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As Australia and the world moves further towards an electrified future, the choices and options available to both fleet and consumers continue to widen.

For many drivers, hybrid technology provides a practical and affordable solution for their next vehicle purchase, in turn providing environmental benefits without the need to take the plunge to a fully electric vehicle. But with jargon such as EV, ICE and PHEV casually tossed around within the industry it can be easy for the average motorist to get a little confused  about the differences between traditional and plug-in hybrid technologies.

Indeed, a recent Harris poll found that 67 per cent of current car buyers don’t know the differences between a traditional hybrid and a plug-in hybrid car. More worryingly, an earlier study found that over three quarters of respondents (76 per cent) were “not at all sure” how far a plug-in hybrid could drive on single refuel and recharge.

So what are the differences? Put simply, the main variations are the ways in which these sources are powered along with the way in which they recharge themselves after use.

Traditional Hybrid

A traditional hybrid works just as the name suggests, using both its international combustion engine (ICE) and an electric motor to power the vehicle. At low speeds the car can run solely on its electric motor, but in everyday conditions the electric motor is more so there to improve fuel economy and to remove some of the strain on the main engine.

From a charging perspective, traditional hybrids are able to charge their batteries while the vehicle is running, through the use of kinetic energy that is generated through regenerative braking.

Plug-in Hybrids

A plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) uses its electric motor to primarily power the vehicle. The vehicle continues to use this motor until battery levels reach a predetermined battery state of charge before the internal combustion engine kicks in. In many ways a plug-in hybrid is essentially an electric vehicle that can extend its range as required through traditional fuels.

As the name suggests, drivers will need to plug-in their vehicles into a wall outlet or to a charging station in order to recharge the battery. While regenerative braking can help battery life to some extent, a proper plug-in charge is the only way to fully regenerate the battery.

Which hybrid is better?

Ignoring price for the moment, choosing a PHEV would be a simple decision for most buyers. These models have a distinct edge in both fuel efficiency and range, and can cater for both the casual and environmentally-conscious user.

The EV mode on a traditional hybrid is also very limited, with a range of only 2km of electric power not uncommon – compared to an average of 20-60km on a PHEV.

Bringing cost into the equation may flip the coin though for many drivers. Current plug-in hybrids are typically more expensive to buy because of the cost of the batteries, and the potential long term fuel-savings could take several months or years to fully surface.

As with all fleet or personal investments, you will need to consider how many kilometres your vehicles are travelling and under what conditions to purchase a vehicle that best suits your individual needs.