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The Different Types of Electric and Electrified Vehicles

2024 alfa romeo tonale
The Different Types of Electrified VehiclesAlfa Romeo

You may have heard the term electrified to describe a vehicle. Despite what it sounds like, an electrified vehicle is not always synonymous with an electric vehicle. Every electric vehicle is electrified, but not every electrified vehicle is fully electric, and some still have internal combustion engines.

Electrified cars and trucks can be broken down into four main categories: hybrid electric vehicles, such as the Toyota Prius; plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), such as the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV; battery electric vehicles (BEVs), including the Tesla Model 3; and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles, such as the Toyota Mirai. When automakers promise to “fully electrify” their lineup of vehicles, they’re typically talking about offering a combination of vehicles that fall under one of the four aforementioned categories.

You might have heard the term “mild-hybrid,” too. An example is the Ram 1500 full-size pickup, which comes standard with the brand's eTorque hybrid-assist system fitted to its 3.6-liter V-6. While this technology helps save fuel or add extra power as needed, this type of hybrid-assist system cannot power a vehicle without the use of the gasoline-fed engine. That’s why it doesn’t make the cut in this list of four electric car categories.

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Let’s look at their similarities and differences, along with the pros and cons of each type.

2023 toyota prius
Toyota

Hybrid Electric Vehicles

Hybrids are the most common electrified cars. The most popular example of the breed, the fuel-sipping Toyota Prius, has been on sale for more than two decades. A hybrid’s powertrain consists of an internal-combustion engine paired with at least one electric motor and a battery pack. Keep in mind, this is the same basic engineering blueprint used in a plug-in hybrid vehicle, though we’ll touch more on PHEVs in a moment.

For example, the 2023 Prius's 150-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder is paired with two electric motors, and these three power sources are combined in a way that creates a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which metes out power to the front wheels. The Prius can drive purely on electric power for short periods of time, though only at low speeds. Energy is fed back to the battery by the car’s regenerative braking system. Unlike plug-in hybrids and battery electrics, a hybrid never needs to be recharged using a plug and outlet.

Because the gas engine and electric motors work together to power the vehicle, the Prius is what’s known as a parallel hybrid. By contrast, a series hybrid employs a similar layout, though only the electric motor powers the car. The gas engine is there only to serve as an onboard generator to recharge the battery and add range. The recently discontinued BMW i3 city car was available with a series hybrid powertrain.

mitsubishi outlander plugin hybrid teaser
Mitsubishi

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles

Even the most techno-phobic car shopper will quickly grasp the difference between a hybrid and a plug-in hybrid. The differentiator here is the size of the battery pack. A plug-in hybrid employs a larger battery, one that’s capable of powering the vehicle on electric power for a significant distance, typically in the range of 20 to 50 miles before the gas engine needs to kick in to help.

Drivers of a fully charged 2o23 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, for example, can drive an estimated 38 miles on battery power alone before the gas-fed engine fires into action. Oftentimes, the benefits of a plug-in hybrid go beyond the fuel savings realized by cruising on battery power. Many plug-in hybrids also deliver performance and fuel-economy benefits when working in cooperation with the gas engine.