A global shift to greener practices and products has inevitably affected the automotive industry. Of course, it is safe to say that such changes had been in the works for decades. The first hybrid Toyota Prius emerged in Japan back in 1997, but such drastic industry-wide swifts cannot happen overnight. Regardless, consumer trends and a newfound global environmental consciousness have driven profound, substantive changes in recent years. As 2020 concludes, the debate of hybrid vs electric cars is now more relevant than ever.
What is an electric car?
To briefly define the terms, an electric car is a car entirely powered by an electric motor, as the name implies.
Such vehicles are often called battery electric vehicles (BEVs) or electric vehicles (EVs). They do away with traditional engines and run entirely on the power their battery packs provide. These are most often lithium-ion cells, but manufacturers may innovate in this area. Thus, one cannot refuel electric cars at gas stations and needs a dedicated EV charging station. Finally, since traditional engines are missing and battery packs may often be placed underneath the vehicle’s platform, electric cars usually provide more cargo capacity.
Electric cars present a new frontier for many prominent automakers today, including BMW and other pioneers.
What is a hybrid car?
A hybrid car, then, is a car that offers both a traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) and an electric motor.
Unlike EVs, hybrids come with complementary lower-capacity battery packs and primarily rely on their ICEs. The typical way the two power sources share duties is that the ICE takes up high-speed travel, while the electric motor takes over for lighter tasks and low speeds. Many hybrid models’ battery packs recharge as the vehicle brakes, instead of just relying on a full station recharge. Finally, this combination allows hybrids to offer better city mileage and a relatively lower emission rate than ICE-only cars.
Hybrid cars present an alluring compromise between old and new, and remain rather popular. However, many governments globally have already announced their intention to phase them out eventually.
Hybrid vs electric cars: cost
In most such comparisons, costs are likely a primary concern for many. There are a few different cost factors to consider in the hybrid vs electric cars debate.
Since electric cars don’t require fuel and only add to one’s electricity bill, they tend to be less costly. Furthermore, by not relying on fluctuating gas prices, their fuel costs remain relatively steadier. In contrast, hybrid cars primarily rely on gas for long distances and highway travel. This will naturally depend on intended use but should generally be pricier.
The same is generally true in terms of maintenance costs as well. While both hybrid and electric cars have similar universal car costs, such as tires and external damages, the engine maintenance costs differ. In this regard, hybrids are still subject to traditional ICE-related maintenance costs, although less so than non-hybrids. On the other hand, EVs may only need to replace their battery in cases of early battery degradation. Battery replacement may be a considerable expense, but as more and more automakers like BMW and Tesla decisively enter the market, the likelihood of such issues should continue to decrease.
Hybrid vs electric cars: transportation and shipping
In terms of transportation and shipping, there’s no substantial difference between the two. However, it is notable that roll-on/roll-off (Ro-Ro) shipping of both such vehicles may be slower and more expensive than that of ICE vehicles.
Studies conducted on vehicle shipping found a correlation between greater damage to vessels, including fire, and transportation of Alternative Fuel Vehicles (AFVs), which both hybrid and electric cars belong to. While many have attributed this to poor practices and conditions on Ro-Ro vessels over the years, it has nonetheless resulted in more prolonged safety procedures and cumbersome safety regulations. As such, while most trained and certified professionals can handle this task with ease, the potential additional costs and time should be kept in mind.
Hybrid vs electric cars: range and recharging stations
Costs aside, autonomy range and recharging options likely pose very practical questions. On this front, EVs and hybrids offer distinctly different capacities and options.
EVs currently average about 200 miles per charge, with the newest, most expensive models reaching just over 300. Hybrids, especially plug-in hybrids, offer more autonomy since they can provide more total range per refuel and battery recharge. EV manufacturers seek to address this through such solutions as using solar energy, so this balance could likely shift in the future.
Lastly, hybrids also provide the practical benefit of having more reliable refuel sources to resort to; gas stations. EV charging infrastructure may be advancing rapidly, but gas stations remain the more reliable option for extremely long journeys.
Of course, one should note that both are likely not practical concerns for the majority of drivers, as the average car trip barely surpasses 20 miles in length. This is especially true for the average inner-city driver who mostly uses their car for commute and short distances.
Hybrid vs electric cars: emissions
Finally, on the front of emissions, electric cars are the greener option by definition. Hybrids still somewhat rely on gas and cannot independently run on battery for extended periods or at high speeds. In contrast, EVs exclusively run on electricity and thus produce no direct emissions.
That is not to say that EVs boast a non-existent carbon footprint. Producing electricity to power the grid results in carbon emissions, and an increased strain on the grid exacerbates this. However, they are already the greener of the two, and global efforts to decarbonize electricity will only pronounce the difference over time.
In conclusion, EVs seem to edge ahead in the debate of hybrid vs electric cars. While hybrid cars still offer some practical benefits like more range, EVs are already greener, cheaper, and sufficiently autonomous for most drivers. And given the industry’s current trajectory, one could safely argue that EVs will remain the better option in 2020 and beyond.