toyota Camry Hybrid
- Toyota Corolla
- Honda Jazz
- Honda Accord
- Lexus CT200h
- BMW i3 REX
- Infiniti Q50 or Q70 Hybrid
- BMW i8
- BMW 3, 5, 7 and X5 Series iPerformance ranges
- Volvo XC90 T8
While understanding the difference between BEV’s and PHEV’s isn’t super complicated, some manufactures don’t help with their confusing branding. For example BMW have their “i” branding but this can encompass both BEV’s and PHEV’s.
They also make it even more complicated as something like the BMW 5 Series iPerformance range will actually be referred to as a “BMW 530e iPerformance”. What’s the “e” doing in there and why isn’t it like the other BMW i3 cars and just “BMW i530”?
Furthermore why do they seem to denote their electric or hybrid cars with an “i” but then sell the BMW 530i which is a traditional fossil fuel only car? I’m sure BMW has legitimate answers for all these questions but overall it makes things extremely convoluted.
As such making sure you’re aware of what car has what power train can be quite important and not straight forward at all. Make sure they fully explain what type of hybrid the car is and which engine/motor is actually powering the car.
With more and more Australians planning on buying EV’s it’s good to be able to distinguish which car has what power train in it. Hopefully this guide has set the record straight and you can easily figure out which version does what.
So are you looking to buy a BEV or a PHEV for your next car? Or are you waiting for the next generation of BEV’s to come out? Let us know in the comments below!