Jargon watch: Explaining hybrids
We take you through the lingo you need to know to navigate the ballooning options for hybrid vehicles
Not too long ago, your big choice when choosing a new car was how many cylinders its engine should have: V-6 or V-8? Today, the options are ballooning and increasing in complexity as auto makers introduce various types of hybrid engines in an effort to reduce fuel consumption and pollution.
Walk into a dealership now – or in the foreseeable future – and you will be confronted with a choice of not only how many cylinders your new car should have, but also if it should have a battery pack, and if so, what size? How many electric motors should it have? Should the car need a plug-in, or not?
While we wait (and wait and wait) for pure electric vehicles to become mainstream, various types of hybrids will become increasingly common. So, the next time you go into a dealership, go armed with this knowledge of what the different types of hybrid are and what all this jargon means.
A vague weasel word. Technically, all cars are electrified, but currently this term is used to refer to everything from cars with 48-volt electrical systems, to plug-in hybrids to fully electric vehicles. When an auto maker announces it will "electrify" its entire fleet, it doesn't mean all (or any) of its cars will be fully electric. The term "electrified" is not specific. It can be used as a catch-all term for all types of hybrids and EVs.
Internal Combustion Engine. This refers to a traditional gas or diesel motor. All hybrid powertrains include an ICE.
48V: 48-volt electrical circuit
This technology is still new, but you'll be hearing about it a lot in the coming years, for two reasons: it's a cost-effective way to reduce fuel consumption, and it will enable advanced-driver-assist systems. Audi's flagship A8 sedan and Bentley's Bentayga SUV already feature 48V circuits powering active suspension components to smooth out the ride. The 12-volt circuits currently in most cars just can't provide enough juice for all the new tech being stuffed into vehicles. In this mild type of hybrid, 48V circuits can be used to power engine stop/start functions and power electric turbo- or superchargers, among other things, which can all reduce fuel consumption.
Examples: Audi A8, Bentley Bentayga
HEV: Hybrid Electric Vehicle
Often referred to simply as "hybrid." This is your basic hybrid vehicle, typified by the Toyota Prius, which has a fuel consumption rating of 4.4 L/100 km in the city and 4.6 highway. HEVs are powered by both an internal combustion engine and electric motor (or motors) fed by a battery. While conventional hybrids are generally more expensive than the same size fuel-only vehicle, they're cheaper than plug-ins or full EVs. HEVs may be able to drive on electric power alone, but only at very low speeds for very short distances. The battery is recharged by the gasoline engine and on-board systems like regenerative braking.
Examples: Toyota Prius C, Honda Accord Hybrid, Ford C-Max Hybrid, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
PHEV: Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle
Often referred to as a "plug-in." Still relatively rare in showrooms, but more models will arrive over the next few years. These are a middle ground between pure electrics and gas-powered cars. Compared to basic hybrids, these vehicles have bigger batteries – usually lithium-ion – which can be recharged by plugging into a wall outlet or a dedicated charging station. If you buy a plug-in, you'll want a parking space at home to recharge it. On current models, electric-only range varies from roughly 20 to 85 kilometres, making them useful for people with short commutes. Because of the high cost of batteries, PHEVs are more expensive than basic hybrids or gas-powered cars.
Examples: Audi A3 e-tron, Honda Clarity plug-in, Kia Optima PHEV, Chrysler Pacifica PHEV, Volvo XC90 T8
Also referred to by a mess of acronyms, including EREV (extended-range electric vehicle) and REEV (range-extended electric vehicle). Think of these vehicles as a subset of plug-in hybrids. These cars use their gas engines primarily (or solely) as electric generators to recharge the batteries. Be wary of auto makers that describe a car as an "electric vehicle with range extender." Anything with a "range extender" is not a true electric vehicle, for the simple reason that it burns gasoline. The only two examples currently available are the Chevy Volt and BMW i3 REX. The latter can drive 156 kilometres on electricity alone, and a further 134 kilometres once its gas "range extender" motor kicks in.
Examples: Chevrolet Volt, BMW i3 REX
Series vs. Parallel
This is perhaps getting a bit too deep into the technical weeds, but series and parallel indicates how a car's hybrid system is configured. If both the gas and electric motors can directly provide power to the wheels, it's a parallel hybrid. In a series hybrid, one motor works through the other to power the wheels, as, for example, on the BMW i3 REX. Some hybrids – the Prius, for example – can operate in either series or parallel modes, depending on the driving situation.
BEV, EV: Battery Electric Vehicle
This is a car that burns zero gasoline or diesel fuel. It has no internal combustion engine. These cars run on battery power alone. With BEVs, range doesn't come cheap. Tesla's Model S 100D has a range of 536 kilometres but costs $128,600.
Examples: Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Bolt, Kia Soul EV, BMW i3, Tesla Model X, Ford Focus Electric
FCEV: Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle
While battery-electric vehicles seem like the technology that will eventually replace the internal combustion engine after more than 100 years of loyal service, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are a dark horse in the race. They use tanks of hydrogen that, when combined with oxygen, produce electricity that drives a motor. Refuelling takes about five minutes and is done at dedicated hydrogen gas stations. A handful of FCEVs are available, but only in places where the necessary refuelling infrastructure exists.
Examples: Toyota Mirai, Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell