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Different types of hybrid vehicles – The pros and cons

There are many hybrid cars on the market today, and they often work differently.

Each one comes with its own pros and cons, too, and is suited for different lifestyles and purposes.

Below, we go into more detail about the different types of hybrid vehicles you can buy.

What is a hybrid?

In the automotive world, a hybrid is a vehicle with two power sources – one electric and one petrol. Although there are hybrid-diesel vehicles as well, these are not as common.

Depending on the type of hybrid powertrain installed, the vehicle will be able to run on battery power alone, or a mix of the two motors.

The biggest advantages to hybrid powertrains include lower fuel consumption and emissions, while certain configurations also add more power.

The main drawbacks of hybrid powertrains are that these vehicles tend to be more expensive when compared to their petrol-powered counterparts.

Parallel hybrid

Parallel hybrids are one of the most common hybrid drivetrains.

This set-up combines an internal combustion engine (ICE) with an electric motor and a separate battery to provide power.

Power is usually delivered simultaneously by the two motors, while certain manufacturers also allow a fully-electric or ICE-only mode.

With a parallel hybrid, the battery for the electric motor charges with kinetic energy fed back into it through regenerative braking, or by a generator that’s driven by the ICE.

Importantly, these types of hybrids can’t be plugged into a wall.

The benefits of parallel hybrids are increased fuel economy, reduced emissions, and low engine noise.

The drawbacks of parallel hybrids is additional weight and costs when compared to ICE vehicles.

Parallel hybrids currently on sale in South Africa include:

Plug-in hybrid

Plug-in hybrids (PHEV) are becoming increasingly popular of late, with these powertrains working similarly to parallel hybrids.

The main difference between plug-in and parallel hybrids is that PHEVs usually feature a larger battery that must be charged through a wall plug.

The main benefit of PHEVs is a longer range in pure electric mode. Performance and fuel savings will then depend on the size and configuration of the electric motor installed.

The main drawbacks of PHEVs compared to parallel hybrids are the extra weight of the battery that negatively affects the ride and economy, and the need for owners to use charging facilities.

Plug-in hybrids currently on sale in South Africa include:

Range-extender hybrid

A range-extender hybrid is more unorthodox than the previous configurations, as this can be considered a fully-electric car that only uses an ICE to charge the battery that powers the electric motor.

This vehicle operates in fully-electric mode all the time, with a small ICE only kicking in to power the generator that charges the battery.

The main benefits of range-extender hybrids are lower fuel costs, longer range, and the reduction of range anxiety – as it still uses conventional fossil fuels to charge.

The main drawbacks of range-extender hybrids are additional weight in an already heavy electric car and reduced reliability due to the intricacy of design.

A range-extender hybrid currently on sale in South Africa is the BMW i3 eDrive REx.

Mild hybrid

Mild hybrid vehicles are a new development in the hybrid world, only recently becoming widely used by high-end manufacturers.

Alongside the normal 12V battery in a car, a mild hybrid usually employs a 48V electrical system with an integrated starter generator that replaces the alternator and starter motor.

The 48V system provides minimal electrical power to the ICE drivetrain, generally to power vehicle electronics, start the vehicle, and provide a boost of electrical power when needed.

The main benefits of mild hybrids are reduced fuel consumption, lower emissions, increased power levels for acceleration, and smoother power delivery than ICE vehicles.

The main drawbacks of mild hybrids are more emissions than other hybrid vehicles.

Mild hybrids currently on sale in South Africa include:

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