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If you’re considering buying an electric vehicle and trying to navigate around the types of electric vehicles available, it’s likely you’ll want to know about rechargeable batteries, regenerative braking, driving range and bidirectional charging. 

Here’s our guide to the different types of electric cars and some of the factors which might matter to you, to help you make an informed decision.


The different types of electric cars

An electric vehicle (or electric car) uses one or more electric motors powered by a battery pack to accelerate and drive. 

Depending on the type of EV, the electric motor (or motors) will either power the car completely or support an internal combustion engine (ICE). An ICE vehicle runs on traditional fuel such as petrol or diesel.

While there are many different makes and models to choose from, there are three main types of electric vehicles. These are hybrid electric vehicles (HEV), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) and battery electric vehicles (BEV).

Here’s some things to know about each of these types of electric cars.

Hybrid vs plug in hybrid

A hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) uses both a conventional internal combustion engine (ICE) and an electric motor and utilises a battery pack to reduce fuel consumption. Here’s how these work:

  • Hybrid electric vehicles use an electric motor to drive the car during conditions when an ICE is not very efficient, such as accelerating after being stopped at traffic lights. 
  • HEVs are also designed to favour the internal combustion engine when this is the more efficient option, for example when driving on a freeway at high speeds.
  • HEVs have rechargeable batteries which charge through what’s known as ‘regenerative braking’, which activates the electric motor system when conditions are suitable. This means that HEV drivers don’t need to keep an eye on charge or plug their cars into power outlets. 
  • Driving hybrid electric vehicles still produces tailpipe emissions – so this is something to keep in mind if you have environmental motivations for buying an EV. 

It’s a common EV myth that buying an electric vehicle means saying goodbye to the fuel pump. While this may be true for battery electric vehicles (BEVS), it is not so for hybrids. Driving a hybrid electric vehicle is similar to driving an ICE vehicle, as drivers need to top them up with traditional fuels like petrol. 

There are many different types of hybrid electric vehicles available from different car manufacturers. 

Plug in hybrid electric vehicles

A plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) combines an ICE with an electric motor and battery pack similarly to a hybrid. The difference between a hybrid v plug in hybrid is in the ‘plug in’, as the name suggests. Here’s more on that:

  • A PHEV will automatically recharge the battery and switch between ICE and electric power based on conditions. The main difference between this and a HEV is that you have the choice of topping up PHEVs with both fuel and electricity. You can plug it in to your home charger or a public charging point when you need to top the battery pack up with charge.
  • A PHEV can run on just petrol if the battery pack has run out of charge and it can also run on the battery pack alone if the fuel tank is empty. 
  • Popular models of PHEVs include the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, MG HS Plus EV and the Hyundai Ioniq PHEV.

PHEVs generally have larger battery packs and more powerful electric motors than HEVs because the electric motor can do a lot of the heavy driving work. This allows most PHEVs to be driven in electric-only mode, which is good to know if you want to minimise your tailpipe emissions. It’s also worth knowing that, with any PHEV, you could consider when you charge your EV to utilise solar power to help charge your EV if you have a solar PV system.

Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV)

Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are known as ‘all-electric’ or ‘full-electric’ cars. These electric vehicles are powered only by electricity, with their fully electric motors drawing current from onboard battery packs with no internal combustion engine at all. Here’s the lowdown:

  • Since BEVs rely on electricity, they tend to have much larger capacity batteries and kilowatt-hour (kWh) outputs than comparable hybrid and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.
  • This extra battery capacity means BEVs usually cost more than other types of EVs.
  • BEVs need to have charge to be driven – and can be charged using a home charger or fast charging station. 
  • Many BEVs can also charge using energy recouped through regenerative braking capabilities. 

Tesla’s Model 3 is currently a popular choice for Australian EV drivers and other popular choices of BEVs include the BYD Atto 3, Hyundai Kona, Polestar 2 and the Kia EV6.

Other types of electric cars

While less widely known, there are also mild-hybrid electric vehicles (MHEV) and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) available in Australia:

  • A mild-hybrid electric vehicle (MHEV) uses a 48-volt starter motor, known as an integrated starter generator (ISG) to work with the ICE. There’s a bit of debate around whether an MHEV can be considered a ‘true EV’, since the generator only helps the ICE but can’t accelerate the vehicle by itself. 
  • Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) are similar to BEVs in that they only use electrical energy to drive, however the way they store energy is very different. Unlike BEVs, which store electrical energy taken from a charger, FCEVs create their own electrical charge through a chemical reaction generally involving hydrogen. This means FCEVs are fuelled by hydrogen and don’t require ‘charging’ from the grid.


Which EV has the longest driving range?

The driving range of an EV refers to how far you can drive a fully-charged EV before the battery is depleted. It’s also one of the most important factors for many people when buying an EV, as it gives an indication of how far you could travel between charges.

Driving range is an estimated figure generally published by car manufacturers based on the kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy needed to replenish the battery by the number of kilometres driven. Many car manufactures use the Worldwide Harmonised Light-Duty Vehicles Test Procedure (WLTP) to determine driving range. Actual driving results and range will vary depending on various factors such as speed, type of journey, environment and elevation, battery age and condition, use of vehicle features, operating, and weather conditions.

EV battery packs have their capacity rated in kWh. Generally, the higher the kWh number, the longer the distance or range you’ll be able to travel on a single charge before you need to charge up again.

The driving range of an EV is important to consider but your driving habits and other factors impact on how far your EV can drive between charging. According to the Electric Vehicle Council, the average Australian drives 38km per day. Based on the advertised driving range of the Tesla Model Y, a popular choice for EV buyers in Australia, which is over 400kms, EV drivers could go for 10 days based on the average distance driven per day without having to charge.# This is good to keep in mind if you’re worried about different types of electric cars running out of power.

Driving range can be important but it's significance to your decision on which type of EV you purchase depends on your individual needs. It’s also important to know that driving range is different to battery life, which is how long your EV battery is expected to last under normal conditions for before you need to replace it.


Which EVs have bidirectional charging?

Bidirectional charging is something worth knowing about if you’re interested in one day using your EV as a home battery or potentially selling excess energy back to the grid (known as ‘vehicle to grid’ or V2G). Here’s how it works:

  • Bi-directional allows a two-way flow of electricity into and out of an EV. This means you could potentially use your EV as a home battery, sending energy from your EV to your home (V2H) to run your lights, TV and other appliances, if you have the necessary infrastructure. 
  • If you want to use bidirectional charging to send electricity back into the grid or into your home, you’ll need a bidirectional charger. This changes direct current (DC electricity which your car runs on) back into alternating current (AC) electricity for your home. 
  • The process of converting AC to DC electricity could happen through a converter inside the car, or through an AC to DC converter in your EV charger. 

V2H and V2G technology is still in the process of being regulated at a national level and by Distributed Network Service Providers (DNSPs) in various Australian states and territories. 

South Australia’s SA Power Networks is leading the way with a winery in the Barossa Valley that has the first V2G bi-directional charger installed at a residential or commercial property in Australia. 

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) recently backed the Realising Electric Vehicles-to-grid Services (REVS) project in Canberra to investigate how V2G services could be technically and economically viable in Australia.

So, while you might not be able to take advantage of V2H and V2G bi-directional charging just yet, it could be worth knowing about as part of your EV buying process if you are planning to hold onto your EV for the foreseeable future.

There aren’t a lot of bidirectional charging EVs on the market in Australia at the moment. The 2023 Nissan Leaf battery-electric hatchback and Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) SUV are capable of bidirectional charging. Both of these use the CHAdeMO type charging connector. 

Owning an EV means that you might need to change some of your habits in respect of your electricity usage in order to make more efficient energy decisions when charging at home, which is why it might be worth looking into changing electricity plans that better suit your new energy habits. Learn more about our electricity plan for EV drivers: Synergy EV Add On.*


Which EV should I buy?

Choosing between different types of electric cars is a big decision and it’s worth a lot of thought. Which EV is most suitable for you will depend on many factors including your current driving habits, your budget and what you’re looking for in terms of driving experience and environmental impact.

Here are some questions to consider to help you when buying an EV:

  • What’s your budget?

    Before you book your test drive at your local dealership, take a moment to sit down and set some benchmark figures based on what you can afford. Maintenance and charging costs for an EV can be much lower compared to running and maintaining a traditional ICE vehicle, but the upfront cost can be more compared to ICE vehicles of similar sizes and models. Once you start exploring your options, vehicle dealerships should be able to help you work out the approximate running costs of each particular model you’re considering.  
  • What size car do you need?

    When it comes to buying an electric vehicle, you still need to be taking size into consideration. Think about how many average passengers you're going to be ferrying, as well as any extra storage you need. As with ICE vehicles, a larger model EV is likely to cost you more than a smaller sized model. 

  • Which make and model do you like?

    Tesla is the brand most people first think of when talking about EVs but there’s also a growing number of other options available in Australia. Manufacturers of EVs available in Australia also include BYD, MG, Polestar, Volvo, Kia, BMW, Nissan, Audi, Hyundai and others.
    Electric vehicles come in different brands, shapes, and sizes, so it might be a good idea to shop around, read reviews from other EV drivers, and book several test drives to find the car that you prefer. 

  • Where and how do you plan to charge your EV?

    If you plan to charge your EV from a home power outlet, considering installing a dedicated charger at home or if you’re counting on the growing number of public charging stations, read our ultimate EV charging guide and take a look at the best spots to charge your electric vehicle in Perth. This could help you work out the types of electric cars for your garage, home or places you visit regularly. 

  • Do you want a new or used/second hand EV?

    A used or second-hand EV is likely to cost less upfront, but make sure you consider all of your options. Make sure you are provided with the car's full-service history if buying second-hand to get a good understanding of the car and also the health of the battery and plug.

  • What about leasing?

    If you’re concerned about the upfront cost of an EV, leasing could be an option. A lease arrangement generally covers things like maintenance, servicing, tyres, annual registration and insurance. This could give you less to worry about not but may cost you more over the long term. Your employer may offer novated leasing, so you might like to investigate if it’s an option for you. 

Finally, it’s important to consider if buying an EV is a good decision for you at the moment. The world of EVs is changing rapidly and the coming advancements in technology are likely to make them more affordable in the future. If you are considering investing in an electric vehicle, you might like to explore some of the advantages of switching to an EV

*Synergy EV Add On is subject to eligibility criteria, see the Synergy EV Add On Eligibility Criteria for details. The Synergy Standard Electricity Agreement Terms and Conditions apply to the Synergy EV Add On product.

# Driving range based on Worldwide Harmonised Light-Duty Vehicles Test Procedure (WLTP) static laboratory combined average city and highway cycle test, which measures, energy consumption, range and emissions in passenger vehicles, designed to provide figures closer to real-world driving behaviour. The WLTP standard can be useful in comparing ranges among electric vehicles. Ranges listed as “estimate” or “est.” Actual driving results and range will vary depending on various factors such as speed, type of journey, environment and elevation, battery age and condition, use of vehicle features, operating, and weather conditions.