Most of us who grew up riding in or driving gasoline powered cars tend to think that electric-powered cars are only a modern invention. However, electric cars are in fact older than cars with internal combustion engines.
In recent years, however, several different electrification technologies have been developed and commercialized in the car industry. There are now hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and electric cars in the market, and each of the three types of cars incorporates a different way of using electricity to power the vehicle. Keen to learn about the differences, pros and cons of each of the three types? Read on for the full details!
Hybrid cars have both an internal combustion engine and an electric motor. The engine size is kept smaller compared to a conventional car of similar size and weight. The car runs on battery power at low speeds, with the engine kicking in as the car speeds up.
Hybrid cars have an electric generator which generates electricity during braking, a process known as regenerative breaking. This electricity is used to charge a battery pack (which is also charged by the engine). Hybrid cars don’t idle: the engine shuts off when the car stops, leading to significant fuel savings and zero carbon dioxide emissions during the period that the car is stopped.
In a common hybrid design known as parallel hybrid, both the motor and engine are connected to a common transmission. Another design, known as series hybrid uses the engine only for battery charging and the electric motor provides the power to the wheels. The mileage offered by a very popular hybrid, the Toyota Prius, is 49 MPG.
- Cleaner compared to gasoline powered cars
- Lower fuel consumption compared to gasoline powered cars
- Supported by tax credits in certain countries
- Higher resale value due to increasing popularity
- More expensive than their gasoline counterparts
- Use advanced computers and circuits, making them more expensive to fix/repair
- Battery replacement, if ever required, can be expensive
- Electrocution risk due to on-board battery
- Poor handling due to smaller engine size
Hybrid cars are well suited to people in countries where the charging infrastructure required for charging plug-in hybrids and electric cars is not yet fully developed. They are also well suited for those who drive long distances in city/urban areas, since the cost savings compared to running a gasoline-powered equivalent car can be very sustantiable in those situations. Finally, they are also a great option for drivers who are concerned about the environment, and wish to take a stance and play their part by lowering their carbon emissions.
Plug-in Hybrid Cars
As the name implies, plug-in hybrid cars are charged via a plug, using a wall outlet or charging equipment. However, and similar to their hybrid counterparts, the battery is also charged through regenerative braking, lengthening the battery’s autonomy. Plug-in hybrids also have an internal combustion engine. They run fully on battery power until the charge levels fall below a certain low threshold. Then, the car switches over to the gasoline (internal combustion) engine.
Plug-in hybrid cars are very well suited for drivers who generally make use of the car within cities and/or urban areas, but also need to have the ability to use the car for longer trips, if necessary. The only-electric range of a popular plug-in hybrid, the Hyundai Ioniq, is 39 miles. The tested mileage for this car is 82.1 mpg.
- Longer electric range compared to hybrids because of larger battery pack
- Even lower carbon emissions (if used for small/urban distances)
- Only requires gasoline only for longer trips (>50 miles)
- Cheaper to operate (due to electricity cost being lower than gasoline)
- Bigger batteries means higher cost than their hybrid counterparts
- Gasoline is still required for longer trips
Plug-in hybrid cars are better suited to those who have a charging station nearby, or who have the possibility of installing one at their homes. They are also very well suited for those who predominantely drive in urban areas, but still nonetheless require the possibility of making longer trips (for example, for holidays). Those wanting to make such longer trips are still advised to check whether adequate charging infrastructure exists in their destination, to keep enjoying the benefits of the electric-powered engine in their destination region.
Electric Cars (EVs)
Unlike hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles, electric cars don’t have an internal combustion engine. Insted, they feature a high-capacity battery pack, which powers a fully-electric motor, which ultimately powers the entire vehicle. As electric cars run only on electricity, they don’t emit any gases to the atmosphere.
Just like in the case of plug-in hybrid cars, the electric car’s battery can be charged from a suitable wall outlet or other charging equipment. Electric cars are usually more expensive than their hybrid or plug-in hybrid counterparts, mainly due to the high cost of developing and producing such high-capacity batteries.
The range (autonomy) of electric vehicles is certainly shorter than that of hybrids, plug-in hybrids, or conventional combustion engine vehicles. However, in recent years, improvements in battery technologies and energy management techniques have greatly increased the autonomy of electric vehicles, and it is expected that this trend has only just begun to take off. Many big-name car manufacturers, like Ford or Volkswagen, have pledged to only sell electric vehicles in Europe by 2030.
- Zero emissions to the atmosphere
- Faster acceleration
- Require less frequent maintenance
- Quieter compared to vehicles that run on gasoline
- Most expensive of all car types
- Shorter autonomy compared to gasoline powered cars (70 to 250 miles range), making long trips possible only if good charging infrastructure exists
- Battery charging times are still long (the average charging session lasts between 3-8 hours)
- Less model options compared to gasoline powered cars (at least for the time being)
Electric cars are suitable for those who can afford them, who don’t need to travel long distances, or whose destination regions have the right charging infrastructure (if intending to make longer trips), and for those who are addicted to the unbelievable acceleration that only electric cars can provide.
There is a wide variety of cars available on the market today. A few years ago, such diversity would have been inconceivable. But it is now here, and, as a result, nowadays it’s no longer only about sedans, SUVs, crossovers, etc., but also about hybrid, plug-in hybrid, electric, or gasoline powered models. Faced with all these potential variations and unknowns, it is no surprise that deciding which car to buy can be a very challenging process.
This article aims to explain the main characteristics of each type of car, whether powered by a hybrid combination of gasoline and electricity, or by electricity only, and includes several additional considerations (pros and cons) for each type of vehicle. Hopefully this article will help the reader become more informed, and make any decision-making process slightly easier, if aiming to buy a new vehicle.