Are hybrid cars worth it?
Are hybrid cars worth it? Before we get down to the nitty-gritty of answering this seemingly simple question, let me just say that if you are the proud owner of a hybrid or plug-in hybrid, I salute you.
I am absolutely sure you bought your car for all the right reasons with excellent intentions. Perhaps a plethora of perfectly reasonable circumstances didn’t allow you to think about a fully electric car.
And yep, I get it, I really do. They were advertised and sold as zero-emissions capable vehicles. Capable is the important word here, but the reality is, unfortunately, pretty different.
A new report from Transport and Environment shows that many of the most popular hybrid and plug-in hybrid models in the UK regularly turn on the internal combustion engine even when the car is supposedly in zero-emission mode. They are therefore not all that much better than pure petrol or diesel at reducing emissions or saving you money.
ChargeWorks decided very early on that we would not support the continued use of hybrid or plug-in hybrids. To us, hybrid cars seem very much like the Betamax, Mini-Disc or HD DVD of the car world.
A bridging technology that doesn’t really do anything new or terribly different than before. You could even argue it’s worse. And I may be going out on a limb here, but that is exactly what I am going to say. I will get to this later though.
I’m afraid I now have to do the boring bit and make sure you know your PHEVs from your HEVs as there are three different types of hybrid cars.
- Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV) is also advertised as a “self-charging hybrid” which is rant-worthy and absolutely ludicrous because it uses petrol to charge the battery, not magic. These cars combine an electric motor and internal combustion engine and offer no meaningful electric-only propulsion and should be called petrol-charging hybrids.
- Plug-in Electric Vehicle (PHEV). Like HEV, this combines an electric motor with a petrol or diesel engine but you can also charge the battery by, you guessed it, plugging it in. These cars are typically advertised as being able to travel 20-45 miles under electric power alone, but as we shall see this is not necessarily the case.
- Range Extended Electric Vehicles (RExEV) also feature both an internal combustion engine and an electric motor, but unlike PHEVs and HEVs, the electric motor does all the driving. These cars offer a good electric-only range but capitalise on those who suffer from range anxiety. To allay their fears of running out of battery they have peace of mind and the ability to continue their travels on the dirty stuff.
- Mild Hybrid Electric Vehicle (MHEV). Yes, I know I said three. But these vehicles are barely worth mentioning. The setup is basically the same as HEV, but the electric motor isn’t powerful enough to power the car on its own – it can only assist the combustion engine so you never get any pure electric driving. I include it because my stickler of a brain makes me and maybe I wanted to test if you can count or if you are paying attention.
So now that you know, if you didn’t already, your PHEVs from your HEVs I will henceforth be picking them apart hopefully in a somewhat respectful and useful way. Except for the MHEV. I shall leave that for prosperity.
What do I mean by HEVs not offering any meaningful electric-only propulsion? Well, while they do allow the car to move with just the electric motor when pulling away gently or reversing, this is pretty much it.
The electric battery and motor do also kick in to assist the engine when you ask for a bit more grunt with your right foot. But all this is only a tiny improvement on petrol- or diesel-powered cars which now commonly have a start/stop feature which cuts the engine when motionless.
No massive gains can be expected from this kind of technology. In fact, you could argue this is a poor deployment of the materials required for the electric battery and motor. Plus you’ve just made a complicated internal combustion engine-powered car even more complicated.
These cars don’t offer much in the way of reducing emissions and you could feasibly do just as well from an MPG point of view with a diesel.
The new Toyota Prius, you’ve probably heard of that one, offers 83 mpg on the combined cycle. The very similarly sized and priced Skoda Octavia Greenline III offers 88 mpg combined.
I tend not to take much notice of what the manufacturers say when it comes to MPG, dieselgate springs to mind. But if we assume a similar level of dishonesty between car manufacturers this is pretty underwhelming.
My biggest beef with PHEVs is that the technology relies quite heavily on the behaviour of their owners. I’m aware that some owners didn’t bother to install a home charger and so rarely plug them in, if at all.
This means they are simply using it as a traditional vehicle but now they have the inconvenience of always carrying around 396 kg of battery particulars which obviously increases fuel consumption rather than reducing it.
It’s like always driving around with 4 Rugby players. Some of you might feel this would be a highlight. Bad analogy. Anyway, you get the point.
My second biggest beef with PHEVs is even though they say they can travel only using electric motors, they rarely actually do.
If you’re cold and need the heater on, the combustion engine turns on. If you’re hot and need the air con on, the combustion engine turns on. If you need to go up a hill, the combustion engine turns on. If you need to accelerate quickly, the combustion engine turns on. If it’s a cold morning and the battery is cold, the combustion engine turns on.
These are regular occurrences. PHEVs are fundamentally not electric cars.
Out of the main three, I have more time for these. But I still don’t think they’re a good solution for you.
There is evidence, anecdotal I grant you, but nevertheless, of many people buying these cars because of range anxiety. Many months then pass by before they even think about needing the internal combustion engine. And when that time does come they find that, ohhhhh no. The engine won’t crank. Combustion engines enjoy being used regularly. They seize up otherwise.
My point is people buy the range extender believing a fully electric car isn’t good enough for their needs. And yet the RExEV is more often than not fine for 95% of their driving needs, bearing in mind these vehicles typically come with less than 100 miles of electric range, and then when they dare to use the combustion engine, it doesn’t work and they are on the phone with The AA.
So, are hybrid cars worth it? … Meh. Get in touch with us to find out more.