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What’s the difference between traditional and plug-in hybrids?

The automotive industry is seeing a radical shift in consumer behaviour. People are increasingly choosing hybrid versions of regular vehicles in favour of those powered by internal combustion alone.

Toyota, the world’s leading hybrid manufacturer, has sold over 10,000,000 hybrid vehicles worldwide. They are so confident in the market, that they’ve announced they’re on track to reach 50% hybrid sales in Europe by 2020.

Hybrids are appealing because they reduce emissions, while giving people the range of a normal vehicle and comparable or better mpg. Fully-electric vehicles are the cleanest of all, but they aren’t suitable for everyone. Hybrids fill the gap between a combustion engine and fully-electric drivetrain, offering the best of both worlds.

What’s a hybrid?

The word ‘hybrid’ is vague. It’s an encompassing term that includes (to use a milk analogy) ‘full-fat’ hybrids, ‘semi-skimmed’ plug-in hybrids and ‘skimmed’ mild hybrids. All these technologies use a combustion engine in some way. Below, we’ll clarify the difference between them to shed some clarity on the matter.


A hybrid is a vehicle with an electric motor, a battery pack and an internal combustion engine. The internal combustion engine charges the batteries. The batteries power the electric motors. The electric motors drive the wheels with the combustion engine. Any vehicle that has a self-sustaining charging system is considered a hybrid. The combustion engine is used as the main power source to charge the batteries.

Plug-in hybrids

A plug-in hybrid also has an electric motor, a battery pack and an internal combustion engine. The difference is the car also has a charging port, which you can use to charge the batteries yourself. These vehicles run on electric power for around 50-miles, until you want more performance or range. So, they are EVs most of the time, but can call on an internal combustion engine to extend range and performance when needed.

Mild hybrids

A mild hybrid is powered by an internal combustion engine entirely but can call on an electric motor to boost power, fill in torque gaps or, in some applications, coast at low speed. The electric motor on mild hybrids is not powerful enough to drive a vehicle normally by itself. It’s there to complement the combustion engine. The technology works well and offers a cheaper-entry point to the hybrid market for consumers.

Which is most efficient?

Plug-in hybrids have the edge here, but only if you keep them charged. They can run for longer on battery power alone than traditional hybrids. Traditional hybrids consume fuel whenever the batteries need charging – which is a lot with normal driving. As an example, the new Toyota Prius hybrid is rated to return up to 83.1mpg combined. The plug-in version of the same car is rated to return up to 235mpg combined.

We hope this article answered your question. It was written for us by Mid Ulster Cars, Northern Ireland’s leading Toyota specialist.

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