There are three types of electric vehicle on the market currently: all-electric Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs), Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs), and conventional, non plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs):
Powered just by a large battery
Fill with electricity only (no petrol or diesel)
Best for the environment
Greatest fuel savings
Part electric, part traditional ICE engine
Powered by both a medium size battery and a petrol/diesel engine
Fill with electricity and petrol or diesel
Helps the environment (if charged daily)
Moderate fuel savings (again, if charged daily)
Traditional engine a very small battery
Powered by a petrol/diesel engine some support from the battery
Fill with petrol/diesel only
Few environmental benefits
Minor fuel savings
Each car type works in a different way and it's important to choose the EV that suits your lifestyle and beliefs:
Do you just want convenience?
Or low monthly costs?
What about impact on the environment?
Or do you want it all?
BEVs are ideal for environmentally conscious drivers who want to lower their monthly fuel costs substantially. They are the new world of cars and where we are all headed in the next 10 years.
PHEVs are aimed at people who want to dip their toe into the EV world, but still require the safety blanket of a petrol/diesel engine to fall back on. Fuel savings can be achieved but require strict daily charging of the battery. High mileage drivers will see lower fuel savings, as the internal combustion engine will be used more.
HEVs are typically advertised as 'self-charging hybrids', can't be plugged in, and don't benefit from cheap electricity. HEVs are like traditional cars but can be electric only at low speeds and for short distances.
Once you've worked out what type of EV suits you best, battery range is the next item to focus on with an electric vehicle.
HEVs run on petrol/diesel, so you just fill up with fuel as normal and range isn’t an issue.
PHEVs typically have a battery range of 20-40 miles, depending on the model, and you can fall back on the petrol/diesel engine when the battery runs out. So, as with HEVs, range can be managed by filling up with fuel. However, if you want to keep up your environmental credentials and save money, pick a PHEV with as much battery range as possible.
BEVs, on the other hand, are only powered by a battery and you do have to think about range before you choose a car.
Warning! Battery range drops considerably when it’s cold outside. If the manufacturer’s official ‘WLTP’ range is say 290 miles, you might only get 200 in winter.
The average daily commute is only 20 miles
All modern electric cars can go 130 miles on one charge.
Most electric cars nowadays are in the 150-300 mile range.
High-end EVs, like the Tesla Model S, can go up to a staggering 400 miles in ideal conditions before needing to be recharged
If you drive a lot of miles, pick an EV with a longer range.
Doing short distances – you can choose almost any EV you like.
If you have off-street parking and decide on a BEV or PHEV, you’re best off getting a dedicated charging point installed. Home charging on the ‘AC’ grid is limited to 7.4 kW and nearly all BEVs can charge at that speed now, though there are some exceptions. If you don’t have off-street parking, you’ll need to use either work-place or public chargers.
However, the main area to focus on when choosing a fully electric BEV is ‘rapid’ or ‘DC’ charging.
Every BEV has a maximum rapid DC charging rate. It might be 50 kW, 80 kW, 100 kW, 150 kW, etc.
What does this mean in practice? DC charging allows you to get extra range into your car quickly. For example, 20 minutes plugged into a rapid charger at a motorway service station at 50 kW could give you about 60 miles more range.
Newer rapid chargers are rated at 150 kW. But if your car has an internal maximum DC charge rate of only 50 kW, then it can only charge at 50 kW, even on a 150 kW charger.
So, if you’re a high mileage driver, or if you like to go on long trips, consider getting a BEV with a high DC charging rate to be able to charge quickly and make your vehicle as future proof as possible.
Most PHEVs can't be rapid charged at DC charging stations, though there are exceptions like the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and the Range Rover Evoque PHEV.
If you have off-street parking, get a 7.4 kW chargepoint installed – Drivespeed Leasing can help you with this.
Most BEVs can charge at or near 7.4 kW at home.
Each hour of home charging will add 25-30 miles of range, on average.
PHEV charging can be slower, from 3.6 kW to 7.4 kW, depending on the vehicle.
Rapid 'DC' charging capabilities for BEVs vary considerably from model to model.
Get as high a 'kW' DC charging rate as possible to make your car future-proof.
100 kW or above is considered very good at the moment.
One of the biggest wins when moving from an internal combustion engine car to a plug-in EV comes from fuel savings. Electricity is much cheaper than petrol or diesel, and annual savings can run into the hundreds of pounds if you choose an all-electric BEV.
Fuel savings are greatest in cars with the best designed battery technology.
Imagine a car with a 50 kWh battery pack. If battery efficiency is high, that 50 kWh of stored electricity will give you about 200 miles’ range on average (4 miles per kWh).
However, if the manufacturer hasn’t been as clever with its battery design, you might only get 150 miles from a 50 kWh battery. It would equate to only 3 miles per kWh.
The upshot? A less efficient battery will cost you more to run each year. You need to charge it with more electricity to go the same number of miles as a more efficient car.
It’s the same concept as higher and lower miles per gallon (mpg) in conventional cars.
So, when choosing an EV, compare battery efficiency. You can do this by dividing the official WLTP range by the usable capacity of the battery in kWh. The higher the figure the better. See our example below.
10,000 miles a year in even a less efficient '3 miles per kWh' electric car would still only cost you £266.67 a year in electricity, based on charging overnight on an off-peak rate of 8p per kWh. In a '4 miles per kWh' car, it would be just £200.00.
In a conventional car with gears – whether manual or automatic – there is a bit of a delay during gear changes when accelerating.
In a fully electric BEV – which has no gears at all – the power to the electric motor(s) is instant and constant. This means no delay while accelerating, with a very smooth application of power from the battery.
It’s why many electric cars have amazing acceleration. For example, the Tesla Model 3 Performance has a 0-60 mph of just 3.1 seconds!
If sheer power and acceleration is important to you, a BEV could be just the ticket.
Electric motors are also used in PHEVs and HEVs to give a performance boost to the conventional engine, for example when accelerating hard.
Just check the acceleration stats of various electric models to fine-tune your choice.
Batteries deliver instant power to the electric motor(s) in an EV.
There are no gears to get in the way in a BEV.
Many electric cars have astonishing acceleration for the price.
Instant torque is handy for safe over-taking and pulling onto busy motorways.
A fully electric car has no internal combustion engine. Instead of petrol or diesel, it runs on electricity.
How do you get electricity into the vehicle? You plug it into the mains, usually via a dedicated charging point either at home, work or in public.
The electricity stored in the vehicle’s battery then powers one or more electric motors that turn the wheels.
Battery Electric Vehicles are quiet to drive (no engine noise) and often enjoy fantastic acceleration, as there are no gears, and power from the battery gets applied instantly to the electric motor(s).
How far will an electric car go when the battery is fully charged? That depends on:
The size of the battery.
How efficient the car is
Other factors such as outside temperature, your speed, driving style, terrain, etc.
Most new EVs will travel between 130 and 300 miles on a single charge of the battery.
If you have off-street parking, get an EV charging point installed and charge your vehicle on a low-cost tariff. Each hour of charging typically adds 25-30 miles of range.
By charging at home, you can wake up each day to a ‘full tank’ of electricity – in other words, you start the day with maximum range.
When you are out and about, you will come across public charging points at supermarkets, carparks, hotels, restaurants, etc. Take your charging cable with you and top up if you need to.
For longer trips, stop at service stations and ‘rapid’ charge. Depending on which electric car you have and the charger itself, you can usually add between 60-120 miles’ range after 20 minutes of charging.
All Battery Electric Vehicles are zero-emissions. They don’t have exhaust pipes, and so cannot emit pollutants like CO2, NOx gases, particulate matter, and so on.
To go completely green, you also need to charge your vehicle with electricity from a renewable source, such as wind turbines and solar panels. Fortunately there are now a number of home electricity suppliers that offer renewable energy tariffs, such as Good Energy.
The other good news is that EV batteries last a long time – nowadays probably longer than the car itself – and have a good future. Most will have a second life in so-called ‘stationary storage’. Once the battery cells are then totally depleted, the battery will be recycled.
Of course if you lease an electric car for 2-4 years, you won’t have to worry about battery recycling and degradation, but it’s good to know the vehicle's battery will have a long life.
Being a 'hybrid' vehicle, a PHEV has both a petrol/diesel engine and a medium-sized battery.
On average, PHEVs can be driven about 30 miles on battery power alone. Once the battery runs out of charge, the petrol/diesel engine takes over for the rest of your journey.
A PHEV has a charging socket which means it can be plugged in to charge its battery. This allows you to access cheap electricity and lower the cost of your motoring.
PHEVs have both a battery range and a petrol/diesel range.
Depending on which model you lease, battery range is typically 20-30 miles, but can be as much as 30-40 miles with the latest, bigger battery models.
When the battery has discharged all of its energy, the petrol or diesel engine automatically kicks in, giving you another 250-350 miles of range.
To be able to run on battery power – and benefit from cheap electricity – the PHEV driver needs to charge the battery each day.
If you have off-street parking, get a dedicated charging point installed. You can then charge your PHEV's battery overnight and enjoy a full 'tank of electricity' each morning. Charging time from 0-100% varies from 2-4 hours, depending on the model.
If you are on a longer trip and your battery runs out, it's usually not worth stopping to recharge. This is because a PHEV battery generally has a slow recharging rate. Better to continue your trip using the petrol/diesel engine and then recharge the battery fully at home or work at the end of the day
The effect you have on the environment in a PHEV depends on various factors, including:
How many miles you drive each day.
Whether you charge your battery fully at the end of the day or not.
Where your charging electricity comes from.
If you only drive 30 miles a day and recharge fully each night, your PHEV should mostly run on battery power alone and be fairly 'green'. Little CO2 will be emitted.
On longer trips, you get your 30 miles' environmentally friendly electric driving, but for the remaining miles your car will consume petrol or diesel inside the internal combustion engine, and your emissions will be the same as a conventional petrol or diesel car.
Finally, if you charge your PHEV with electricity generated by renewable energy technologies, e.g. wind, solar, wave or tidal, those electric miles will be as green as they possibly can be. A few UK energy suppliers now offer 100% renewable energy tariffs.
Once you drive a PHEV, and assuming you have off-street parking, your car will be physically connected to your home or office while charging.
You'll notice your monthly electricity bill will be higher, but remember you will be making significant savings for all those electric miles, as electricity is much cheaper than petrol or diesel.
To get your electricity bills down again, you can:
Shop around and look to change energy provider and choose a new tariff designed around EV drivers.
Have solar panels installed which will generate electricity from the sun to help power both your home/office and car.
Put battery storage in to soak up excess solar electricity for later use. You can also use batteries to store cheap, off-peak electricity at night and then discharge it to the home/office or car during the day when electricity rates are high
HEVs are ‘hybrids’ which means they have both a traditional internal combustion engine and a battery.
However, the battery is very small, and the vehicle can only travel on battery power alone for short distances and at low speeds.
HEVs can’t be plugged in, so they charge their batteries mainly by using up petrol/diesel in the combustion engine
As HEVs can’t be plugged in, you can treat them like any other petrol or diesel vehicle – just pull into a filling station when your fuel tank is running low.
There are, therefore, no battery range issues to worry about. The car’s range is largely governed by the size of the fuel tank and how efficient the car’s engine is.
Around town below about 20 mph, you can drive on battery power alone. You’re good for about 1-2 miles before the battery runs out of charge
There’s a lot of confusion about HEV charging, mainly due to the way they are often advertised as ‘self-charging hybrids’. Let’s clear away the fog.
Pure electric cars (BEVs) and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) can indeed be charged by plugging into a charging point either at home, work, service station, etc.
A HEV, by contrast, has no charging socket and cannot be plugged in. How then does it charge its very small battery? How does it self-charge? It manages it in two ways:
By burning petrol or diesel inside its combustion engine to generate electricity to charge the battery, and/or
Via regenerative braking: a technique that all types of EV employ to convert the kinetic energy of the vehicle into battery energy when slowing down.
HEVs get a bronze medal when it comes to environmental impact.
BEVs secure gold – they are all-electric and zero-emission.
PHEVs get the silver medal – they have a medium-size battery and can be zero or very low emissions for up to 30 miles or so but start polluting thereafter.
HEVs can only be filled with petrol or diesel, and so are very similar to any other type of internal combustion engine vehicle – they emit harmful gases and pollutants.
Their saving grace is that around town at low speeds they can run on battery power alone. Think of the Toyota Prius HEV taxi stopping and starting in a traffic jam. You won’t hear any engine noise until the driver speeds up or the battery runs out of charge.
Unlike plug-in electric vehicles (BEVs and PHEVs), driving a HEV doesn’t require any research into the best electricity tariffs.
You can’t lower your cost of motoring by charging with cheap electricity. Just fill up with petrol or diesel in the normal way.