The Motorway guide to types of EVs, from hybrids to zero-emission cars

    a MG EV

    Next time you’re driving, see how many cars you pass with a green strip on the left-hand side of their number plate. This green mark means the car is a zero-emissions vehicle, AKA a battery-electric vehicle, rather than a hybrid. 

    Electric cars are greener and more cost-effective than traditional ICE vehicles. With the 2035 switchover looming, the sales of new petrol and diesel engine cars will stop and only new electric cars will be able to be purchased from dealer forecourts. 

    If you’re considering switching over to electric, there’s a world of jargon for you to decipher. Luckily for you, we’re on hand to explain the differences between Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs), Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs), and Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs). 

    Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs): Pure electric power

    a pod point charger
    The most popular types of EV are powered by batteries which you can charge at home or public charge points.

    How BEVs work

    Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) use battery packs to store electricity and power a car’s motor. The batteries are rechargeable and can be plugged into an external power source such as a home charger/wall box or public charging station. 

    BEVs also have something called regenerative braking systems. This is an energy recovery system that converts your car’s kinetic energy back into electricity – making EVs more efficient. 

    Advantages and disadvantages of BEVs


    ✅ Zero tailpipe emissions, reducing environmental impact

    Lower running costs such as fuel and maintenance 

    ✅ Smooth and quiet to drive 


    ❌ Typically has a more limited driving range compared to ICE vehicles 

    ❌ It takes longer to charge a BEV than to refuel a petrol or diesel car 

    ❌ Higher initial purchase cost

    The great thing about BEVs is that there is now enough variety in the market to suit all personal preferences and budgets. Four particularly popular models are:

    🚗 Tesla Model 3: Known for its long range and advanced technology

    🍃 Nissan Leaf: A practical and affordable option for everyday use

    ⚡ Hyundai Kona Electric: Balances range, performance, and price

    🫰 Jaguar I-PACE: A luxury, high-performance electric SUV

    Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs): The best of both worlds?

    a volkswagen plugin hybrid
    PHEVs have both a traditional combustion engine running on petrol or diesel, and a rechargeable battery.

    How PHEVs work

    Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) combine an internal combustion engine with an electric motor and a rechargeable battery. When you take short trips, the car’s battery will power your motor. On longer journeys (or when your battery runs flat), the petrol or diesel engine kicks in. 

    PHEVs, like BEVs, can be charged using external power sources and regenerative braking.

    Advantages and disadvantages of PHEVs


    ✅ The best of both electric and conventional power!

    ✅ Reduced fuel consumption and emissions compared to traditional cars.

    ✅ No more range anxiety thanks to ICE backup. 


    ❌ More complex and heavier than BEV which means higher maintenance costs.

    ❌ Limited electric-only range compared to BEVs.

    ❌ Higher upfront cost than conventional hybrids and ICE vehicles.

    PHEVs have been gaining popularity in the UK as they are both efficient and convenient. They are also a viable option for those who suffer from range anxiety and want to make a greener choice but aren’t quite ready to go full-electric. 

    🛻 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV: A versatile SUV with a good electric-only range.

    🚗 BMW 330e: If sporty saloons are your thing, you won’t have to compromise on performance or efficiency when making a greener choice. 

    ⚡ Volvo XC60 Recharge: A premium SUV with decent electric capabilities and luxury features.

    🔌 Toyota Prius plug-in: Everyone knows a Prius! Renowned for reliability and excellent fuel economy.

    Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs): Hybrid, without the charging

    How HEVs operate

    Like PHEVs, Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs) use a combination of an internal combustion engine and an electric motor. The electric motor assists the engine, especially during acceleration, and can power the car at low speeds.

    The key difference between PHEVs and HEVs, however, is that HEVs recharge their batteries through regenerative braking. They don’t get plugged into an external charge point – which may seem more convenient, but it means that more fossil fuel is used compared to in plug-in hybrids.

    Advantages and disadvantages of HEVs


    ✅ Improved fuel efficiency and reduced emissions compared to ICE (petrol and diesel) vehicles.

    ✅ No external charging needed, making them convenient for long journeys.

    ✅ Typically lower upfront costs compared to BEVs and PHEVs.


    ❌ Less fuel-efficient and higher emissions than BEVs and PHEVs.

    ❌ Limited electric-only driving range.

    ❌ More complex powertrain can result in higher maintenance costs compared to ICE cars.

    The difference between HEVs and other EVs

    |Type of EV Cost rangeElectric rangeInternal combustion engineExternally chargedTailpipe emissions 
    MHEVs (Mild Hybrids)LowestExtremely limitedYesNoSlightly lower than ICE vehicles
    HEVs (Hybrids)VariableLimited Yes No Lower thanICE vehicles
    PHEVs (Plug-in Hybrids)Variable, higher than HEVsLonger than HEVs, but limited compared to BEVsYesYesYes – but lower than HEVs and much lower than ICE vehicles
    BEVs (Fully-electric cars)Variable but higher than hybridsVariable, getting longer all the timeNoYes Zero 


    How many electric vehicle categories are there?

    There are four main electric vehicle categories: 

    • Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs)
    • Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs)
    • Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs)
    • Mild Hybrid Electric Vehicles (MHEVs). 

    Each offers different levels of electric and conventional power, catering to various driving needs and preferences.

    What is the most common type of electric vehicle?

    Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) are the most common type of electric vehicle. They run entirely on electricity, producing zero tailpipe emissions and offering significant fuel savings. Popular models like the Tesla Model 3 and Nissan Leaf have contributed to their widespread adoption.

    What is the biggest electric car charging company in the UK?

    The biggest electric car charging company in the UK is BP Pulse. It operates the largest network of public charging points, offering convenient and reliable charging solutions for electric vehicle owners across the country, from rapid chargers to home charging options.

    Ready to sell your car?

    Ready to learn more about valuing, maintaining, and selling your car? Check out more of our guides here, covering everything from hybrid and electric car depreciation to converting your car to dual-LPG fuel.