Hybrid and PHEV…what’s the difference?

Petrol, diesel, hybrid, PHEV or electric?

Part 2 of our series looking at current technology for vehicle energy systems.

Hybrid and PHEV – what’s the difference?  We’re glad you asked!  Hybrid vehicles are currently offered by Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Subaru and Lexus and do not require you to do anything but drive them like an ordinary car.  They have small electric motors mated with small petrol motors, and the two work together constantly.  As you drive, you charge up the batteries which power the electric motor, and everything just happens without you really needing to think about it.  The result is a more efficient driving experience (ie a Hybrid Camry is more fuel efficient than a regular petrol powered Camry) however it’s not as effective overall as a PHEV.

A PHEV (or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) is more advanced, and has a more powerful electric motor and larger battery capacity.  To get the most benefit out of the hybrid system, it is best to plug the car into a power source when not in use so that the batteries are always fully charged and ready to go.  The main benefit of a PHEV is that you can drive the car using solely the electricity in the batteries for short distances.  Most PHEVs on the market currently will allow for approximately 50km of real world driving range in pure electric mode.  For most people, this means the work commute (or the majority of it) can be completed without using a drop of fuel.  Subsequently the environment and your wallet both benefit, particularly if you’re powering the car from a renewable energy source, like your own solar panels at home.  A PHEV gives you some of the benefits of a fully electric vehicle, without any of the range anxiety, because if you do run out of juice in the batteries, you’ve got the backup of the petrol motor giving you infinite driving range as long as you’re able to keep refuelling.  Driving and braking will charge up the batteries as you go along too.  A PHEV is a great economical and environmentally friendly option for a lot of people, because in theory you could do the work commute daily, not using any fuel in the process, and then if you do plan on doing a more significant drive on the weekend, or a road trip, your car is still perfectly capable thanks to the back up of the petrol motor which switches on and off almost imperceptibly as required.

With the electric car charging infrastructure in Australia at the moment, it could be argued that a PHEV makes more sense for more people than a fully electric car.  It does of course all depend on how and where you drive your car.  As charging infrastructure increases, fully electric cars will certainly become a more practical option for more people, and it’s certainly the way the automotive world is heading for now.

With technology improving at a rapid rate, it means the charge capacity of batteries is increasing, and the size and subsequent weight of batteries is decreasing.  This means improved driving range, which is probably the biggest hurdle holding back more Australians from embracing this technology.   The speed at which power can be fed into the batteries is also increasing, meaning shorter charging times.  Overall, in just a few years, electric cars will have a similar range to their petrol-powered equivalents, and recharging will take no longer than refuelling a conventional car.

Keen move with the technology and phase EV into your life? We’ve put together some specials for you, or you can view more specials on our dedicated specials page. Read our Part 1 on fueling options here.