What is a plug-in hybrid?

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Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles have been in the headlines a lot lately thanks to the Government's fumbled introduction of Road User Charges (RUCs) for them, alongside fully electric vehicles.

While EVs will now be paying RUCs in the same way diesel vehicles do, PHEVs will be hit twice: once with the fuel tax included in the price of petrol at the pump and then again with RUCs, albeit at a reduced rate to ostensibly offset the fuel tax already paid.

Everything from a Ford Ranger (above) to a Ferrari can be a PHEV, although the Ferrari isn't really about fuel economy...

While the pros and cons of this approach are open for debate, one thing has been made very clear: people still don't really understand what a PHEV is.

In short, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle combines the benefits of both conventional hybrid vehicles and all-electric vehicles. Here's a breakdown of what a PHEV is and some reasons why you might consider buying one:

  1. Definition: A plug-in hybrid vehicle has both an electric motor and an internal combustion engine (usually petrol). Like conventional hybrids, PHEVs can operate using either the electric motor, the internal combustion engine, or a combination of both. What sets PHEVs apart is a much larger battery capacity than a conventional hybrid, allowing them to be plugged in and charged from an external power source, typically an electric outlet or charging station.

  2. Electric Range: One of the primary advantages of a PHEV is its electric range. Depending on the model, a PHEV can typically travel between 40 and 100 kilometres solely on electric power before the petrol engine kicks in. For many people, this electric range is sufficient for daily commuting and short trips without using any petrol.

  3. Fuel Efficiency: Due to their ability to operate on electricity alone for shorter distances, PHEVs tend to have significantly lower average fuel efficiency compared to conventional vehicles, especially for city driving. By utilising electricity for shorter trips and petrol for longer journeys, PHEVs offer the flexibility of an internal combustion engine without sacrificing the benefits of electric propulsion.

  4. Reduced Emissions: Using electricity as a primary power source can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, especially if the electricity comes from renewable sources. Even when operating in hybrid mode (using both the electric motor and gasoline engine), PHEVs emit fewer pollutants than traditional ICE vehicles, contributing to improved air quality and reduced environmental impact.

  5. Flexibility: PHEVs offer flexibility in terms of refueling options. If you have access to charging infrastructure, you can recharge your PHEV's battery at home, at work, or at public charging stations. If you're unable to charge, you can still rely on the petrol engine, providing peace of mind for longer trips or in areas with limited charging infrastructure.

Overall, if you're looking for a vehicle that offers the fuel efficiency and environmental benefits of electric propulsion while providing the flexibility of a petrol engine for longer trips, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle could be a compelling choice.

However, it's essential to consider your driving habits, charging infrastructure availability, and individual preferences when deciding whether a PHEV is right for you - if you can charge your PHEV overnight (or during the day when at work) and have a normal daily commute, then chances are you won't use a drop of petrol during the week.

If, however, don't have a convenient place to charge your PHEV during its downtime, or regularly drive a large amount of kilometres during a day, then a PHEV will be closer to a conventional hybrid in its fuel consumption. Given the conventional hybrids are cheaper than equivalent PHEVs due to their smaller batteries, and don't attract RUCs, then this may be a better choice for you.

To help in you decision, check out our guides to every PHEV on sale in New Zealand and every hybrid on sale in New Zealand.

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