Road tax, car insurance, fuel … it’s certainly not cheap to run a car. Then there’s the cost to the environment: you don’t have to be an eco warrior to understand the harmful effects of car pollution. So it’s perhaps no surprise that so-called green cars are becoming more popular. Whether it’s a Nissan Leaf or a Toyota Prius, the green revolution is coming to a road near you.
Rise in popularity of hybrids
Electric cars are arguably the most environmentally friendly because they produce zero emissions, but they cannot normally travel very far or very fast. Hybrid cars are generally more practical so are gaining in popularity. They also look pretty similar to conventional cars and you fill up with petrol or diesel in the normal way.
How a hybrid works
A hybrid car is so called because it has two engines: a traditional petrol or diesel combustion engine, plus an electric motor. The electric motor either supports or substitutes the combustion engine, so hybrid cars are more fuel efficient than standard vehicles. Plus they emit less CO2. There are various different types of hybrid car, but many work in electric mode only when travelling at slower speeds, combining the power of the two engines when there is a need for greater acceleration.
You don’t normally need to worry about charging a battery with a conventional hybrid. Charging is usually done on the move, often with a regenerative braking system, which harnesses the energy from the car brakes to top up the battery.
Plug in hybrids
Plug in hybrids are a variation on a theme. They are similar to electric cars because they can be plugged into an external energy source. But they revert to the combustion engine when the battery is low, so you don’t have any of the range anxiety of a standard electric vehicle.
Benefits of a hybrid car
There are several advantages to a hybrid car. The most obvious is the greater fuel economy. A hybrid car is estimated to guzzle on average 15% to 30% less fuel per mile than a conventional vehicle. So your hybrid car should be cheaper to run, particularly if you use it mainly for city driving when it could rely on the electric motor alone.
It’s cheaper to tax a hybrid, too. The cost of a tax disc depends on the car’s fuel type and CO2 emissions – and lower emissions from hybrids translate into lower tax rates. A car that emits less than 100g/km of CO2 pays zero tax, compared to a car in the highest tax band at about £400 a year. Many of the new generation of hybrid cars produce less than 100g/km of CO2, so are exempt from road tax.
High cost of hybrids
The big disadvantage of a hybrid car is the cost as they can be several thousand pounds more expensive than a standard equivalent. You could expect to pay between £2000 and £4000 more for the hybrid version of a £15,000 conventional model, or up to £5000 more for a £20,000 car. Manufacturers blame the higher cost on the development of green technology. Hybrid cars can also be more expensive to build. Of course, the lower running costs of a hybrid can offset the higher purchase price. However, it can take a year or more for the real savings to kick in.
The pioneer Prius
The Toyota Prius is arguably the original hybrid car, making its debut on the roads of Tokyo in 1997. The car has been refined since – and a number of other models added to Toyota’s hybrid range. Toyota recently launched Europe’s first hybrid MPV, the Toyota Prius +. The car has seven seats and can manage 64 mpg, while its CO2 emissions are an impressive 96g/km.
Motorists who want a smaller car could check out the Toyota Yaris and Auris, which are now available in hybrid versions. Or there’s the Honda Insight and the Honda Jazz. Honda is another front runner in the manufacture of hybrid cars, though reviews tend to be critical of the toppy prices and vehicle handling.
If you are looking for an executive car, what about a BMW ActiveHybrid? Yes, the German manufacturer of high-end vehicles has jumped on the green bandwagon and has three hybrid models – 3, 5 and 7. Prices start at about £40,000 so it’s not a cheap option. But the company doesn’t compromise on style or driving experience so you might think it’s a price worth paying. Lexus is another big name in the manufacture of premium hybrid cars. The firm uncovered the latest in its GS range at the Shanghai Motor Show in April – the GS 300h hybrid. The GS 300h uses a 2.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine and a compact electric motor to supply power to the rear wheels. The car produces CO2 emissions below 110g/km. The GS 300h will join Lexus’s UK model range later this year and it certainly looks good. But, again, it’s not cheap. Prices could start at about £30,000.