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Comparing Electric Vehicles: Hybrid vs. BEV vs. PHEV vs. FCEV

Choosing a vehicle is tough. Sunroof or moonroof? Front wheel drive, rear wheel drive, or all-wheel drive? Do I even need a CD player? And what about color? Burnt orange is nice, but so is cashmere metallic and squid ink (hint: always get squid ink). Considering a hybrid or electric vehicle adds another factor into an already difficult decision. Should you go with a standard hybrid, plug-in hybrid, battery electric, or fuel cell? What is the difference between these types of vehicles anyway?
Conventional Hybrids

Conventional hybrids, like the Toyota Prius, combine both a gasoline engine with an electric motor. While these vehicles have an electric motor and battery, they can’t be plugged in and recharged. Instead their batteries are charged from capturing energy when braking, using regenerative braking that converts kinetic energy into electricity. This energy is normally wasted in conventional vehicles.
Without regenerative braking, cars turn excess speed into heat using brake pads.

Without regenerative braking, cars turn excess speed into heat using brake pads.
Photo Credit: Freewheeling Daredevil.

Depending on the type of hybrid, the electric motor will work with the gasoline-powered engine to reduce gasoline use or even allow the gasoline engine to turn off altogether. Hybrid fuel-saving technologies can dramatically increase fuel economy. For example, the 2014 Honda Accord hybrid achieves a combined 47 miles per gallon (mpg) compared to a combined 30 mpg for the non-hybrid version. At 12,000 miles a year and $4/gallon gasoline, that means saving over $575 each year.
Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs)

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) are similar to conventional hybrids in that they have both an electric motor and internal combustion engine, except PHEV batteries can be charged by plugging into an outlet. So why opt for a PHEV instead of a conventional hybrid? Well, unlike conventional hybrids, PHEVs can substitute electricity from the grid for gasoline. The 2014 Ford Fusion Energi, for example, can go about 21 miles by only using electricity, and the 2014 Chevy Volt can go around 38 miles before the gasoline motor kicks in.
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