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Everything you need to know about hybrid electric vehicles

20 April 2022 - 10:47 By Nafisa Akabor
Toyota is credited as a pioneer of the category, as its Prius was the first hybrid to be offered locally in 2005.
Toyota is credited as a pioneer of the category, as its Prius was the first hybrid to be offered locally in 2005.
Image: Supplied

Hybrid vehicles are an increasingly hot topic in the transition towards electric mobility.

Toyota is credited as a pioneer of the category as its Prius was the first hybrid to be offered locally in 2005.    

Late last year it began production of the Corolla Cross hybrid at its KwaZulu-Natal facility, a vehicle that accounts for high sales volumes.    

At R425,400 it is the least expensive hybrid on sale in SA. Toyota’s luxury division, Lexus, has also been an early-adopter of the technology.    

Mercedes-Benz made history in 2016 when its plug-in W205 C350e was the first hybrid car manufactured on local soil at the East London plant.    

Today, buyers have a range of hybridised options from various manufacturers, including BMW, Honda, Jaguar, Land Rover, Porsche, Volvo and even Ferrari.

Hybrid vehicles appeal to people looking for fuel efficiency and to reduce CO2 emissions but are not ready to commit to EVs. Switching to an EV is not yet feasible for the mass market in SA and with the ever-increasing fuel price, perhaps it’s time to consider a hybrid.   

The numbers on-paper make for a compelling argument to drivers with lengthy commutes, seeking to save on fuel costs. For example, Toyota claims the hybrid version Corolla sedan has a fuel consumption of 3.5l/100km and its 43l tank has a theoretical range of 1,200km. 

Toyota claims the hybrid version Corolla sedan has a fuel consumption of 3.5l/100km and its 43l tank has a theoretical range of 1,200km.
Toyota claims the hybrid version Corolla sedan has a fuel consumption of 3.5l/100km and its 43l tank has a theoretical range of 1,200km. 
Image: Supplied

So how do hybrids differ from EVs and internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles?

Hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) offer two types of power sources, one from stored energy in its battery and second from a combustion engine. It is typically from a petrol engine as diesel hybrids are rare. But not all hybrids are equal; you get mild hybrids (MHEV), full hybrids (FHEV), plug-in hybrids (PHEV) and range extenders (REx).

The Honda CR-Z is an example of a mild hybrid.
The Honda CR-Z is an example of a mild hybrid.
Image: Halden Krog

Mild hybrids

Mild hybrid vehicles do not offer sole electric power; thus, both sources cannot be used independently from each other. It is commonly found in vehicles with 48-volt electric systems, which gives an extra boost when accelerating, at start-up or while coasting. This set-up is ideal for frequent stop/start traffic in urban areas. The battery is recharged through braking and power from its petrol engine.

The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is an example of a full hybrid.
The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is an example of a full hybrid.
Image: Supplied

Full hybrids

A full hybrid vehicle uses its combustion engine and electric motor together or independently. You may see it being referred to as a parallel hybrid. It has a larger battery than a mild hybrid and can cover short distances solely on the electric motor before the petrol engine kicks in. Like a mild hybrid, it also recharges internally.

The Range Rover Evoque can be had as a plug-in hybrid.
The Range Rover Evoque can be had as a plug-in hybrid.
Image: Supplied

Plug-in hybrids 

A plug-in hybrid is a more powerful version of a full hybrid due to its larger battery and longer electric range. As its name suggests, it can recharge its batteries using an external charger, the way EVs do, but also supports recharging through regenerative braking and from its combustion engine. The appeal is if it has a large enough range to cover your daily commute on the electric motor alone, you can experience the best of both worlds.

The BMW i3 REx is fitted with a range extender.
The BMW i3 REx is fitted with a range extender.
Image: Supplied

Range extenders

A range-extended vehicle is an EV that has an ICE fitted to it, unlike the hybrids mentioned above that are more ICE than EV. It is primarily powered by its electric motor with a petrol boost in case you run out of power. The most notable example in SA is the BMW i3 REx model.

The SA government is working on a new policy for the advancement of new energy vehicles (NEVs), but there are delays in finalising it. The department of trade, industry and competition released a green paper in May 2021 that outlines a framework for the automotive industry’s transformation plan, which could see the possibility of NEVs being produced locally. When this happens, we expect the cost of these vehicles to drop.

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