Electric and hybrid cars continue to rise in popularity, with the latest industry figures showing that electrified cars made up more than half of all new cars sold in the UK in the first eight months of the year.
That number will only increase as we get closer to 2030, when sales of new petrol and diesel cars are set to be banned, though some hybrids (which are yet to be specified) can be sold until 2035.
So if you’re ready to make the switch to an electrified car, which one might work best for you? Here we take a look at the pros and cons of each.
If you only want to dip your toe into electrified car ownership, a mild-hybrid is the first step. As their name suggests, this is a very light form of hybrid. There are various types available, but generally in a mild-hybrid, the traditional starter motor and alternator are replaced by a small electric generator. They usually run a 48-volt system, which provides gentle electric assistance to the engine, and are used in a wide range of cars – Ford, Audi and Volkswagen being some of the most popular.
The advantage to a mild-hybrid is that the system is relatively inexpensive, brings small performance benefits and does bring fuel-saving benefits, usually around 10 per cent compared to a standard petrol and diesel. You could also drive one of these mild-hybrids around without knowing you’re even using an ‘electrified car’.
Downsides? It really is a very light form of electrification and on some cars, the benefit is negligible. The engine-off running ability is limited, too, often only being done when the car is coasting.
A regular hybrid, sometimes known as a ‘self-charging’ hybrid is a fairly common system that’s been widely adopted by Toyota, Lexus and Honda, while Renault and Nissan have started introducing a range of hybrid models in recent years.
Again, how the system works depends on the manufacturer, but these hybrids usually operate by a petrol engine being joined by one or more electric motors, using energy stored in a small battery. This is charged using the engine or regenerative braking, which is when energy is converted into electricity when a car slows down.
Hybrids can be very efficient without the need to ‘plug in’ a vehicle – some of Toyota’s models can return more than a claimed 70mpg, but there’s the potential for more in urban driving. It’s claimed that many can travel around town running on electricity for 80 per cent of the time.
But there is no electric range as such, rather the system just switches between the two power sources depending on conditions and the charge in the battery. Though not having to plug in these vehicles is advantageous on longer trips, on the motorway they’re not always much more efficient than a petrol or diesel car.
If you want a car that’s able to combine the electric-running ability of an EV with the long-distance flexibility of a petrol car, it’s worth looking at a plug-in hybrid. These work in a broadly similar way to a standard hybrid, but feature a far larger battery that needs to be plugged in to be recharged. Plug-in hybrids are fairly common now, with most manufacturers now offering them.
They can typically be charged in a few hours, with the electric range varying massively depending on car – some with smaller batteries struggle to do 20 miles to a charge, while some from BMW and Mercedes can manage almost 70 miles.
Pros? Well, if you can make the most of their electric range and most of your journeys can be done within this range, they can bring some noticeable savings on fuel, especially if you charge at off-peak times or can make use of free workplace charging, which some companies offer. The low claimed, CO2 emissions also make them significantly cheaper to run as a company car owing to their low benefit-in-kind (BiK) tax. Should you do a longer journey once in a while, you don’t have to worry about stopping to charge either.
However, if you can’t charge them regularly, they are pretty much pointless as all that ends up happening is that you end up running around a petrol car weighed down by a large battery, and they won’t be much more efficient either. They can be rather expensive to buy as well, often being around £6,000 more expensive than s standard petrol model.
Last but not least are fully electric cars. While a few years the choice was limited, these days there are a whole range of different models available, from compact city cars to convertibles to seven-seat SUVs. The range of an electric car massively varies depending on the car and the size of its battery – some models like the Honde e struggle to do more than 100 miles from a charge, while cars like the Mercedes EQS are capable of more than 400 miles.
But what are the reasons to choose an electric car? Environmental considerations are a key one, as they emit zero tailpipe emissions as they drive along, and though quite a lot of energy can go into their production, this is easily recovered over the course of their lifecycle. Though government incentives for electric cars aren’t as generous as they once were, they’re still often cheaper to run than a petrol car, especially if you can charge overnight at home and make use of lower rates, while company car tax rate is substantially lower for EVs. With instantaneous torque available, electric cars are much smoother and often quicker than a like-for-like petrol model too.
What about the downsides of electric cars, though? Well, public charging remains an obstacle, and though it’s improving drastically, there are still issues with the availability of chargers and unreliability from the points themselves. If new, electric cars are considerably more expensive to buy, though steep initial depreciation means that a one-year-old EV doesn’t actually cost much more than a similar petrol vehicle of the same age if you buy wisely.