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2017 marks the first time that there are over 100,000 electric and plug-in vehicles on the roads in the UK. Of this number, plug-in hybrids have seen a drastic surge in popularity and have taken a major share of the market.
From accounting for less than a third of plug-in sales at the beginning of 2014, hybrids now represent almost two thirds (64 per cent) of the overall number of plug-in cars sold in Q1 2017.
But compared to the 2.69 million new cars registered in 2016, it’s easy to see that the number of hybrids only represents a small percentage of the vehicle types on the road. Although there has been a significant increase in hybrid uptake, and there will continue to be in the coming years, comparatively, it remains a relatively small bracket.
What is a hybrid vehicle?
Hybrid vehicles rely on two different power sources. There are three main types of hybrids: full hybrids, mild hybrids, and plug-in hybrids.
Conventional hybrid vehicles combine a conventional internal combustion engine system with an electric propulsion system. This combines the benefits of low emission and high fuel economy in one car.
Plug-in hybrids, as the name implies, can be can be plugged into an electric outlet to recharge their batteries, as well as being charged on the move. Although they have a conventional engine, they carry larger batteries than regular hybrids and as a result are able to drive for longer distances solely on electric power.
Many see the hybrid as the stepping stone between the petrol and electric. They provide the benefits of both and give drivers a taste of what to expect when owning an electric vehicle.
Making the switch
With benefits of switching to a hybrid vehicle including lower CO2 emissions, better fuel economy and lower running costs, why could it be that road users aren’t flooding to car showrooms to exchange their petrol or diesel vehicles?
A lot has changed technologically since the first hybrid was launched in the UK in the early 2000s, but it seems that the majority of the UK population remains sceptical and has misconceptions about hybrid vehicles. Despite this, hybrid and electric vehicles suit many people’s lifestyles and driving habits more so than the petrol or diesel-powered vehicles that they continue to use.
A survey of 2,000 motorists by Go Ultra Low, found that almost half drive no more than 15 miles a day and 98 per cent travel less than 100 miles daily – within the range of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. Motorists were also found to progressively seek low running costs and are twice as likely to rate fuel efficiency as their main concern when purchasing a car.
Although a driver may be suited to hybrid and electric driving, there remains some concerns about making the switch. One of the main areas of concern is charging the car. It’s a fact: people don’t like change. Road users have grown accustomed to going to the petrol station, filling up and getting out on the road again. It’s the easy option that we already know and have been doing since we passed our driving tests.
In truth, filling up an electric or hybrid vehicle need not be any more difficult than this. There has been major investment into the number of charging points across the country and the times associated with charging plug-ins has also decreased drastically.
Finding public charge points has long formed a barrier to progress in uptake of electric and hybrid vehicles. Many are unaware of just how many charge points there now are in the UK and how many are being built every year. To put it into perspective, in 2011 there were around 1,500 public charging points in the UK, but as of August 2017 there are over 13,000. This figure makes the UK the largest network in Europe and it doesn’t even include private connectors at homes and workplaces.
There are only going to be more charging points popping up in the coming years, too. In the Queen’s 2017 speech, she proclaimed her support of increasing hybrid and electric usage by announcing that petrol stations and motorway services will be required under law to install electric charge points in the near future.
The numbers are growing in cities and towns across the country but in the capital specifically, Transport for London is investing £18m to rollout 300 additional rapid charging points in and around the city to deal with the Ultra-Low Emission Zone that will be introduced in London from September 2020.
The volume of charging points in the country comes as a surprise to many as they don’t appreciate just how many there are in their local area, which they potentially drive past every day. Those interested in seeing how many charging points there are close to them can open ZapMap, a map of charging points in the UK, to see.
Pros and cons of hybrid cars
After hearing just how easy it is to charge plug-in hybrids, are you ready to make the switch to a hybrid vehicle? Here are some of the other pros and cons associated with hybrid vehicles.
- Green credentials. If the majority of the nation drove hybrid vehicles, it would significantly reduce CO2 emissions. In general, hybrid cars produce 25 to 35% less in CO2 emissions than regular cars, meaning they are much more energy efficient. Whilst they still use some fuel, it is far less than a normal vehicle.
- Energy efficiency. Hybrids utilise the battery powered engine when driving at lower speeds meaning that very little or no fuel is needed in these scenarios. Hybrids are therefore a popular choice for city drivers.
- Financial benefits. The government is keen to increase the uptake of plug-in vehicle therefore there are grants available to reduce the price paid for some brand-new hybrid vehicles. Hybrid drivers will also be exempt from congestion and low-emission zone charges and will save money in the amount of money spent on fuel.
- When drivers first start the engine, they might not even realise it. Even when the car is in motion, the unique power supply causes it to fall silent.
- Initial expense. Although drivers save money on the upkeep of the vehicle, the initial expense is generally larger than that of a normal car. If drivers plan to use the vehicle for the short distances invariably, they probably won’t see as good a return on investment than someone that uses it more regularly.
- Different driving experience. It’s something that drivers will get used to, but on the first few uses, drivers will notice a difference. Hybrids are made with light materials to make them as fuel efficient as possible but this can make handling something to get used to.
- Less power. The combined power of the electric and petrol engines is often less than most petrol-powered engines.
- When something goes wrong with a hybrid, they can be costly to repair. Because of the continuous technology improvements, mechanics can find it difficult to diagnose and repair hybrids. As uptake increases though, it will be easier to find mechanics with expertise in more areas.
Testing a plug-in vehicle
For those yet to drive a hybrid or for people who are unsure whether it would fit with their lifestyle, it can be beneficial to have a practice run and test the vehicle in everyday life before committing to a purchase.
About the author
Will Wynter works with the franchise owners of each branch of Green Motion, to help spread the word about how valuable and popular green travel is. Green Motion is a low-emission car and van hire company. The company offers the industry’s widest range of low emission vehicles, both electric and hybrid, alongside traditional petrol and diesel vehicles from their 17 branches in the UK.