What is a hybrid car and how does it work?



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    Hybrid cars are on the increase in Australia. According to the latest figures from the National Transport Commission, sales of hybrid cars doubled in 2020. The latest research from Roy Morgan also reveals that about 200,000 Australian car buyers (12.7%) will be looking for hybrid vehicles for their next purchase.
    Read on to find out everything you need to know about hybrid cars in Australia, including answers to FAQs.

    What is a hybrid car?

    The word hybrid means something that is made by combining two different things. A hybrid car runs on a combination of a traditional engine and a battery-powered electric motor. There are four main types of hybrid cars:
    1. Full (or parallel) hybrid
    2. Range extender hybrid
    3. Mild hybrid
    4. Plug-In hybrid.

    How do hybrid cars work?

    Each of the four types of hybrid cars works in different ways:
    • A full hybrid can run on its traditional engine or its electric motor, or a combination of both. The electric motor on a full hybrid is charged by running the traditional engine. The most common example is the Toyota Prius, which has been around since 1997.

      The traditional engine and electric motors in full hybrid cars tend to switch automatically depending on the type of driving being done. The electric motor usually operates when the car is starting or idling (for example at traffic lights), or when driving at low speeds. The fuel motor usually kicks in when driving at higher speeds, or when the battery on the electric motor is running low or flat.

    • A range extender hybrid runs solely on its electric motor, and the batteries in the electric motor are charged by the traditional engine. The traditional engine never runs the car in a range extender hybrid.
    • A mild hybrid always has the traditional and electric motor running together. It can’t operate on one or the other like a full hybrid can.
    • A plug-in hybrid can run on its traditional engine or its electric motor, or a combination of both, just like a full hybrid can. However, it differs from a full hybrid in that the electric motor needs to be plugged in to be recharged. It can’t be recharged by the traditional engine like a full hybrid can.

    What’s the difference between a hybrid car and an electric car?

    A hybrid car runs on a combination of fossil fuel (i.e. petrol or diesel) and electricity. It has both a traditional engine and a battery-powered electric motor.
    An electric car on the other hand doesn’t have a traditional fossil fuel engine. It runs solely on electricity that’s stored in a battery.
    The sales of electric cars in Australia are likely to receive a boost with Labor’s recent federal election victory. One of Labor’s campaign promises was the implementation of an electric car discount to make the price of electric cars cheaper from 1 July 2022. Albo and Labor plan to do that by making electric cars exempt from import tariffs and fringe benefits tax.
    These measures are forecast to make a $50,000 electric vehicle more than $2,000 cheaper to buy for all Australians, and up to $9,000 cheaper for employers to buy for their staff as part of salary packaging arrangements.
    In addition, several States and Territories in Australia offer electric vehicle purchase rebates, as well as discounted stamp duty and registration rates (for example, Queensland).

    What are the pros and cons of a hybrid car?


    Hybrid cars:
    • are cheaper to run due to lower fuel costs (a big factor at the moment with petrol prices at record highs in Australia).
    • are better for the environment (due to their lower carbon emissions).
    • potentially handle better and are potentially safer due to having a lighter engine.
    • have a higher luxury car tax threshold than traditional cars due to their greater fuel efficiency.


    The only potential con of buying a hybrid car in Australia since their introduction in the late 1990s has been their higher upfront cost compared to conventional vehicles. However, they are likely to become more affordable with increasing government incentives to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.

    In addition, car finance is a great way to overcome any upfront pricing issues so you can convert to a hybrid or electric car more quickly. When you do, you’ll start saving on your running costs.

    Popular hybrid car models in Australia

    Popular hybrid car models in Australia include:
    • Toyota’s RAV4, Kluger and Corolla models
    • Kia’s Sorento and Niro models
    • The Mitsubishi Eclipse
    • The Lexus NX
    • The Honda HR-V.

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