Explaining why all electric cars are better than hybrids

5 Apr 2018
9 min read
Explaining why All Electric Cars Are Better than Hybrids

From electric cars to hybrid plug-in electric vehicles, motoring is changing for good.

The information provided was correct at the time of publication.  Some incentives and grants may no longer be available.

Society is increasingly aware that electric cars and plug-in hybrid vehicles are a good thing for our health, our pockets and the planet.

But there is no doubt that all this new technology can be confusing, so below is a brief overview of low-emission vehicles and the very real reasons for their existence.

Key Trends Driving Electric Car Sales in the UK

There are several key trends driving new car sales in the UK as people consider more environmentally-friendly forms of transport. With zero tailpipe emissions, lower running costs and greater access to charging stations, there is every reason to consider buying a new electric car.

In 2017, 2% of all new cars registered were electric vehicles, with around 120,000 electric cars on the road. However, this rate is doubling every two years whilst petrol and particularly diesel car sales plummet. It is widely acknowledged by governments, unions and the car industry that rapidly increasing electric car sales is the start of a revolution in transport.

The key reasons for this change are climate change and air pollution. Dangerous levels of poor air quality are reached every day up and down the country. The prime cause is road traffic, so dirty diesel and petrol cars are increasingly being penalised.

In addition, transport is the main source of greenhouse gases in the UK with passenger cars the biggest contributor of carbon dioxide emissions. Therefore, the quicker we switch to all electric cars the better.

But how do you buy a new car when there are so many types of low-emission vehicles to choose from?

Finding the Best Electric Car or Plug-in Hybrid Car

Finding the best electric car for you depends on your driving patterns, budget and access to electric sockets or charge points (on or off road).

In terms of identifying the best models, there are plenty of websites and car magazines that review the latest electric cars and discuss the pros and cons of each type. Some of the more traditional journals are still stuck on the petrol versus diesel debate so they are behind the curve on the most exciting developments in motoring for over a hundred years.

The Green Car Guide and Next Green Car offer reviews, prices and of course benefits of electric and hybrid cars, as well as more conventional cars.

All major car manufacturers including Nissan, BMW, Hyundai, Renault, Mini and Mercedes, have released exciting electric cars. In the UK the most popular electric cars are the Nissan Leaf, BMWi3 and the Renault Zoe. Tesla has a great reputation however; the significant price tag makes their cars less affordable for most people. Meanwhile, the Mistubushi Outlander is an SUV and is the most popular plug-in hybrid in the UK.

If you are considering buying a new electric car then check out our in-depth article, Fantastic Reasons to Buy an Electric Car.

What is Better: An Electric Car or a Hybrid Car?

Electric cars are far better than hybrids because electric cars have an all-electric powertrain, whereas hybrids still burn fossil fuels. It is far cheaper to use electricity than fill up a tank with petrol or diesel so for environmental and economic reasons, pure electric cars are a winner. Battery electric vehicles also receive a government grant of up to £2,500 where as hybrid cars do not.

However, it is worth noting that plug-in hybrid cars are definitely better than a comparable petrol or diesel car. Whilst they are less efficient and less economical to drive than a full electric vehicle, hybrid cars can help to reduce overall running costs.

If you are not yet ready to buy an all-electric car then a plug-in hybrid may be the best option.  If charging points are an issue, it is also worth talking to your council about providing on-street charging points, which central Government fund, see Fantastic Reasons to Buy an Electric Car. Zap map has even launched a service where people can share domestic charge points so the number and location of places to charge cars continues to increase.

Plug-in hybrids (PHEV) are generally more expensive to buy than a pure electric car as you are buying both a traditional engine and an electric motor. The complexity of a hybrid means your car has more servicing requirements than a simple electric vehicle. This also means you are driving around carrying both an electric motor and an internal combustion engine on board, so the car is heavier and less efficient.

Also, there can be still significant pollution from burning fossil fuels, especially from conventional hybrids, which is bad for global warming and air pollution.

What is a Hybrid Car?

Hybrid vehicles are a halfway house between electric cars and conventional cars. Hybrids are a combination of an electric motor powered by a battery pack and a traditional engine powered by fossil fuels. Intelligent software in the vehicle switches automatically between the two power trains (electric or combustion) depending on the driving conditions.

Hybrids offer cost savings for drivers as they use less fuel (petrol or diesel) and therefore they reduce levels of air pollution so they are better for the environment and for human health. However, the amount of fuel savings and tailpipe emissions depend very much on the type of car chosen as plug-in hybrid are far superior for carbon dioxide savings.

What Is the Difference Between a Hybrid Car and a Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle?

Red hybrid car door

There are two types of hybrid cars: Conventional hybrids and plug-in hybrids electric vehicles (PHEV). Both hybrids have a battery and usually burn petrol as a fuel (although there are some diesel hybrids on the market).

Plug-in hybrids (PHEV) such as the Mitsubishi Outlander have a plug and cable to charge the battery using electricity. Whereas conventional hybrids are recharged during driving. This means that theoretically, PHEVs have lower emissions than conventional hybrid cars as electricity is cleaner than burning fossil fuels in the car engine. However, this is only true if the car battery is recharged when low. Despite all the cost savings and reduction in emissions sometimes this doesn’t happen as humans are creatures of habit.

Whilst they are not as environmentally beneficial, hybrids offer a backup engine, which, for those who regularly drive 200 miles a day is reassuring. Some electric cars have a battery range extender, like the BMWi3, which is another secondary power source. There is also a strong second-hand market for hybrids such as the Toyota Prius. For all these reason, hybrids are popular with a lot of drivers as a stepping stone to an all-electric vehicle, particularly if they have nowhere to charge their car.

Preventing Air Pollution: The key benefit of electric cars

Mum and kids wearing pollution masks

When burnt diesel and petrol produce primarily carbon dioxide but also other products such as particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxide (NO2). These pollutants are detrimental to human health increasing the number of asthma attacks along with heart attacks and strokes. That is why the less fossil fuels that are burnt the cleaner the air is and the healthier the people are.

However, as a nation we are buying more and more SUVs and driving further. SUVs are heavier and sit higher off the road creating more drag and therefore these cars consume more fuel. Hence, they are bad news for climate change and also bad news for air quality. Vulnerable people, particularly children and the elderly are far more susceptible to the impacts of toxic air pollution.

In contrast, electric cars are charged from the grid which is increasingly powered by wind farms and other low sources of carbon electricity so they improve local and national air quality.

Car Clubs: Driving Change

Drivers in the UK lose up to three days a year stuck in traffic during rush hour. During peak hours, 6am-9am and 4pm-7pm, drivers in London travel at an average speed of less than 13mph (according to recent research www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-42917201).

The cost in wasted fuel and wasted time, is encouraging many people to review and change the way they travel. Instead of saving to buy a big polluting car that depreciates from the minute they are bought (and in many cases is parked for over 90% of the day), people are paying for travel as a service.

Electric car clubs are a growing trend, particularly in cities like London, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Bristol, where traffic and parking are a problem. This type of shared mobility is an easy and affordable alternative for commuters and other drivers. They simply hire an electric car when required using a mobile phone app. E-Car, Zipcar and Bluecity are some examples of UK mobility sharing car clubs but there are many more.

Corporate Benefits of Electric Fleet Cars or Company Cars

There are plenty of benefits for businesses and companies who choose to add electric vehicles to their fleet. Not only does it send out a fantastic statement about the values of the company to staff and customers, it offers some strong financial gains; ultra-low emission vehicles offer significant tax advantages.

Electric company cars have a very low benefit-in-kind (BIK) ratio and many more fleets are purchasing electric vehicles for this reason as they pay lower tax. Employees with an electric company car can charge their car at work for free and it is not seen as a benefit for tax purposes. For the latest benefits refer to Office for Low Emission Vehicles (PDF).

Self drive car interior

Connected Automated Vehicles Run on Electric (CAVE)

We’ve all heard of the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence so is it only a matter of time before we start to see driverless ‘pods’ on the road?

It’s already simple to book an electric car club vehicle from an app on a mobile phone, collect the car with a swipe card and drive away. As electric cars become more sophisticated, inbuilt sensors will allow vehicles to connect and develop ‘road awareness’ and ‘see’ other vehicles on the road. Using these senses, maps and satellite images, cars will be driving you, even if this is a decade away!

In this vision of the future, people won’t drive, and they won’t own cars, and are unlikely to learn to drive. More importantly we will never use the phrase ‘petrol stations’ again.


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