Confused about the different types of alternative fuelled vehicles? Find out the pros and cons of each below

Faced with laws forcing them to cut emissions if they want to continue to sell cars, manufacturers have responded in the only way currently feasible which is to replace 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, have been consistently rising for the past few years and this is only the beginning.

Five years from now they 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 can plug a car in to recharge the batteries.

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

In these early days while the technology is relatively immature manufacturers have gone down a number of routes and as a result customers are faced with a choice. Here we explain what they are and discuss the pros and cons of each.



Examples: VW Passat GTE.​VW Passat GTE hybrid

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

The idea is that for as much as possible the electric motor actually propels the car and the internal combustion engine is there to provide charge to the battery.

However, it must be pointed out that at this stage of the market’s development there is some variety in systems used so that 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 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.

Pros and cons.

For – 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 because hybrids have much lower CO2 emissions.
Cons – you are carrying the weight of an extra power source and motor, there is 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 hybrids.

Examples: Audi A3 e-tron.Audi A3 etron plug in hybrid

A similar concept to the hybrid but in addition to the usual fuel tank there is a socket as well so you can plug the car to a recharging point and top up the battery that way. You will find a (currently)
small but rapidly expanding number of publicly available 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 are 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 there are nearly 40 models are on the market, about 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.

Pros and cons.

For – easy and cheap to use the battery only if you have access to a recharging point. For short commutes it can mean you use electricity only, saving a lot of money.

How far a car can go on battery power alone varies a lot and in winter when you use the heater, wipers, lights and so on it obviously drains it faster but you should be looking for at least 15 miles with 30 probably being the upper end of what it can do.

Official published figures for battery range simply do not translate in real life. This however is with today’s technology. Lighter cars and a step change in battery technology will soon boost this dramatically

Cons – 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 but you do need to do a bit of homework first but there is plenty of help online.​


BMW i3 range extender
Range Extenders.

Examples: 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.

Pros and cons.

Pros. Very smooth thanks to the electric motor driving the car.

Cons. Expensive.




Electric Vehicles.Renault Zoe electric car

Examples: Renault Zoe.

Something 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 turn-off for many drivers and as said before, the claimed
ranges should be treated with a degree of scepticism.

That said the latest cars are much better than those of only a few years ago. Nissan says its latest Leaf will do about 150 miles on a single charge and the electric-only version of BMW’s new i3 is claimed to be good for 120 or so.
Again, the technology is changing pretty quickly and with the growth in recharging points these cars will grow in popularity.

They might appeal to a two car family who use one purely for short trip town journeys but have another one for longer outings.

Pros and cons.

Pros. Cheap to run.

Cons. Not cheap to buy.


Summing Up.

The market for hybrids and pure electric cars is in its infancy but their numbers will rocket over the next few years and diesel/petrol options might look rather like yesterday’s technology.

The key will be increasing the recharging network so it’s as easy to put in the energy you need as it is with filling stations in a conventional car but supply and demand are driving each other in this case and the availability will become very much easier. Allied to this will be game changing improvements in battery capacity and efficiency.   If the analysts are right, and there is every reason to expect them to be so, 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.