What's the difference between hybrid cars and mild hybrids?
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A Hybrid car, like its name suggests, is powered by more than one source - usually electric and fuel - pretty simple. But what's a mild hybrid then?

Category: Car Technical Advice


In the attempt to fight air pollution, car manufacturers and researchers have long been exploring the possibility of electric cars. In the early days, battery and electric powertrain technology aren't anywhere as advanced as it currently is. Unsurprisingly, early endeavours of full-electric cars never really took off.

The search for a viable alternative to internal combustion engine cars eventually led to petrol-electric hybrids such as the Toyota Prius back in 1997 and cars like the Honda Insight. These days, hybrid cars in Singapore are quite the norm, and offshoots of the technology such as mild-hybrids and plug-in hybrids are seen in the market. So what exactly do all these mean, and how are they different?
 
 
What are hybrid cars?

See those orange wires? Those are high-voltage cables found on hybrid cars
Hybrid cars refer to cars that are powered by not just one main power source, the common ones being petrol-electric and diesel-electric hybrids.

Apart from an internal combustion engine, hybrid cars are also equipped with electric motors and batteries that supply high voltage to allow pure electric drive with the engine switched off.

Other times, the electric drivetrain also assists the internal combustion engine to result in improved emissions as well as fuel economy.
 
 
Where does that leave mild-hybrids then?

Mild-hybrids' electric motors aid the engine by torque-filling, improving efficiency and power
Unlike hybrid cars, the electrical systems in mild hybrids aren't powerful enough to drive the wheels. Most mild hybrids utilise a starter-generator powered by 48, 24 or 12-volt electric systems from a much smaller battery pack than those found in a hybrid car.

The starter-generator allows energy to be regained through braking, storing the energy within the battery. Depending on the mild hybrid system, the energy can be used to assist the engine, or to power ancillary electrical systems.

While they cannot turn the wheels on its own power, the mild hybrid system can work to reduce engine loads, offering modest power and efficiency gains.

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One more question, what are plug-in hybrids?

I assure you, this isn't an electric car - a plug-in hybrid can be charged with an external charger
Plug-in hybrids are one step closer to a full electric vehicle. They are equipped with even larger batteries, and can also be charged with an external charger - much like an electric car. The larger battery capacity and powerful electric drivetrain allows plug-in hybrids to have a reasonable full-electric range, usually around 50km.

Thus, it is actually possible to use these cars without ever using its internal combustion engine if you are able to charge it before you run out of range.
 
 
Right, so which type of hybrid should I buy?

Before long, all cars on the road will likely involve some kind of hybridisation, just like the Suzuki Swift Sport here
There's quite a few factors to determine which type of hybrid car suits you best, and it boils down to its cost, charger availability and usage.

In terms of costs, plug-in hybrids tend to be more expensive due to its advanced electric powertrain, hybrid cars are significantly costlier than conventional ICE cars, but the fuel savings can offset that increase in initial cost over time. Lastly, mild hybrids usually has the smallest premium over the normal cars. Let's face it, most manufacturers these days are involving some kind of hybridisation to their lineup, eventually mild hybrids might become the default option.

But for now, the hybrid that you should go for should depend on your charger availability and your needs. If you have access to chargers, or has a property where you can install your own, a plug-in hybrid might be a good choice. You will likely be able to commute to and from work without having to use a drop of petrol - this can help you to save a fair bit over time.

Otherwise, you'll probably do better with either a hybrid or mild-hybrid car. And if you are on the roads most of the time, the fuel savings from a hybrid car might offset the initial cost, making it the best option for you.

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