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What’s the difference between Hybrid, Plug-in Hybrid and Fully Electric Vehicles?

As we transition from traditional fuels such as petrol and diesel, there have been a variety of technologies designed at each step that bridge the gap between what we have now and the electric future we envisage. Each step we take helps to make more efficient, cleaner vehicles.

However, with such a range of technology in the market, it can be hard to understand what the difference is. This guide aims to help explain the difference between hybrid, plug-in hybrid and full-electric vehicles.


A hybrid vehicle has both a carbon fuelled engine and an electric motor. The vehicle uses traditional fuel to charge a battery which stores power for the electric motor. The battery is further charged by regenerative braking whereby the wasted energy that slows down the car is recycled back into the battery.

The benefit of a hybrid compared to a full combustion engine is improved fuel efficiency and thus lower emissions. Full hybrids can reduce emissions by about 35% compared to traditional vehicles. However, there are some ‘mild hybrids’ on the market which only save around 10%.

Every hybrid, including mild hybrids, qualifies for a £10 annual discount on road tax. While that may not sound much, the low emissions could also result in big savings for company car drivers looking to lower their Benefit in Kind (BiK) tax bill.

Hybrids perform best in urban situations as they can often travel one of two miles on electric power recovered through braking. In this sense, they effectively operate like a self-charging EV. On the other hand, they are also a good alternative if you regularly drive very long distances as they do not require charging, so range is not an issue.

Hybrids have no rechargeable plug-in battery or cables. They must be filled up with petrol or diesel to fuel the vehicle in general.  The driving experience is exactly like a regular automatic car with the engine working to increase efficiency using the electric motor.

The price point of Hybrids is lower than plug-in and fully electric. Moreover, they have also been widely available for longer and so a greater number of second-hand options are available. As such, they may be a more financially accessible option for those looking to reduce their emissions.

Plug-in Hybrid

A plug-in hybrid (or PHEV) has all of the same technology as a hybrid, but the battery can also be charged using an external charge source. This means that the battery is often larger and more powerful to allow for more reliance on the electric motor.

Like an electric car, plug-in hybrid vehicles can typically be charged using any household or public charger. The connector or cable required may be different and so it is important to check this in your vehicle’s manual before purchasing any charging products.

PHEVs tend to be more expensive than a regular hybrid as the technology is more advanced. Tax incentives can make up at least part of the difference depending on the model chosen.

The main benefit to a PHEV is that it can be used as a purely electric vehicle at least part of the time. This means that emissions are reduced by up to 46% compared to traditional fuels. That said, the added appeal for many drivers is that they still have a combustion engine available that can power the vehicle when the charge runs out, removing range anxiety.

However, it is worth noting that the majority of plug-in hybrid owners use their combustion engine very rarely and can rely on charging for much of their travel. For example, the average driver in the UK travels 20 miles per day and the average PHEV has an electric range of around 30 miles. If you plug in your vehicle at home each night, you can fully rely on the battery to power your journeys.

The driving experience is also very like any automatic car but with the added requirement of charging from time to time. However, regular long journeys don’t suit the nature of a plug-in hybrid, because you’ll inevitably have to rely heavily on the car’s petrol or diesel engine. You are then essentially carrying around a heavy battery pack without any tangible benefit. Regular long drives can greatly reduce fuel economy, increasing emissions and costing you money.

There can be big advantages for company car drivers. Recent changes to company car tax mean that running a PHEV could save you thousands. From 6 April 2020, plug-in hybrids with CO2 emissions of less than 50g/km and an official electric range of 30-39 miles are subject to a Benefit in Kind (BiK) tax rating of just 10 per cent. An equivalent petrol or diesel car could be at least 30 per cent higher. As the EV range increases, so too does the potential saving.

Electric (Zero Emission) Vehicles

Fully electric are the only true zero emission vehicles on the market. They rely completely on power from external charging sources and do not have a combustion engine, only an electric motor.

While both PHEV and EV models are eligible for UK home charging grants against the cost of installing a home charge point, only pure-electric vehicles qualify for the government’s plug-in car grant against the cost of the vehicle.

EVs are often more expensive than traditional fuels for the same reasons as PHEVs. The main factor is the cost of the battery. However, new EVs costing less than £50k are eligible for up to £3,000 off the price. In many cases this is already factored into the advertised cost of the vehicle.

Electric cars are currently exempt from Benefit in Kind (BiK) company car tax. This rises to one per cent in 2021, and two per cent in 2022, but even then, you’ll be paying a fraction of what you would for a like-for-like petrol, diesel or plug-in hybrid car. Moreover, EV drivers pay zero road tax.

The biggest anxiety for prospective EV drivers is range. However, EVs on the market such as the latest Tesla models or Jaguar I-Pace have ranges up to 300 miles, 15 times the average distance driven daily in the UK.

With home charging units costing as little as £300 and over 33,000 public charge points dotted across the UK, charging your vehicle has never been easier.

At present, electric cars continue to cost more up front than the equivalent petrol or diesel model. However, studies suggest that the savings in fuel, tax and maintenance mean that EVs now have lower lifetime running costs.

The main challenge is making these vehicles accessible to those without off-street parking or who regularly cover several hundred miles a day. However, as we have discussed before, things are changing, and it is only a matter of time.

We hope this guide has sufficiently explained the difference between these three vehicle types. If you have any further questions about the above or would like to know more about switching to electric, please get in touch. A member of our technical team would be happy to answer any questions that you have.

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