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Understanding hybrid and electric vehicles

Delphi hybrid

With ever stringent emissions legislation, and growing popularity among consumers, hybrid and electric vehicles (HEVs) will become increasingly common place on our roads. But do you know the difference between a hybrid and an electric vehicle (EV)? And what are the advantages of each? As a leading manufacturer of the advanced propulsion technology at the heart of these vehicles, we can fill you in on the what’s what with hybrid and electric.

What is a hybrid car?

The word ‘hybrid’ means a combination of two different elements. So it stands to reason that a hybrid car will use two different means of propulsion; an electric motor and an internal combustion engine; either gasoline or diesel. Whilst the specifics will vary by type, the engine will almost certainly be used to charge the vehicle’s battery, which in turn powers the electric motor. In some hybrids, this is all the engine is there for. In others, it drives the wheels directly, using an additional battery for some all-electric driving. 

Hybrid

 
A mild hybrid, for example, can’t drive on electric power alone - it uses a small battery and a motor-generator, to assist the powertrain, boosting the engine’s output when needed. A full hybrid, however, can be powered either directly by the engine, the electric motor or a combination of the two. Here, the engine is typically the main power source, with assistance provided by the motor and battery for electric only driving, albeit at lower speeds and/or for a few miles/kilometers (kms) at a time. Either way, these dual-energy vehicles consume less fuel and emit less emissions than their diesel or gasoline equivalent, making them an attractive option for lower mileage or city driving conditions.

What is a plug-in hybrid car?

A plug-in hybrid vehicle, also known as a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle or PHEV for short, is often considered a halfway house between hybrid and full electric driving. As its name suggests, it is a hybrid car that can also be 'plugged in' and charged from an electric outlet, just like an electric car, as well as on the move. The main difference versus other hybrids is the higher capacity battery pack, which allows all-electric driving for longer (currently averaging between 20 to 40 miles/30 to 60 kms). Once its EV range is depleted, the vehicle runs like a conventional hybrid. PHEVs give owners the benefit of all-electric driving for shorter trips, and full hybrid driving range for longer distances. When used correctly, this helps to improve fuel efficiency and overall exhaust emissions. 

plug in

What is an electric car?

An electric vehicle uses a battery-powered electric motor to power the vehicle 100 percent of the time. So unlike hybrid vehicles there’s no gasoline or diesel engine to fall back on if the battery is depleted. That means you can charge or ‘refuel’ your car at home or at a charging station. With no fuel, electric vehicles emit no tailpipe emissions – they don’t even have an exhaust – and are more cost effective to run. On the downside, charging the battery takes much longer than filling up a tank – several hours instead of minutes. Their driving range is also considerably less than a conventional hybrid, although improvements in both battery technology and charging infrastructure will see this become less of an issue moving forwards. 

electric car

 
So, whether a hybrid, plug-in hybrid or full electric vehicle, the principle is the same: these vehicles offload all or part of the work of the conventional combustion engine to a battery-driven motor.

Want to know more? Learn about the sophisticated propulsion software and systems inside.