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Hybrid cars use both electric motors and a conventional petrol or diesel engine to drive the vehicle.
Hybrids are usually categorised into:
- mild hybrids
- full hybrids
- plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs)
- extended-range hybrid electric vehicles (E-REVs).
The engine in these vehicles is always assisted by an electric motor (for example, the Honda Insight). The engine stops when the car is at rest and re-starts as soon as the accelerator is pressed to move off. This allows a smaller petrol engine to be used and improves fuel economy, particularly in urban and suburban driving. The battery is charged by the engine when the car is not accelerating, and energy from braking is also used to recharge the battery in a process called regenerative braking.
These vehicles can be driven at for a limited distance by the electric motor alone (for example, the Toyota Prius). This allows almost silent progress and zero tailpipe emissions in slow moving traffic. The engine starts as speed increases or when there is a requirement for greater acceleration. The battery is recharged by the engine when the car is not accelerating and also through regenerative braking. The additional weight of the battery and electric motor, in conjunction with the lower inherent efficiency of a petrol engine, mean that a similar sized diesel car may be more fuel efficient on motorway journeys.
Plug-in hybrids combine petrol or diesel engines with a battery and electric motor. They can also be plugged into the mains electricity in order to provide a much longer driving range on electric-only power. The batteries have a greater storage capacity than an existing hybrid, making it possible to drive considerably further using the electric motor only. For most commuting and domestic journeys it will be possible to drive in the electric mode with zero exhaust emissions.
Extended-range hybrids are similar to PHEVs (above), but they are always powered by their electric motor. The petrol or diesel engine simply keeps the battery charged on longer journeys. The engine doesn't power the wheels; instead it provides power to maintain the battery power, so it acts like a generator. The Vauxhall Ampera was the first model of this type to reach the market.
Pure electric vehicles are powered solely by on-board batteries. The new generation of electric cars have a range typically of 80 to 100 miles on a full charge, sufficient for the commuting and daily driving patterns of many people. The vehicles must pass the stringent safety testing which applies to all cars and in terms of overall performance they will be suitable for normal use including motorway driving.
Potential buyers will understandably have many questions to which they will demand answers before committing to the purchase of an electric car. For free, impartial advice to help decide if a plug-in vehicle could be appropriate for you, call one of our Transport Advisors on 0845 602 1425 or email email@example.com.
Government support in the form of the Plug-in Vehicle Grant is available to reduce the higher initial cost. This provides a subsidy of:
- 25%, up to £5,000, towards the cost of an electric car
- 20%, up to £8,000, towards the cost of an electric van
The Department for Transport's website has a list of eligible cars and eligible vans. The grant is automatically deducted from the retail price when an eligible vehicle is purchased, so there is no additional paperwork to complete, and you don't pay the full retail price upfront and then have to reclaim the benefit.
For both the car and van grant, minimum warranty terms apply and pre-registration conversions are eligible The van grant applies to vehicles with a gross weight of 3.5 tonnes or less, and performance criteria including a minimum range of 60 miles for fully electric vans (10 miles for plug-in hybrids) and a minimum top speed of 50 mph.
The lifetime running costs of an electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle will be of great interest to potential purchasers hoping to offset the higher initial purchase price against lower running costs. Plug-in cars offer a number of potential savings compared to conventional vehicles:
- a full charge will cost around £2 to £3 and will give a typical range of 100 miles. Driving 100 miles in a petrol or diesel car will cost around £12 to £18 in fuel, that is around six times the cost of the electric car. The cost savings will be greatest when owners have access to an overnight low rate electricity tariff.
- plug-in vehicles are currently exempt from Vehicle Excise Duty (road tax).
- plug-in cars are eligible for a 100% discount from the London Congestion Charge, worth up to £2,400 a year.
- free parking may also be available to further encourage the uptake of electric cars in some urban areas.
- there are fewer mechanical components than conventional vehicles so servicing costs are likely to be lower and we anticipate that maintenance costs will be lower too.
- for company car drivers, there is zero 'Benefit in Kind' company car tax to pay on fully electric cars until 2015, as well as exemption from tax on the provision of free private fuel.
Most electric vehicles available on the market today have a typical range of around 100 miles. However, how far you can go on one charge largely depends on how you drive the car. Driving the car in the most efficient way maximises the car's range and ensures driver satisfaction. For free advice to help you get the most out of a plug-in car or van, call one of our Transport Advisors on 0845 602 1425 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is likely that most cars will be recharged at home; however, it is acknowledged that a public recharging network will be necessary to reassure early buyers of the vehicles that there will be public recharging facilities available should they find themselves with insufficient range to complete their journey. Charging points are already in place and you can find details of where they are at:
- the Electric Vehicle Network website
- the Newride website.
- Explore the Zap-Map for more information about the rapidly expanding UK charging points network and to find your nearest on-street charge point.
To inform wider roll out of infrastructure as mainstream electric vehicles come to the UK, the Government is supporting the ‘Plugged-In Places’ programme. The scheme offers match-funding to consortia of businesses and public sector partners to support the installation of electric vehicle recharging infrastructure in lead places across the UK. The programme will provide data that that will help answer questions about the type and amount of infrastructure, for example rapid charging at motorway services, which will be needed to develop a national recharging system. The Government is supporting eight Plugged-In Places: East of England, Greater Manchester, London, Midlands, Milton Keynes, North East, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Find out more at the OLEV website. The Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) is a cross-Whitehall team that has been established to manage this programme of measures. Comprising people and funding from the Departments for Transport; Business, Innovation and Skills; and Energy and Climate Change; OLEV is responsible for taking forward a national policy on this shared agenda.
The Living with an Electric Car series of three short clips is presented by Robert Llewellyn of Red Dwarf and Scrapheap Challenge fame. They cover most of the questions potential buyers may have including charging, range and the cost of fuel (electricity) for the vehicles. They offer a realistic and in-depth review of the viability of electric cars and vans.