With ever-increasing fuel costs and growing concern about the impacts of global warming, more and more people are interested in the economic and environmental benefits of owning an electric car. In particular, households that own two conventional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles can see an opportunity to swap out at least one of them for an electric vehicle (EV).
Even though electric cars have been around for more than a decade, many people don’t understand the various options, how they work and which would suit them best. So, to help you down that road, here’s a quick summary of the ins and outs of electric vehicles.
What are the main types of electric car?
There are three main types of EV to consider. In all cases, insurance won’t be a problem if you choose a trusted insurance company.
- A hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) has a conventional engine, a small battery and an electric motor that drives the car at low speeds and helps out the main engine when you’re accelerating. The battery is automatically charged by the conventional engine and the electric motor acts like a generator when you’re braking or slowing down. A hybrid can’t be plugged in to charge.
- A battery electric vehicle (BEV) only has an electric motor and a large capacity battery. You can charge it at home using a normal wall plug or at fast charging stations around the country. The battery also gets some charge when the electric motor works like a generator as you brake or slow down. A BEV has no combustion engine, so you don’t have to pay for fuel, oil changes, spark plugs, engine servicing and so on.
- A plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) sits in the middle. It works like a hybrid, but you can also plug it in to charge the battery. A PHEV’s battery capacity is usually larger than a hybrid’s, but smaller than a BEV’s. This means it can run in battery-only mode for longer than a hybrid before needing to automatically start using the internal combustion engine.
Now, let’s take a look at which option might be the best for you.
Who does a hybrid car suit best?
Hybrid cars are much more economical to run than an ICE car, particularly around town. That’s because of all the slow-speed and stop-start driving. A typical hybrid will use only the electric motor when travelling at speeds of up to 25km/h. In an ICE car, when you slow down the car’s moving energy is lost as heat through the brakes. With an EV, when you take your foot off the accelerator or apply the brake to slow down, the electric motor becomes a generator. This helps to slow the car and adds charge to the battery.
Hybrids can also be pretty economical on the highway. Many have engines that can run in the Atkinson cycle. This is more efficient and less polluting, but has less torque. In a hybrid the lower torque doesn’t matter so much, because the electric engine can contribute to give it a boost.
If you want to save money on fuel and reduce your emissions, but you don’t want to think about running out of battery range or having to plug the car in, a hybrid might be the best EV for you. Also, because they have a much smaller battery, hybrids are typically cheaper to buy than PHEVs and BEVs. However, you’ll still have to pay for engine maintenance and servicing.
Who does a battery electric car suit best?
Battery-only electric cars typically cost more to buy initially, but they’re very cheap to run. They have no emissions, no exhaust system, no oil changes and no engine parts to maintain and service. An electric motor provides great torque at all speeds, so there’s fantastic acceleration when you need it. The large heavy batteries are usually under the car floor, creating a low centre of gravity that benefits road handling. They’re also quiet; almost silent. In fact most models emit an artificial sound at low speeds, so pedestrians can hear them coming.
The main downside of BEVs is the need to plan ahead and plug them in for charging. Around town, this is seldom a problem. You simply plug it in overnight, just like your mobile phone. If you have a long commute and can’t charge at work, you might have to pay more for a model with a larger battery capacity, and therefore a longer range. These days, most have a range of 200-300km (124-186 miles); while older models may be nearer 100km (62 miles). High-end models can travel up to 500km (310 miles) between charges.
On long open road trips, you can recharge a BEV at a fast charging station. These will typically top you up with another 100km of range in about 20 to 30 minutes. Most EV owners use this as an opportunity to visit the bathroom, have a coffee or wander through the local stores. It just becomes part of your journey and removes the stressful clock-watching we sometimes get caught up in.
A battery electric car will probably suit you best if your daily commutes are within the battery range you can afford, you want to save on servicing and running costs, and emission-free driving fits with your values.
Who does a plug-in hybrid car suit best?
A PHEV is probably best for you if you do lots of short trips around town and don’t want to stop for recharging on long open road journeys. With a larger battery than a hybrid, you may well get around town and back home to recharge overnight without ever using the ICE engine. On long trips, there’s no ‘range anxiety’ to worry about, but if it’s convenient you can always top up the battery with a fast charge for some more planet-saving all-electric kilometres. When the battery gets low or you accelerate on a steep hill, the ICE engine simply kicks back in to put the car in hybrid mode.
Did you know?
The world’s first working electric vehicle, a small locomotive that used two electromagnets, a pivot and a battery, was built by Thomas Davenport, an American from Vermont, in 1835.