Everything you want to know about hybrid cars – but were afraid to ask

2nd January 2020

White electric car with charging plug inserted

We love our cars and we know you do too, but their impact on the environment cannot be denied. According to government figures, greenhouse gas emissions from road transport have been growing since 1990, despite efforts to make vehicles more efficient.

As traffic levels increased, the effects of fuel-efficient technology were mitigated and emissions from vehicles now make up more than a fifth of the UK’s total output of harmful substances in the environment.

Hybrid vehicles have been around since the late 1990s, but they are now becoming ever-more popular as a solution to the problem of pollution. With the government’s announcement that sales of new petrol and diesel cars will be banned from 2030, this is likely to increase over the next decade as carmakers invest more money into the technology.

But what exactly are hybrid vehicles? In case you haven’t really been keeping up with the lingo and are feeling left behind, here’s everything you need to know.

Hybrids in a nutshell

While the first hybrid car (the Prius in 1997) looked completely different to anything else on the roads, this isn’t the case anymore. In fact, you may not even realise you’re looking at a hybrid when you see one.

Basically, hybrids bridge the gap between traditional vehicles that are powered by petrol or diesel and those that are completely powered by electric energy because they combine a typical engine with a battery-powered electric motor.

There are a number of different types of hybrid:

1- Parallel hybrid

This is the most common type, with an example being the Toyota Prius. It can be powered solely by the engine; solely by the motor; or using both together. Electricity is produced and stored when the brakes are applied.

2- Range extender

Like the BMW i3, the engine in these cars never drives the vehicle and is instead used to produce energy to recharge the batteries.

3- Plug-in

These cars can be charged while they are being driven, or by being plugged in at a designated charging point. The Mitsubishi Outlander is a good example.

You might also hear the terms ‘strong’ or ‘mild’, which simply refers to the amount of battery power available – strong hybrids can drive further than mild ones.

How do they combine for driving?

Typically, the electric motor in a hybrid car applies at low speeds and when setting off from a stop to power the drive wheels. Once you reach around 35 mph, the fuel-powered engine takes over and powers the wheels instead.

Benefits of hybrid vehicles

Not only are they looking increasingly saintly when compared with traditional vehicles, but the other main advantage of hybrid cars is that they use up to 30 per cent less fuel per mile.

For fleet owners, this means having to splash out a lot less cash at the petrol pumps because there aren’t as many fill-ups.

You may also find that greener company cars are eligible for benefits such as lower road tax and company car tax in their first year, as well as being exempt from certain congestion charges.

Finally, although they may be more expensive to buy in the short term (potentially by up to 20 per cent more), hybrid vehicles could offer higher resale values further down the line should you come to sell your fleet and upgrade.

What’s more, with many manufacturers now offering plug-in variants for the majority of models in their line-ups, you shouldn’t be short of choice.

Electric charge point glowing with white light next to white car

What about range anxiety?

You might have heard the term ‘range anxiety’, which boils down to fear of running out of power before you have completed a journey. However, this needn’t worry you at all if you have a hybrid, because you can rest assured that the engine will kick in should your battery ever get low on juice. This is currently a significant advantage over full-electric cars.

Aren’t charging points few and far between?

You might have heard people scoffing that there’s no point in hybrid vehicles or full-electric cars because there’s nowhere to charge them up. Actually, this is no longer the case. Estimates suggest there are now 35,000 public charging points in the UK, with 7000 of these added in 2020 alone.

The government is planning a further 5,000 rapid public chargers by 2024 too – and don’t forget most hybrid cars can be charged up at traditional domestic power points.

According to Arval figures, 25 per cent of UK fleets have already begun adopting hybrid cars, so don’t be left behind; join the revolution!

Ellie Baker, brand manager at Fuel Card Services, comments: “We hope this has cleared up some of the myths behind hybrid car ownership. As you can see, they’re actually really simple and could offer significant benefits for your fleet – not least the knowledge that you’re doing your bit for the planet.”