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What is a Hybrid Car?

What is a Hybrid Car?


Confused about the different types of alternative fuelled vehicles? From hybrid to plug-in hybrid to electric; find out the pros and cons of each type

Are all hybrid cars the same?

  • Hybrid – has a petrol or diesel engine and a battery powered electric motor; the combustion engine charges the electric battery.
  • Plug-in Hybrid – Similar to the standard hybrid, but the electric battery can also be charged by plugging into a charging point.
  • Range Extenders – electric powered cars with a small combustion engine to extend their range.

Why choose a hybrid car?

With the law incentivising drivers to cut their emissions, car manufacturers have responded by supplementing their petrol and diesel engines with ones powered, to some degree, by electricity.

It has not and will not be an overnight transformation, but the numbers of alternative fuelled vehicles (AFVs in the trade’s terminology), which includes hybrids, has been consistently rising for the past few years and this is only the beginning.

Five years from now AFV will be everywhere, in both the new and used car market and many analysts predict that 50 per cent of the new car market will be AFVs by 2020. Two things will drive this - car makers promoting them as their core models and a huge expansion of the recharging network where you plug your car in to recharge its batteries.

The signs are already clear to see. Registrations in the UK rose by almost a third last year highlighting AFV vehicles fast growing popularity; there are almost 90,000 now on our roads with the 100,000 mark due to be passed soon.

With the technology still relatively immature, manufacturers have gone down a number of routes and as a result customers are faced with a choice of different types of hybrid or all indeed all-electric.

Here we explain what those differences are and discuss the pros and cons of each.

Hybrid Cars

VW Passat GTE hybrid car on charge outside an office

Volkswagen Passat GTE

In very basic terms a hybrid car has both a petrol or diesel engine and a battery-powered electric motor.

The idea is, that as much as possible, the electric motor propels the car and the internal combustion engine provides charge to the battery.

At this stage of the market’s development there are differences in the systems used; in some models the conventional engine is the main power source and the electric motor is there to provide more power when needed, such as when accelerating to overtake; others can run for short distances on battery power alone, so are good for short commutes or town journeys.

What they all have is a completely automatic system changing between the modes.


  • the great beauty of this system is that you have no fear of running out of electricity, the so-called `range anxiety’, because you fill up the fuel tank with petrol or diesel exactly as you would a conventional car. ​
  • company car drivers will also see a big benefit in their benefit-in-kind tax bills as hybrids have much lower CO2 emissions.


  • you’re carrying the weight of an extra power source and motor, there’s slightly less boot or interior space as a result and the car is intrinsically more complex and therefore costly, but this premium is dropping fast.


Plug-in Hybrid Cars

Red Audi A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid whizzing along a country road

Audi A3 e-tron

A similar concept to the hybrid, but in addition to the usual fuel tank there’s a socket so you can plug the car to a recharging point and top up the battery that way. There’s a rapidly expanding number of public recharging points at filling stations, motorway services, retail parks or car parks and you can also install them at home or your office. As of January 2017, there are approaching 4,500 public recharging points in the UK.

There are three types of rechargers:

Rapid which gives an 80 per cent charge in about 30 minutes, `

Fast charges your car in a few hours which can be fine if you can plug in while you’re shopping at a retail park or watching a film at a leisure area.

Standard needs about six hours and is ideal for charging overnight and using the cheaper night time tariffs.

Plug-ins are becoming a lot more popular and with nearly 40 models are on the market, around four times as many as at the start of the decade. Cars like the BMW 330e, Volkswagen Golf GTE and Audi A3 Sportback e-tron are amongst the biggest sellers.


  • easy and cheap to use the battery only, when you have access to a recharging point; for short commutes you use electricity only, saving money.
  • How far a car can go on battery power alone varies and in Winter when you use the heater, wipers, lights and so on it obviously drains faster, but you should be looking for at least 15 miles with 30 probably being the upper end.
  • with today’s technology, lighter cars and a step change in battery technology ranges will soon be boosted dramatically.


  • until the design of the plugs is standardised you might not find yours slotting into the recharging point. The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, for example, uses a different one to those on the likes of VW, Audi, BMW and so on. The situation is changing fast, meaning you need to do a little bit of homework, but there’s plenty of help online.​


Range Extenders

Blue BMW i3 range extender against a mountain backdrop

BMW i3.​

These run purely on electric energy but have a very small petrol engine to act as a generator so there is no fear of running out of power or mileage.


  • very smooth thanks to the electric motor driving the car.


  • still rather expensive.


Electric Cars

Volkswagen Golf GTE

Electric Vehicles (EVs) are still a little bit of a rarity at the moment because as the name suggests, these cars run on battery power alone and so the ‘range anxiety’ is a big concern for many drivers, with the manufacturers claimed ranges not based on real world driving experience.

That said the latest cars are much better than those of only a few years ago. Volkswagen say their e-Golf will go over 180 miles on a single charge and the electric-only version of BMW’s new i3 is claimed to be good for 120 miles or so.

With the technology changing so quickly and the growth in recharging points, these cars will only grow in popularity.


  • highly economical to run.
  • fabulous for reducing emissions and taking care of our air quality.


  • require a hefty initial investment in the vehicle.


Should you buy a Hybrid Car?

The market for hybrid and pure electric cars is in its infancy, but numbers will rocket over the next few years and diesel/petrol options will be thin on the ground.

The key is increasing the recharging network making it as easy to charge an electric car, as to fill up a traditionally fuelled car. The number of recharging points is increasing swiftly and the availability will soon be much easier.

Allied to this will be game changing improvements in battery capacity and efficiency.   If the analysts are right, and there’s every reason to believe they will be, in just three years 50 per cent of the new car market will be electric or hybrid.

Find out more about hybrid and electric cars by contacting your local Swansway Group dealership today.