Photo: Shutterstock/Daisy Daisy
19.05.2020 | 6 minutes

Five differences between electric and plug-in hybrid cars

Electric or hybrid car? The interest in vehicles with alternative powertrains is growing, especially as company cars. But what are the differences?

Studies have shown: Interest in vehicles with alternative powertrains is growing. According to the German automobile association ADAC, 19,755 electric and plug-in hybrid cars were registered for the first time in Germany in March 2020 – a new record. Compared to March 2019, this meant an increase of 56.1 percent in the number of electric cars. First-time registrations of plug-in hybrid cars also experienced a real boom: The figure for plug-in hybrid jumped by 207.9 percent compared to the same month last year. This overview shows the differences between plug-in hybrids and electric cars: from costs to range.

1. The powertain concept

The powertrain is the biggest difference between an electric car and a plug-in hybrid car. The powertrain in an electric car is purely electric, whereas plug-in hybrid cars always have a conventional combustion engine, in addition to the electric motor. Hybrid cars therefore have two powertrains. The most common version is the combination of a gasoline engine with an electric motor; however, diesel and natural gas hybrid vehicles are also possible.

Hybrids are available in several versions. A mild hybrid is equipped with an electric motor to support the combustion engine. It is not possible here to have a purely electric driving experience. A full hybrid can also drive short distances, about two to five kilometers, purely electrically. Plug-in hybrids have a larger battery, which makes a purely electric driving range of 30 to 50 kilometers possible. The vehicles also charge when plugged in to a socket or charging point, for example, from Vattenfall InCharge, whereas the small battery in the full hybrid is only charged by the combustion engine or when decelerating. The car switches to the combustion engine when the power supply is exhausted.

2. The range of plug-in hybrids and electric cars

The biggest advantage of a plug-in hybrid is the range. Generally the combination of electric motor and combustion engine enables a driving range of 600 kilometers. As a rule, an EV (electric vehicle) mode can be activated in a plug-in hybrid powertrain. You can then drive distances of 30 to 50 kilometers purely electrically, which is impressive in light of the improved fuel economy. This makes hybrid cars ideal for urban driving. In comparison, the range of an electric car is shorter. It is between 120 and 220 kilometers, depending on the model. These numbers will increase further in the future.


A plug-in hybrid engine connected to a battery with powertrain system. Photo: Getty Images/Bloomberg 

3. A comparison of performance

Plug-in hybrids are also ahead in terms of performance. The interplay of the two powertrains enables more overall horsepower and intermediate bursts of additional power. One example: The e-Golf has an acceptable 116 hp, whereas the Passat GTS DSG can produce a system output of 218 hp. Hybrid vehicles are normal vehicles with a combustion engine when the electricity in the battery is drained, which is the source of this power. (Wording confusing: You can draw on this power regardless of whether or not the battery is charged.)

4. A cost overview

The purchase price of a plug-in hybrid is generally higher than that of an electric car. This means that an e-Golf costs approximately €32,000 and for a Passat GTE DSG around €45,000. The reason being: Hybrid vehicles in Germany are typically larger station wagons or even SUVs.

And how high are the operating costs of the individual models? ADAC published a comparative calculation in February 2020, which provides more clarity: It shows that an e-Golf, for example, costs 43.6 euro cents per kilometer for an annual mileage of around 15,000 kilometers. The Passat GTE DSG, the plug-in hybrid with a gasoline engine, costs 59.6 euro cents per kilometer. However, these figures depend on the make of car. For example, the purely electric Model X Performance from Tesla E-Hybrid Tiptronic S costs 120.8 euro cents per kilometer and the plug-in alternative Porsche Cayenne Coupé Turbo S costs 173.8 euro cents per kilometer. In general: The actual fuel economy achieved in real-world driving situations depends on the individual driving behavior.

5. The options for subsidies

There is certainly another reason for the boom in alternative drives, in addition to increased environmental awareness: financial support. Owners of hybrid cars can receive an environmental incentive from the German government, which subsidizes up to €4,500 of the purchase price. In addition, plug-in hybrids that are used as company cars that can be used for private purposes, will only have to pay half in taxes in Germany as of 2019. There is a €6,000 subsidy for electric cars. And there are also tax advantages: If an owner of an electric vehicle registers the vehicle for the first time by 31 December 2020, the vehicle will not be subject to vehicle tax for ten years.



Cost comparison e-vehicles + plug-in hybrids versus petrol and diesel:
New registrations in April: 


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