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What is a hybrid and should you buy one?

Hybrids are simply vehicles that run on petrol and electricity. Australians are currently buying more hybrids than battery EVs (EVs) because they are cheaper and have familiar engines. In fact, hybrids account for one in every 3 cars sold by Toyota. What exactly is a hybrid and should you buy one?

Two types of hybrid

There are 2 types of hybrid electric vehicle: hybrids (or HEVs) and plug-in hybrids (or PHEVs):

  • Hybrids have a small battery and a dominant petrol engine. Regenerative braking charges the battery while you drive but you can’t plug them in to charge. They can travel on electricity for short distances, saving fuel in city and suburban driving.
  • Plug-in hybrids (or PHEVs) have a larger battery and a smaller petrol engine. You charge the battery by plugging it in. They can run in electric-only mode for longer than hybrids and are more fuel efficient. Prices sit between hybrids and EVs.

There is another type – mild hybrids – but they have a small electric motor and can’t drive on electricity only. They are not considered in this blog.

Sales of new hybrids in Australia

In January 2023, hybrids and plug-in hybrids were 6.6% (5,574) and EVs were 5.7% (4,852) of new vehicle sales. In contrast, all petrol and diesel vehicles together made up 84.1% (71,420) of sales. Australians still prefer SUVs and light commercials, accounting for 76.9% of all new sales.

Toyota sells the most hybrid cars in Australia, from the smaller Yaris and Corolla Hatch to the larger RAV4 and Kluger. In fact, Toyota has sold 300,000 hybrids since the first Prius in 2001. Its attitude is to provide a range of affordable and practical options, leaving “no-one behind”. For example, Toyota in Australia has been considering diesel-electric hybrids for people, like farmers, who need diesel because they cant get petrol.

An electric motor can be combined with LPG as well as diesel or petrol. In Japan, Toyota recently launched a hybrid LPG-electric taxi.

Can you save money on fuel?

Being able to save money on fuel depends on the car you drive and your type of driving. Hybrids can save you money, but some save more than others.

One car expert says a hybrid Subaru Forester uses 6.5L/100km compared to 7.0L/100km for the petrol version. This is a small saving but could make a difference if you do a lot of driving. A hybrid Toyota RAV4 uses 4.7L/100km, or 28% less fuel, compared to 6.5L/100km for the petrol version. This clearly saves money on fuel.

Plug-in hybrids are a different matter. Recent studies show fuel consumption has been understated.  Some models automatically use petrol at start-up, for heating or cooling, or for hard acceleration. Meanwhile, many owners rarely charge their plug-ins because it is too easy to rely on the petrol engine.

In theory, a plug-in hybrid should save more money on fuel because it is designed to run primarily on electricity, not petrol. Australian sales of plug-ins are low but increasing as they provide a transition from a hybrid to a fully electric car.

Why buy a hybrid?

Ask yourself these questions before you buy a hybrid:
Where do you drive? If you are mostly in the city and suburbs, you can save a lot of fuel by buying a hybrid. This is not the case on the highway or country roads, where you use mostly petrol.

Does the hybrid use much less fuel than the petrol version? This is not always a certainty. Check by comparing vehicles.

Does the hybrid version cost much more than the petrol version? For example, the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is $2,500 more than the petrol version. You would need to work out how long it takes to recoup the difference in fuel saved. Hybrids are much cheaper than plug-ins. Buyers bought 12 times more new hybrids than plug-ins in January 2023.

How much does a green slip for a hybrid cost? A green slip for a hybrid and its conventional version costs much the same. Greenslips.com.au Calculator shows it usually costs the same for a green slip for a Toyota Prius or a Toyota Corolla. It also costs the same for a Subaru Forester or a Toyota RAV4, whether they are hybrid or run on petrol.

Calculate your cheapest green slip here.

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Corrina Baird

Writer and Researcher, greenslips.com.au

Corrina used to lend her car to her kids and discovered what Ls, Ps and demerits mean for greenslips. After 20 years in financial services and over 8 years with greenslips.com.au, she’s an expert in the NSW CTP scheme. Read more about Corrina

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