What is the difference between Electric and Hybrid cars?

We often hear about different models of cars being electric or hybrid, but what are the main differences between the two? Both technologies use “electrified” motors, but this similarity hides the many differences between the two types of vehicle. The key difference is that an electric car runs solely on electricity stored in a battery, while a hybrid car is powered by a combination of electricity and conventional fuel.

What is a hybrid car?

There is no single answer to this question, but hybrids all have an internal combustion engine, supported by one or more electric motors, which use the energy stored in batteries to give the vehicle more starting power or to contribute, even alone, to its traction.

Having clarified what a hybrid car is, we can now classify the various types:

  • Micro-hybrid: this is what the first cars equipped with a start-stop system were called, and it means that the vehicle switches off whenever you stop at traffic signals or line up in traffic. The presence of this mechanism alone does not qualify the car as a hybrid, since it does not require an electric motor and battery that gives drive power to the car.
  • Mild hybrid: in other words, hybrid models with a simpler and cheaper system. In actual fact, a 12, 24 or 48 Volt generator recovers energy in the accelerator release phase, storing it in a small battery, which in turn helps the engine to restart and accelerate.
  • Full hybrid and plug-in hybrid: these are hybrid cars that can be powered by the electric motor alone: full hybrids only for short distances, and plug-in hybrids for a few dozen miles. This is thanks to a battery that’s larger than that of the full hybrid: it can be recharged by plugging it into an external charging point.

Although the distinction between hybrids that can run with just the electric motor (full hybrid and plug-in hybrid) and mild hybrids is clear, it should be noted that today some automakers produce cars that can travel for very short stretches, shorter than those that can be covered by traditional full hybrids, using just the power of the electric motor.

What is an electric car?

An electric car is a vehicle equipped exclusively with one or more electric motors, powered by a battery. The way an electric car works is more complex, but the technology behind fully electric cars is still a lot simpler than that of cars with a traditional engine. Specifically, the motor of an electric car transforms the energy stored in the batteries into mechanical force by making use of its fixed component, the stator, which generates a rotating magnetic field; the moving component, namely the rotor, starts to rotate and, thanks to the presence of reducers, differentials and axle shafts, transfers the mechanical energy to the wheels of the vehicle, thereby providing traction. Furthermore, the electric motor can recover energy thanks to an inverse mechanism: when the accelerator is released, the forces deriving from the movement of the vehicle move the electric current rotor, which supplies electric energy to the battery, increasing the car's range. This is why in the city, where braking and deceleration are more frequent, an electric car generally has a higher range than on out-of-town or freeway journeys. Now we know what electric cars are and how they work, it’s time to compare them with hybrid cars.

What is the difference between a hybrid car and an electric car?

The main difference between the two has already been outlined in the previous paragraphs:


  • An electric car: uses one or more battery motors in order to run;

  • A hybrid car: uses a combination of an internal combustion engine and one or more electric motors


And since an electric car never uses a combustion process in order to run, the tailpipe emissions are zero, while in hybrid cars these emissions are only reduced (but more so with plug-in hybrids). So, a hybrid car will always require the motorist to refuel, while an electric car requires a charge of electricity via a socket or wall-box, which significantly reduces the cost per mile compared to internal combustion engine cars. These costs are even more favorable if you take advantage of any flat rates, but also when the electricity rid to which the car is connected uses a photovoltaic system. It should also be noted that the battery of plug-in hybrids can be charged using public charging stations, thereby increasing the vehicle's possible electric driving distances and reducing operating costs.




The process driving the energy transition for a sustainable world

What is a plug-in hybrid car and how is it different from a hybrid car?

Plug-in hybrid cars are the bridge between traditional hybrid and electric vehicles. Compared to other thermal-electric powertrains, plug-in hybrid systems make use of a larger battery, which can be charged from the electricity grid via a domestic socket, wall-box or public charging station, just like electric cars. This results in minimal  fuel consumption and benefits the environment. When they are on the move, the difference between hybrids and plug-in hybrids, or rather, between hybrids with smaller batteries and hybrids with electricity “on tap,” lies in the distances that can be traveled with the thrust of the electric motor alone: plug-in hybrids are capable of traveling dozens of miles (the range of the various models is generally between 20 and 45 miles) without the internal combustion engine kicking in. With other hybrids, driving with the electric motor alone can occur for shorter distances.

What electric and hybrid car models are out there?

Although they still account for only a small share of vehicle registrations, especially in Italy (3.4% in 2022), electric cars are now the main innovation on the market. Car manufacturers, spurred on in no small part by EU legislation, are gradually abandoning traditional engines and adopting electrified engines. The best-selling models in the major international markets in 2022 are: the Tesla Model Y (Germany, UK and US), Tesla Model 3 (Australia, Hungary and Spain), Peugeot e208 (France), Wuling H. Mini EV (China) and Fiat 500e (Italy). As far as the hybrid car market is concerned, the supply in the plug-in segment exceeds that for full hybrids. After all, these cars are a good solution for drivers who want to embrace the advantages of electric mobility, but have greater difficulty in abandoning internal combustion engines altogether, which could be due to range anxiety.

Related questions

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