Electric is here. Well, the truth is that electric has been around for years. Self-charging hybrids like the Toyota Prius, and the all-electric Nissan Leaf or BMW i3, and many other models, have been exceptionally popular cars and a common sight on the streets for the past two decades. But in the past hybrid and electric cars represented a small minority of UK car buyers, but now things are becoming quite different.

The UK government plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles from 2030, and as such manufacturers are now moving to only create hybrids and all-electric models from that year onwards, or in many cases before. And with higher road tax applied to petrol and diesel cars, and no tax applied to no or low emitting cars, as well as grants given by the government to make the switch, it means that electric is now where it’s at, or the shift towards it is at least on the horizon.

In July 2021, 9% of new cars were pure-electric, 8% were plug-in hybrids, and 12% were full-hybrids. That means that just under a third of new cars bought in the UK were electric. While mild hybrids (MHEV) made up the vast majority of new petrol and diesel sales. While the sale of standard diesel cars has dropped by 55% over the last year (and indeed diesel sales have been dropping for years), and standard petrol sales have dropped 39% over the last year too. So this gives us some clear context of how the industry is moving from the traditional combustion engine, towards an electric future.

Here’s an overview of what types of hybrids and electrics are on offer, following by the main considerations around driving electric.

Hybrids

A hybrid car uses two types of power; a traditional petrol or diesel engine, with an additional electric motor. In mild and self-charging hybrids, the electric motor is smaller, and charged by the motion and braking of the car, and does not need to be charged by a cable to a mains power supply. While plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) have a far larger battery, which requires mains charging at regular intervals.

The main advantages of hybrid are that they should consume less fuel and emit less CO2 than their conventional counterparts, and thus be cheaper to run, and more environmentally friendly. And because of their lower emissions they have cheaper road tax (VED) and lower company car tax rates than petrol or diesel.

However, hybrids come at an extra cost, so deciding if one is right for you depends on the miles you do, to see if the cost saving benefits of running it outweigh the higher entry price, and if you have the ability to conveniently charge your car regularly, if you choose a PHEV.

Mild hybrid

A mild hybrid is essentially a conventional petrol or diesel car, with a small battery and additional technology that helps to reduce fuel consumption and emissions, but that does not use its electric motor to move the car.

The hybrid system is used for coasting, braking, and to assist with pulling away, providing small efficiency improvements beyond a standard petrol or diesel engine.

Mild hybrids typically have a small battery and a 48-volt electric generator, which assists the engine during hard acceleration. It will also harvest energy from braking, and store this in the battery for later use.

If you want the convenience and familiarity of petrol or diesel, but can afford the small extra cost for a mild hybrid alternative, then these become an attractive choice, to add an element of extra efficiency and fuel saving to an otherwise standard car.

Self-charging hybrid (or full hybrid)

 A self-charging hybrid (also called a full hybrid, or standard hybrid) primarily uses its petrol (or diesel) engine, with the electric motor taking over when it’s possible and more efficient to do so, such as at very low speeds.

As such the range of a self-charging hybrid is generally limited to only a mile or two, but at the times that it does switch to electric – at low speeds and idling – there can be significant fuel saving and efficiencies created.

This is ideal for those with a varied usage pattern. It doesn’t need to be charged via a plug, which means no time waiting for a car to charge (which can take considerable time) and with this it also means that any charging barriers are removed (for example, if you can’t easily charge from home etc.). While at the same time they consume less fuel, and emit less CO2.

Therefore, for those that don’t want to charge a car, or don’t want the extra upfront cost that goes with it, but want to have the cheapest running costs, and do their bit for environment, then a self-charging hybrid is the way to go. They’re great for start/stop city driving, and can be used for longer journeys when the combustion engine kicks in. A classic example is the Toyota Prius, which became especially popular with taxi drivers, due to the fuel cost saving over time, but without the need to stop and charge for half an hour, or overnight.

The reason not to choose a self-charging hybrid however, is if you want to drive electric but you do longer journeys (of up to 100 miles and beyond). For that, you’ll want to look at PHEV (or a long-range all-electric).

Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV)

A plug-in hybrid has a petrol or diesel engine with a small battery pack and electric motor. They are able to drive short distances (usually up to 35 miles) on pure electric power, until the battery is depleted, at which point it changes to the conventional engine.

PHEVs are great for drivers who mostly do short journeys, but need a car that can also cover high mileages from time to time. They can be a great first step into the world of electrified cars, and have the potential to save you a lot of money in fuel, but only if you’re able to charge them easily.

The clear advantage of running a PHEV is that it will have lower CO2 emissions and better fuel economy than a conventional combustion engine car, or self-charging hybrid. And the benefits are best if you are able to do shorter journeys using all or mostly electric power, which is possible if you are able to charge up the car’s battery regularly.

On average it costs 12p per mile to drive a petrol-engine, which drops to just 5p per mile for trips done using electric power (if you charge up at home at a rate of 14p per kilowatt hour). Therefore, if you’re a regular driver, the cost savings add up when you drive electric.

You’ll also benefit from a lower or zero rate of road tax (VED) and if you live in the city you could also avoid paying London’s Congestion Charge (if your car emits less than 75g/km of CO2) and London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone. (The former costs £15 a day and the latter £12.50 a day, and other cities around the UK are considering introducing charges).

Another advantage of a PHEV is that it removes ‘range anxiety’ associated with all-electric vehicles. If you run out of battery charge, you’ll always have a combustion engine to rely on.

A downside of driving a PHEV is that it has poorer fuel economy than a conventionally-powered alternative when driven using the engine rather than the electric motor. This is because you’ll be driving the additional weight of an electric battery pack at the time. So PHEVs are best when they are charged and predominantly running from the battery. In earlier years, especially with the highly popular Mitsubishi Highlander PHEV, there were many cases of people not charging the vehicle and predominantly relying on the petrol engine, which then took a heavy toll on the engine (they are usually smaller) and ended up making the car more expensive to run. However, nowadays those who buy PHEVs are a lot clearer on the need to charge them.

PHEVs tend to cost more to buy than petrol or diesel. So while they create lower running costs, it’s good for you to weigh these up against the extra upfront cost.

The reason not to buy, is if most of your journeys are longer than a PHEV’s pure electric range, or if you’re not able to charge the battery frequently, in these cases you would end up doing the majority of your driving using the engine, which would defeat the purpose and create higher running costs than a conventional engine, mild or self-charging hybrid, or an all-electric alternative.

If most of your journeys are long motorway drives, then a pure electric car with a long range could be suitable as long as you’re able to replenish its batteries after each long drive. But if you’re not able to charge cheaply and easily, then a diesel-engine model (or diesel hybrid) is likely to be the most cost-effective option for longer distances.

The reason to buy is if regular charging isn’t an issue, then fuel savings can really add up (you’ll spend 50% less on fuel if you keep topped up and only do short journeys), while the upfront cost of PHEVs have also come down, and there are other benefits such as no or low tax, and the reassurance that you have a back-up combustion engine for longer journeys.

All-electric

All-electric is much more expensive to buy (as the battery comes at a very high cost), but the entry price is coming down as mainstream car brands now offer all-electric modesl in every size, and the charging costs are breathtakingly low, which can offset the upfront cost.

Lower range all-electric cars – that mainly suit local driving – are now much more affordable, as well as offering superb value in running costs. While longer range all-electric cars can be out of budget for many, but for those who can afford them (and who can charge them at home easily) they offer remarkably low running costs, with the ability to go the distance with confidence, and offer impressive performance too.

If you’re a city dweller and do most of your driving in urban areas, then an all-electric vehicle (or PHEV) could be a great option. The main deal-breaker (beyond purchase price) is having the convenient ability to charge your car (as the only source of power) and therefore the need for access to off-road parking where a charging point can be installed, in order to get the most efficient charging. So if you don’t have a garage or space by where you live that allows you to easily charge the car, then it just won’t be very practical, and a hybrid is probably a better choice.

Electric vehicles are best suited to people that travel about 30 to 100 miles per day. If you have a longer journey planned then an all-electric can still handle these. A good number of all-electrics now have ranges of well over 300 miles (that’s Brighton to Blackpool, or London to Llandudno, in one charge, with plenty of juice to spare). Also, the overwhelming majority of motorway services now have electric charging points, and public charge points can be found in towns and supermarket car parks and villages throughout the UK. These are easy to find too, you can simply search “EV charging stations” on Google Maps, or use a dedicated resource like zap-map.com. However, these can range from being free to being one of the more expensive ways to charge, and may cost £6-7 for 30 minutes of charge, which gives about 100 miles of range. So, if you are doing seriously long distances and need to top up en route, then you will have to wait for it to charge (so it might be worth doing this when you’re going to stop for a meal or do some shopping).

Small all-electric

It’s useful for us at this point to split all-electric into city runabouts, and larger long-range options such as SUVs, to compare general credentials and price. Smaller choices like Fiat’s New 500 Electric has an accessible starting price of around £20k (including the government’s £2,500 plug-in vehicle grant) and offers 115 miles of range, while better spec options run into mid-£20k mark and beyond, and offer 199 miles of range. They are fun to drive (thanks to the zippy nature of electric) and perfect for city and local driving. While the cost to charge it for 100 miles has been calculated as £3.89 (which is cheaper than a Boots Meal Deal), while a 1.2-litre petrol equivalent would cost about £11.22 per 100 miles to fuel.

Over time the savings can add up, but you need to look at how many miles you do per month and per year to see if the extra outlay price of EV is worth it for the fuel savings long-term. And it’s worth noting that a full home charge can take 11 hours 40 mins, and that regular charging is best done overnight when electricity is cheapest, so you’ll have to fit a home charge point and get used to new habits around charging. However, you don’t need to charge every night (unless you have a daily long-distance commute) and doing so can shorten the lifespan of the battery. Also, charging to 100% every time isn’t necessary or advisable, as it can add stress to the battery, so maintaining between 30% to 80% capacity is best practice, and doing so takes considerably less time, which makes it more like charging your smart phone or tablet.

If you drive regularly, an all-electric car is likely to save you hundreds, or maybe even thousands of pounds a year compared to a conventional petrol or diesel. Depreciation and servicing charges need to be considered in all options, but the fuel-cost saving benefits are clear to see.

Large all-electric

Larger all-electric cars, such as electric SUVs, are becoming more and more popular as more long-range family-friendly options become available (especially from premium manufacturers) and as charging options and infrastructure increase and expand.

The biggest barrier against them is of course price, with the more premium and flashy options generally costing somewhere between £50k-£100k, which can be a little eye-watering for many. However, options from Kia, Hyundai, MG, Skoda, VW, Ford, Mazda and others, have starting prices that range from £25-£45k, which is much more accessible.

These larger cars have longer ranges (200 miles+) and can therefore can do longer trips, and in theory they don’t need to be charged up as often as their smaller counterparts. Also, it’s worth a mention that all-electric cars also have great acceleration (thanks to no lag from battery power – it’s kind of like a Scalextric) and the larger saloons and SUVs (with the largest batteries) offer the best acceleration, of about 0-60mph in 5 seconds. Therefore, the large ones are fun to drive too, but it can take a little time to get used to the acceleration response (as well as driving without a clutch, if you’re used to one).

Electric SUVs have a full home charge time of up to 20 hours and beyond, due to their larger battery. But again, like their smaller counterparts, much smaller charging time is needed when you top up. For most electric cars you can add 100 miles of range in 35 minutes or less (with a 50kW rapid charger), so while full charge time figures might look startling, in reality top-ups and home charging don’t take that long, and can be easily set for overnight (when electricity is cheapest), or topped up when you’re out on the road or parked up somewhere out and about that has a charge point.

These types of models have become very popular, and many of them have their current allocations sold out, with a long customer waiting list for the next ones to arrive. So if an all-electric car feels right for you due to the cost-saving (and eco) credentials, then don’t be surprised if you have to wait to get the one you want.

Explore your options on Green.Car

Take some time to work out how many miles you do each week, or month, or year, in order to work out what type of electric vehicle might suit you best. And if you can easily charge from home (e.g. install a charge point) or not.

You can then explore all options between mild, self-charging, plug-in hybrid, or electric, and find out our target price (the ideal price to aim for if buying) for any model, as well as monthly payment options, so you can decide if the car you like fits your budget.

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We’re here to help you make the change to electric, whenever you’re ready to do so. You can book a test drive through us, for any manufacturer or model (and we highly recommend test-driving any model you’re interested in) and you can find out the latest prices, offers, waiting times, or info through us, just click the link below and follow the prompts.

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