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  • Writer's pictureSylvain Tornare

Are hybrids the best solution or too big a compromise?

With the rise of electric mobility, sales of hybrid cars, in addition to battery-powered vehicles, have increased in Europe. Equipped with an electric motor and an internal combustion engine, they are supposed to combine the best of both worlds and have meagre fuel consumption. But is this really the case?

Carequest Car Broker Switzerland, engine compartment of a hybrid Honda

As the environmental debate rages on, opinions are still divided on the usefulness of hybrid cars. Several studies have shown that they are not as environmentally friendly as manufacturers would have us believe. The Association for Transport and the Environment (ATE) advises against plug-in hybrids, which, according to their research, have no ecological advantages and are therefore useless. But what should you believe?


The hybrid powertrains

Mild hybrid

Mild hybrids are not rechargeable by cable. They use a system that recovers energy lost while driving and braking. Thus, the vehicle can only cover a short distance electrically. In addition, the use of the internal combustion engine is reduced when starting and for auxiliary systems (air conditioning, power steering, etc.). In some cases, this technology is used to increase performance.


Plug-in hybrid

Plug-in hybrids can be plugged into the power supply. They are usually equipped with a larger battery. This allows them to cover longer distances and reach higher speeds in electric mode. These cars are similar to electric vehicles for short distances, but offer the safety of the internal combustion engine for longer journeys. In this article, we focus on these models.



The advantages

Costs

Hybrid cars have economic advantages. In addition to tax cuts, which may soon disappear, hybrids have lower running costs than internal combustion engines, at least for urban trips. When travelling at low speeds, the vehicle is mainly driven in electric mode. With current fuel prices, this represents a significant economic advantage. This is why many taxis use hybrids. However, once the battery is empty, this advantage turns into a disadvantage.


Usage

The operation of hybrid cars is more straightforward than that of battery-powered cars. Full electric vehicles need to visit charging stations regularly and especially during long journeys. Although the infrastructure is developing rapidly, the availability of charging points and charging time are still a barrier. The hybrid, with its combustion engine, is less dependent on these infrastructures. Its electric mode is perfectly suited to city driving, while the combustion engine can cover longer distances at high speed.



The disadvantages

Weight

Batteries are heavy. Hybrid cars often share their platform with combustion engine models. However, after adding a battery weighing several tens or even hundreds of kilos to a combustion engine, the whole system logically becomes heavier. This hurts the vehicle's dynamics and increases premature wear. Moreover, when the battery is not in use, the combustion engine has to pull the extra weight, which lowers efficiency.


Recharge

Plug-in hybrids can either be plugged into power outlets or they can recuperate energy during the journey. This second option is misleading. Although it recovers energy during braking, it increases fuel consumption considerably. Moreover, if the battery is not recharged regularly, it is just dead weight.


Complexity

Electric cars are often praised for the simplicity of their motorisation. However, the same cannot be said of hybrids. In addition to a combustion engine, the car is equipped with an electrical system. These two units must communicate and coordinate with each other, which requires powerful algorithms. Hybrid cars are therefore more complex than those using only one powertrain. This raises many questions about reliability.



Conclusion

Hybrids can be seen as the best of both worlds. It combines the advantages and simplicity of an electric powertrain with the safety of a combustion engine. However, it does not seem to be suitable for all uses.

By adding complexity, reliability concerns arise. Even if the hybrid seems ideal for short journeys, the same cannot be said for long distances on motorways, where the electric system only represents an additional load of several hundred kilos. Light vehicles should therefore be preferred and the use of electric mode should be favoured.


In conclusion, hybrid cars are only suitable for a few specific uses and only make sense if the battery is recharged regularly and used to the maximum. In other cases, combustion or electric models seem more appropriate.

Not sure if this is the case for you? Feel free to contact us!


 

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