The different ways electricity can be used to power cars

The different ways electricity can be used to power cars

Volvo recently took the media by storm – and caused a fair amount of confusion – when it unveiled the news that from 2019, all of its new cars on sale would feature some form of electrification.

Unfortunately, a number of people mistook this for meaning that from 2019 the Swedish car manufacturer would only be producing fully-electric vehicles – but this is far from the reality.

There’s a pretty big difference between a car making use of electrification, and being fully electric. In order to provide some clarity on the issue, we take a look at the three main variations of electrification that Volvo will be making use of heading into the future.



PROS: Zero tailpipe emissions and low running costs

CONS: Range anxiety can be an issue, as can limited charging infrastructure

Volvo did reveal that it would be producing five fully electric cars between 2019 and 2021 – two of which would fall under Polestar, the manufacturer’s performance branch.

Fully electric cars do not make use of any form of the traditional internal combustion engine. As you would expect, they don’t require petrol or diesel, instead relying on a bank of batteries that provide power for an electric motor, which in turn drives the wheels and moves the car down the road.

One of the largest benefits of a purely electric vehicle is the fact that they produce no tailpipe emissions whatsoever, so they have far more impressive green credentials than their traditional counterparts. However, as the technology is still developing, range can present a challenge, and ‘range anxiety’ is one of the main reasons why consumers can be put off the prospect of purchasing a fully electric vehicle.



PROS: Electric-only driving at urban speeds lowers running costs

CONS: No real economy benefits on the open road

As plug-in hybrids make use of both a traditional petrol engine and an electric motor, you could argue they offer the best of both worlds. At low, inner-city speeds, the electric motor will drive the wheels, meaning you save fuel and won’t produce any harmful tailpipe emissions. However, when you get out on the open road, the petrol motor will take over – giving you the peace of mind that you might not get on longer journeys in an electric vehicle.

There are a couple of sticking points with plug-in hybrids, however. Again, there’s the question of range – the capacity of the batteries tends to be far smaller than that of their fully-electric counterparts. While this might be fine for short trips to work or school, they’re far from ideal when it comes to long-range driving.

Out on the open road, the electric motor isn’t made use of at all. As petrol engines are the power plant of choice for manufacturers of plug-in hybrids, this means that fuel economy is going to be the same as it would be for any other regular petrol car.



PROS: Marginal gains in terms of fuel economy and emissions

CONS: Not as efficient as a full hybrid system

This is probably the least familiar option on this list.

Mild hybrids make use of a regular internal combustion engine that has been paired with an electric motor, similar to a plug-in.

However, whereas in a plug-in hybrid the electric motor can be capable of providing the car’s driving power, in a mild hybrid this unit is used to take over the general running of the vehicle while it is stopped, braking or coasting – allowing the combustion engine to be switched off in a bid to save fuel.

So, while a mild hybrid is not exactly an electric car in the sense we’re familiar with, they still benefit from reduced running costs.