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Electric vs Hybrid vs Petrol: What’s the right car for you?

By Matt Mostyn Friday 20 November 2020

Find out everything you need to know about the pros and cons of hybrid and fully electric cars, and how they compare to conventional vehicles.

Differences between electric and petrol cars

As we search for better ways to reduce carbon and save the planet, there’s no denying the rise in popularity of electric and hybrid vehicles. Up to now, more than 500,000 of them have been sold in the UK alone – and numbers are up 21% from last year1. Meanwhile, the UK government has committed to ending the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 as part of the PM's Green Plan. 

Here at OVO we’re busily working to support the take-up of electric vehicles – which will play a vital role in creating a more sustainable planet. From smart chargers to vehicle-to-grid technology, these are just some of the ways we’re helping members to make their journey to zero carbon. 

We also have a special energy plan – called EV Everywhere – which is just for owners of electric vehicles. But we’re also keen to find out what’s stopping people from swapping the pump for the plug. We recently asked 2,000 Brits for their feedback, and the findings were fascinating. Read about our insights into the electric vehicle revolution to get a sense of the key challenges and benefits.

There’s no doubt that electric vehicles (EVs) are here to stay. But understanding what they are, and how they compare to conventional petrol or diesel cars can be a challenge. For that reason, we’re doing a deep dive into the electric vs hybrid vs petrol car debate, to give you a sense of the pros and cons of each. You’ll be an expert in no time!

What exactly is an electric vehicle?

Electric vehicles are cars that run solely on electricity and therefore produce no tailpipe emissions. Rather than having a petrol or diesel engine, they have an electric motor (powered by a battery), which is charged by plugging the car into a power source. 

Electric vehicles are a brilliant piece of technology – and they’re not only cheaper to run, but they’re also way better for the environment. That’s because they reduce pollution, making the air cleaner and less harmful to our own health, as well as that of animals, plants and water. Check out another of our blogs to find out some of the other ways electric cars benefit our world.

What about hybrid vehicles?

There are two main types of hybrid vehicles – standard or ‘mild hybrids’, and ‘hybrid-electric’ vehicles – also known as ‘full hybrids’ plug-in hybrids or PHEVs

Hybrids usually have a lower battery range than all-electric vehicles. Their electrical capacity acts more as a supplement to their petrol engines, helping to maximise fuel efficiency. Some hybrids do have the option for electric-only driving – but that’s usually just at low speeds and/or over short distances. 

Here’s a quick summary of each type: 

What are standard hybrid cars?

Standard hybrids charge their battery pack via actions like regenerative braking (which recycles energy created through the braking system), and this is what gives them their electric power. But they can’t be charged at an electric car charging station – unlike PHEVs. With their larger batteries, PHEVs are closer to fully electric vehicles. That’s because you’re able to rely purely on their electric power to drive them.

What are full hybrid cars?

Full or plug-in hybrid vehicles can be plugged in to power up their battery – but they also have a fuel engine, which gives you the option to use petrol or diesel too, when needed. They’re actually pretty clever, being able to decide when to use electric power and when to use a mix of fuel, for maximum efficiency.

What are hybrid-electric cars?

Hybrid-electric vehicles also combine a conventional petrol or diesel engine with an electric motor and batteries. But while they do have a battery, these cars can’t be plugged into the mains to charge up. Instead, they store electric energy in their battery through the action of braking.

While they’re not quite as ‘green’ as fully electric cars, they still burn through less fuel and have fewer harmful emissions than cars with just a regular petrol or diesel internal-combustion engine (ICE).

Incidentally, if you just can’t get enough of a good acronym, any car that doesn’t solely use a conventional petrol or diesel engine is called an alternatively fuelled vehicle, or ‘AFV’.

Electric vs fuel – which is best?

electric car charging

The debate over whether electric or fuel is better will no doubt rage on for some time to come. But there’s no denying the basic facts – so here they are!

Petrol cars – pros and cons

Petrol cars have been around since 1886, if you can believe that! And they’re still the most popular cars on the market, dominating sales worldwide despite huge leaps forward in electric car technology. 

The pros of petrol cars

It’s not hard to understand the appeal of petrol cars: 

  • They’re generally cheaper to both buy and maintain than electric or hybrid cars.
  • You can also drive them further than electric cars on just one refuelling – which is a major drawcard if you’re munching the miles on a regular basis.
  • There’s also a habitual reason – because we’re just more familiar with them and used to driving them. 
  • Plus at the moment, there’s a lot more choice when it comes to finding a car that suits you.  

The cons of petrol cars

Just because we’ve always done something a certain way, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be open to change!

  • When you think about it, petrol cars really don’t have a place in a renewable world. They’re just not good for the environment, pumping out a staggering amount of carbon into the atmosphere every year.
  • Overall, 30% of the EU’s carbon emissions come from transport – and a huge 72% of that comes from cars2. But if we electrified the road transport sector around the globe, we could feasibly reduce global emissions by as much as 11.9%3.
  • Added to that, they’re just more costly to run, not only for the planet, but also for you.
  • Petrol is also expensive, so fuelling a petrol car can add up to more than simply plugging it in.

Hybrid cars – pros and cons

Standard hybrids

The pros of standard hybrids
  • Standard hybrids are much more economical for stop-start-type city driving. That’s because you drive more slowly – and you also generally brake more, which helps to charge the battery.
The cons of standard hybrids
  • Their batteries can make standard hybrids heavier and less fuel-efficient than a petrol car when you’re driving outside cities.
  • Plus the batteries can quickly run low when you put your foot down.
  • And finally, the tax benefits aren’t nearly as good for hybrid cars as they are for full electric ones.

Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs)

The benefits of plug-in hybrids (PHEVs)
  • PHEVs have larger batteries than standard hybrids, making them better able to drive further and faster on their electric charge. In fact, they can go up to 30 miles, and at least 70mph in some cases. And because you’ve got a conventional engine as a back-up, there’s less to worry about if you’re travelling long distances.
  • Also, because a PHEV qualifies as an Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicle (ULEV), you can apply for a grant to cover part of the cost of your car.
  • And don’t forget that cars which emit less than 100g/km of CO2 pay no road tax, and no congestion charge in big cities like London.
The drawbacks of plug-in hybrids (PHEVs)
  • With their larger batteries, PHEVs are heavier cars – which lowers their fuel economy once the batteries are depleted. 
  • You also need to recharge them more often than a pure EV. 

Read our guide on the benefits and features of plug-in hybrid cars to find out more about this type of vehicle.

Electric vehicles – pros and cons

Fully electric cars – also known as BEVs (Battery Electric Vehicles) – do away with the need for conventional petrol or diesel engines altogether. Yes, they run on battery power alone, and that means zero emissions!

The benefits of electric cars

  • Electric cars tend to be quick, quiet and easy to drive.
  • They’re also a completely sustainable way to travel if you recharge the battery using electricity from 100% renewable sources.
  • You’ll likely pay much less in tax on an electric car, too. In many cases, you’ll be completely exempt from many of the usual taxes charged when buying a car.
  • Finally, yes, it’s true… you can actually make money from your electric car! Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) technology turns your car into an energy storage system and allows you to sell any excess energy stored in your EV’s battery back to the national grid.

This not only makes you money, but it helps balance supply across the grid. We’re leading the field in this space, as we invest in innovative technologies to drive us towards a zero-carbon future. Find out more about our work in V2G.

The drawbacks of electric cars

  • Despite their lower running costs, electric vehicles generally cost a lot more to buy in the first place.
  • Electric cars also have a shorter maximum drivable distance on a single charge than conventional cars. And because it takes longer to charge a battery than it does to fill up your tank the normal way, it could make driving from, say, John O’Groats to Lands End a challenge! 

Read more about the benefits and drawbacks of electric cars in our comprehensive guide.

Which type of car would work best for you? 

how an EV works

There are a few key points to consider when you’re working out which type of vehicle works best for your own needs:

Range

The first thing to think about is how far you generally drive. Bear in mind that the average car journey is around 21 miles. And that makes the idea of an electric, or at least a hybrid car much more viable. When you also consider that fully electric vehicles can have an average range of 194 miles on a single charge, it’s another strong selling-point for going electric.

If you mostly use a car for shorter distances, a standard hybrid could be your best bet. That’s because they’re cheaper and better for the environment. In fact, if you’re commuting short distances or use your car as a runabout, you could get away with avoiding the need for petrol altogether!

But if you’re regularly on the road travelling longer distances, a plug-in hybrid may be a better option. That’s because they give you the option of a petrol engine, so you won’t need to worry about whether there’s a charge point available along the way.

It’s also worth noting that charging infrastructure is growing rapidly all the time. And that makes long-distance travel, even with a full electric car, an increasingly viable option! Polar Plus for instance – which is the largest public network of electric vehicle charging points in the UK – currently has 7,000 charging point locations and growing. And these days, many motorway service stations also offer rapid chargers, which can charge an electric car to around 80% in less than 30 minutes.

To find out more about the costs of charging an electric car at home, at work or on the go, check out our informative guide. 

Considering buying an electric car?

With our EV Everywhere plan you'll be able to save money, get 100% Green Energy and a free Polar Plus membership when you join to OVO. You will also benefit economically from saving £100 off your energy if you switch now. 

Get a quote

Cost

Of course, this is another major consideration. But while hybrid and full electric cars do cost more than their petrol counterparts, the savings will add up over time. For fully electric cars, not only will you no longer need to pay for petrol, but you can also avoid paying the usual taxes.

These include Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) and company car taxes – and let’s not forget about the government’s plug-in car grant, which stumps up 35% of the purchase price (up to £3,000) towards the cost of eligible vehicles.

Plug-in hybrids also have lower VED and company car tax rates than petrol or diesel cars – and just like full electric cars, many are also exempt from costs like the London Congestion Charge. 

Battery charge time 

If you’re a time-conscious traveller, it’s worth knowing that charging times are normally faster for pure electric cars than for hybrids. Many pure electric cars have rapid charge capabilities – whereas for plug-in hybrids, charge time is usually between two and four hours. But because they’re supported by combustion engines, that’s perhaps less of a major inconvenience anyway. 

Incidentally, there’s some clever new technology being developed to transform city street lamps into electric vehicle charging points – making it easier than ever to join the EV revolution and combat climate change.

We’ve partnered with Ubitricity, and together we’re running a trial in London to transform 50 lamp posts into charging points. You just plug in your car using smart cables. It’s early days, but spotting a charging point could eventually be as simple as finding a light!

Got an electric vehicle already? With a super-speedy charger, your car can take you places in a quicker, greener way than ever before. Ready to get behind the wheel?

Value and depreciation

Second-hand electric cars are becoming ever more popular, and sale prices are increasing – which makes them a good bet for anyone thinking ahead to when it comes time to sell.

Electric cars will also hold their value for longer. You won’t ever find electric cars selling for as little as some petrol cars do, because the battery is worth so much.

As for hybrid cars, bear in mind that the Government recently announced that hybrid vehicles will eventually be phased out alongside petrol and diesels. That means there’ll be no new hybrids on sale from 2035 or earlier – which could well affect their sale-ability down the line. Having said that, the combination of electric range plus petrol engine could be an attractive proposition for many in the short-to-medium term.

OVO and electric vehicles

If you like the idea of cutting the cost of driving and reducing your carbon footprint, our innovative EV products can help you do just that. We have a special home energy plan for electric vehicle drivers that uses 100% renewable electricity. You’ll get £100 off your energy bill, plus FREE Polar Plus membership, with access to thousands of charging stations across the UK.

Plus you can also get discounts on a Smart Charger as an OVO member. Smart Chargers are a greener, cheaper way to charge your EV and get back on the road even faster.

And we’re currently also running a V2G trial, which allows OVO members to sell energy back to the grid. This is the world’s largest domestic trial, run in collaboration with Nissan, Indra and Cenex. Find out more about what we’re doing to support vehicle-to-grid technology in this pioneering new initiative.

Are you already the proud owner of an electric vehicle? Get a quote on switching to our 100% renewable electricity plan for your EV.

By the way, if you'd like to learn more about whether EVs really are better for the environment than petrol or hybrid cars, check out our handy guide.

Sources and references

1.   https://www.whatcar.com/advice/buying/electric-and-hybrid-cars-explained/n18052

2.  https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/society/20190313STO31218/co2-emissions-from-cars-facts-and-figures-infographics  

3.  https://ourworldindata.org/ghg-emissions-by-sector

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