How we got here: From internal combustion to electrification
In 2000, amidst rising gas prices, concerns about carbon emissions from burning petroleum, and rapid improvements in the cost and size of batteries, Toyota turned the consumer vehicle industry on its head. Their offering: the Prius, the world’s first commercially available hybrid car.
It boasted fuel efficiency that had previously been out-of-reach for a sedan—45 combined miles per gallon. But it was still bound by a reliance on fossil fuels. It would be eight more years before Tesla released their $98,000 Roadster, the first mass-produced electric vehicle (EV) that was highway legal. Since then, a slew of EVs have hit the market from more than a dozen automakers, driving costs down and popularizing the idea of an all-electric automotive future.
With so many new hybrids and EVs on the market, how can you tell which is the way to go? Read on to learn about the differences between EV vs. hybrid vehicles from cost and maintenance to range and pure driving pleasure.
Under the hood—Hybrid vs. EV
What makes a car a “hybrid”
When trying to choose between all-electric or hybrid cars, it’s important to start with the mechanics. The hybrid vehicle gets its name from its split, or hybridized, power source: the combination of an internal combustion engine (ICE) and an electric car motor. A hybrid automobile has a large battery pack—somewhere between 1 and 9kWh—and a standard 12V battery like you’d find in any ICE car. The large battery pack powers the electric car motor that helps turn the car’s wheels. The small battery powers everything a gas car uses it for: lights, stereo, gadgets, etc.
It’s easy to imagine this as a step towards the beautiful simplicity of a fully-electric vehicle, and in many ways it is. But because hybrids effectively have twice as many components as standard ICE cars, the view under the hood is far more complicated.
It doesn’t help that the mechanics work differently from make to make. Some hybrids, like Kia models, are powered by “parallel” systems: their combustion engines and electric motors engage simultaneously. e. "Series” types like those used in Toyota models alternate between combustion engine and electric motor . Still others do both at different points!
Some hybrids charge their batteries using excess energy created as the car decelerates—called “regenerative braking”—while others charge them with their combustion engines. Now, a third type of hybrid automobile has emerged, called the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (or PHEV), which allows drivers to also charge the battery pack using an external EV charger.
Depending on which EV chargers drivers have in their homes, this can massively reduce fuel costs. Chargers come in different levels, and with different capabilities (i.e. “smart” chargers and standard chargers). When charging at home, the advantage of a Level 2 smart charger like Enel X Way’s JuiceBox 40 can make a huge difference. Whereas a Level 1 charger might take several hours to recharge your car after a commute that drained your battery power, a Level 2 charger can do the job up to seven to nine times faster by using a 240V outlet. What’s more, the JuiceBox smart charging station can schedule your car to charge during the time when energy is cheapest.
The simplicity of EVs
Hybrids are more efficient than traditional ICE vehicles, but they still don’t hold a candle to the efficiency of a pure, battery-only electric vehicle (sometimes called a BEV). All the added complexity in hybrids is stripped away in EVs, which are ingenious in their simplicity. A lithium ion battery—getting recharged as you drive through regenerative braking—rapidly turns a crank in a process called “induction”, which Nikola Tesla invented. The crank then turns a few gears, the last of which are connected to a long rod (the axles), and the rod turns the wheels.
No ignition, no pistons, no cylinders. There are hundreds of moving parts in an average internal combustion engine. EVs have two. That simplicity translates to big carbon efficiency gains. Even with the carbon costs of consuming electricity to power electric cars, on average they are about four times more efficient than gas-powered cars.
Here a Level 2 smart charger becomes even more important to the driver’s experience. When you’re relying completely on electric power battery charge to get around, the ability to fully recharge quickly with the cheapest, most renewably generated “fuel”, makes the entire EV owning experience seamless.