What Is The Point Of Hybrids?
The future of cars, vans, trucks and SUVs is very likely going to be fully electric, although, due to a lack of charging infrastructure and other reasons of practicality, petrol and diesel combustion engines are not going to be disappearing anytime soon. From that, you might deduce that hybrids are a sensible stepping stone for bridging the gap between fossil fuel combustion engines and fully electric vehicles, but have you ever really looked at hybrids closely? I have, and when you look at the evidence, it's hard to see the point of the hybrids motor manufacturers are producing at the moment.
What exactly are hybrids?
Hybrid cars are effectively regular combustion engine models that are assisted by an electric motor and batteries to varying degrees. At one end of the scale, you have plug-in hybrids with sizeable batteries that can run purely on electric for distances of 20-30 miles and can be recharged from a charging point.
At the other end of the scale, you have what's often referred to as mild-hybrids. These are models that replace the usual 12-volt battery and starter motor with a 48-volt electrical system and a larger motor that allows the vehicle to be switched off whenever the car is coasting, braking, or stopped, but can then restart almost instantly.
In between, you have regular hybrids, which many in the industry are annoyingly starting to refer to as ˜self-charging˜ hybrids. Can I just state here that ALL hybrids are self-charging to some degree, so it's a stupid term that achieves nothing other than to confuse the general public further?
Why Buy a Hybrid?
You probably assume that hybrids are much more fuel-efficient than regular petrol and diesel-powered alternatives and that they produce much lower levels of harmful emissions, right? While it is true that hybrids are generally more fuel-efficient and have lower CO2 emissions than petrol or diesel equivalents, the difference isn't as great as we are often led to believe, and from an economic stance, the numbers rarely stack up for consumers.
How Fuel Efficient are Hybrids?
Let's use that well known social barometer of the Ford Mondeo as an example. A five-door Mondeo with a 2.0-litre EcoBlue 190 PS diesel engine is rated at between 50.4mpg and 53.3mpg. If you pay a couple of thousand pounds more for the 187 PS hybrid version instead, the fuel economy actually DROPS to between 48.7mpg and 50.4mpg.
How about the Honda CR-V then? The highest fuel economy rating for the CR-V Hybrid is 40.9mpg, but the highest fuel economy rating for a petrol version is still 38.7mpg and you'll save yourself more than three thousand pounds by choosing the petrol over the hybrid.
Could Hybrids be Better?
Hybrids can be fantastic, but not the ones most manufacturers are offering. Hybrid technology is a balancing act between fuel economy, CO2 emissions and performance. Let's be brutally honest here. The hybrids you can walk into most UK showrooms and buy at the moment are dull, unresponsive, expensive to buy and expensive to service.
Performance is a particularly interesting area here. If you know anything about the Porsche 918 or the McLaren P1 you'll know that hybrid cars can be mind-blowingly fast. In case you didn’t realise it, all Formula 1 cars are now hybrid, so that shows you how incredible hybrids can be.
The problem is manufacturers have gone down the route of concentrating on fuel economy and reduced carbon dioxide emissions due to pressure from governments. Unfortunately, the additional weight of adding batteries and electric motors to an existing petrol engine achieves only marginal gains in these areas, but at considerable extra expense.
How About Second-Hand Hybrids?
Do you know how long a hybrid car's battery will last or how long the electric motor can go before it needs replacing? No? Me neither. Can your local independent garage service a hybrid properly or fix or replace the battery and electric motors? Some might be able to, but plenty won’t and that means they'll have to send it to the main dealer for that type of work and charge you for it.
Unless you want to buy a hybrid because you feel the need to be marginally more environmentally friendly and you are not bothered about paying a premium for it, you’re better off sticking to petrol or diesel. At least, that is, until electric cars become a practical option or automakers start producing hybrids that are actually worth bothering with.