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When it comes to choosing a car, customers are increasingly thinking not only about power and fuel efficiency but also about reducing their carbon footprint which makes the hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) an attractive option.
While it was a tough year for the UK car market in general, with new car registrations falling -29.4% in 2020 according to the trade association, Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, there was a bright spot -- both electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles had their best year ever rising 10.7%.
Before delving into what’s behind the love and growing popularity for HEVs and electric vehicles (EVs), it’s important to understand the differences between them. EVs use batteries to generate some or all of their power resulting in lower emissions at the tailpipe and there are a few categories:
Pure or all-electrics’ only source of power are their large, rechargeable batteries (these are costly and an important aspect for insurance). They are plugged into the electricity grid. Another important factor for these vehicles is the range (distance) between recharges with quoted ranges running from 60 to more than 300 miles, however the range is very much affected by factors including driving style and terrain.
Plug-in Hybrids (PHEVs) are powered by generally smaller batteries coupled with internal combustion engines. The batteries can be charged using wall sockets or charging equipment, with the battery topped up on the road by the internal combustion engine or even braking. Because the batteries are smaller, the range is usually between 10 and 40 miles on the battery alone. The vehicle will run on the electric power before automatically switching over to the internal combustion engine.
Hybrids unlike other electric versions, these don’t plug in to charge. The power comes from a trio of: either a petrol or diesel engine, an electric motor and a battery. The batteries are typically recharged while you drive, and you can generally only travel for short distances on purely electric power.
The pandemic and Brexit have had a big impact on car manufacturers, but the silver lining is increased growth for battery and plug-in hybrid electric cars, which accounted for more than one in 10 registrations – up from around one in 30 in 2019 says the SMMT. Demand for battery electric vehicles (BEVs) grew by 185.9% to 108,205 units, while registrations of plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) rose 91.2% to 66,877.
Sure, a good portion of that increase is due to fleet sales (true of new registrations in general), with 68% of new registrations. But every indication suggests there is a surge in private interest for private buyers which is likely to continue to grow.
Currently, there are around 100 different types of plug-in car available in the UK with different features and functions according to the SMMT. Car manufacturers are set to bring more than 35 to market this year – more than the number of either petrol or diesel new models planned for the year.
The push factors are industry commitment to electrification with a number of manufacturers making pledges to increase the number of electrified models such as Mercedes promise to have an electric option on all of its models by 2022 and its entire Smart subdivision went electric in 2020. Jaguar has also announced it will only make electric cars by 2025.
Makers like Toyota and Lexus already have an electric hybrid version of most of their models. Honda says it’s looking to achieve two thirds of all sales to be electrified by end of 2030 and similar pledges are made by entry level through to high-end providers such as Audi, Volkswagen and Volvo.
However, there is no greater incentive than government policy and an outright ban on fossil fuelled cars in the near future as enacted by the UK. This includes hybrids with petrol or diesel engines on board.
Mike Hawes, chief executive SMMT, is hoping 2021 could be a transitional year and commented in a recent release: “With manufacturers bringing record numbers of electrified vehicles to market over the coming months, we will work with government to encourage drivers to make the switch, while promoting investment in our globally-renowned manufacturing base – recharging the market, industry and economy.”
What are the most expensive HEV models?
HEVs produce fewer emissions and have greater fuel efficiency to offset to the bigger ticket price. Today’s hybrids generate as much power as their conventional engine models and certainly compete when it comes to features and trims.
In 2019, the most common generic model of ultra low emission vehicles sold was the Tesla Model 3, followed by the Mitsubishi Outlander and the Nissan Leaf.
Tesla, in fact, had an important function making electric vehicles upmarket. The aspirational quality of Tesla was a spur for the rest of the motor industry in advancing technology and making cars more fuel efficient and reducing carbon emissions. Indeed demand was so great that in spite of its £42,000 price tag on its more middle priced Model 3, it had difficulty keeping up with production.
HEVs at the luxury end, outstrip the Model 3 price tag. The top five most expensive HEV models are:
Described in some quarters as the world’s greatest sportscar, there were just under 500 cars produced between 2013 and 2016. This Ferrari was the first model to use the hybrid gas/electric drivetrain. For the money you get a 3.8 V8 engine 950bhp and a 970Nm torque and a top speed over 217mph but very little room in the boot.
McLaren P1: £1.02 mn
To its dedicated fan base, the McLaren is considered one of the greatest performance cars ever made. Launched in the same year as the Ferrari LaFerrari, it’s among the trio of super hybrids launched that year (with the Porsche 918) and its stellar performance is attributed to its hybrid technology. A lithium-ion battery, which powered the electric motor could be charged from the mains or engine within two hours. The driver could choose to use either the petrol or electric engine or a combination of the two. The limited-edition plugin (only 375 were produced and each modified to buyer requirements) had a V8 engine with 903bhp and 723l/ft torque and a top speed of 217mph.
Porsche 918 Spyder: upwards of £781k
The cheapest of the super hybrids, the two-seater Spyder packs a similar wallop in driveability and performance but with minimal consumption. The 918 Spyder according to Porsche would “act as the gene pool” for its future sports cars. 918 refers to the number of cars made and owners get a removable sunroof to increase the level of enjoyment of the V8 engine and combined electric motor producing 887 horsepower and between 917 and 1280Nm torque depending on the gear. In electric mode on a sufficient battery charge and under ideal conditions it can cover up to 31km. The car is quick on speed, topping out at 211mph, but leveraging the five modes for three power units as part of its intelligent management system and operated via a ‘map switch’ on the steering wheel, as it does on motorsports cars, drivers only need focus on the road.
Honda NSX: £149,950
This high-tech supercar uses three electric motors – but they’re there to boost performance at least as much as to add to efficiency. One sits on the rear axle, helping the 3.5-litre V6 engine push out power. The other two are on the front wheels, giving the NSX four-wheel drive and allowing ‘torque vectoring’ in corners. The result is one of the best supercars on the market, and one that costs far, far less than many rivals - if still enough to buy 6 Ford Focuses with enough spare cash for a Fiesta too.
BMW i8: £118K Still in production four years after launch, the current model is the zippy Roadster rated a 9/10 by BBC TopGear, which paints it in glory, declaring that “there’s nothing like the i8”. The car review site praises the “new-age sustainable sports car” for “the multiple sides of its personality [when] it’ll snort along your favourite mountain road, then soften up and quieten down for the motorway. Under electric power it glides along as discreetly as a bicycle. If you’re stuck in dawdle, hybrid mode isn’t only hygienic, it’s fascinating in its own way.” How does it deliver? It’s aerodynamic and lightweight even with its engines (now 11.6kWh) and battery, with its top speed limited to 155mph. On pure electric power you can get 30 miles distance. A mid-mounted, Mini-derived 1.5l three-cylinder turbo for a combined horsepower of 386bhp.
While manufacturers are moving towards embracing greener technology how have insurance companies responded? Well, the market for HEVs while growing is still small and premiums are more expensive than for petrol or diesel cars.
The landscape then is assuredly changing towards the widespread take up of electric cars. To relieve the congestion and pollution in urban areas the UK government announced a ban on all new diesel and petrol cars from 2030. If the ban comes into force and the government continues to provide incentives to help customers convert to zero emission cars, it will inevitably lead to lowering the cost of insurance. Insurers say they stand ready to adapt to customer needs, particularly in light of these plans.
The more ubiquitous electric and hybrid vehicles become, the more insurers will learn about the risks. Increased data and robust claims history will allow insurers to price policies more accurately.
According to Thatchams, the research arm of the Association of British Insurers, over half of all money paid out in motor insurance claims goes on repairing cars. The cost of spare parts and the times taken by repairers are therefore major factors in pricing motor insurance.
Generally, electric engines have significantly fewer moving parts than internal combustion engines and will, therefore, be easier to repair and maintain. The battery can account for almost a third of the cost of an EV, although this has fallen significantly over the years. Electric cars also come with other technology that can be expensive to repair or replace.
There are even new risks for insurers - for example someone injuring themselves by tripping over your charging cable in the street could potentially sue.
Hybrids though get around the limitations of EVs due to range and battery capacity. For shorter journeys you can travel on electric charge, switching over to petrol for greater speed and longer distances. Giving customers lower carbon emissions and according to the AA with fuel efficiency that is 15-30% more than conventional cars.
When buying a new car, it’s a good idea to check, the insurance group rating of the exact model - the higher the group number the higher the premium is likely to be.
Insurance groups range from 1 to 50, with the car’s placing decided by a panel of experts, who assess the reliability, cost of repair, safety and performance of the cars currently on the market.
Insurers are not required to follow the advisory group ratings, it’s best to compare premiums before making any purchasing decision based on the insurance group.
There are a range of other factors affecting premiums including age, location, what type of cover is sought and driving history all have an impact on cost. It’s best to shop around using our comparison site. The range of hybrids available on the market is wide, choice is growing abundant. Insurance cover will have an impact on your choice.
Here are the 10 cheapest hybrids cars to insure at the moment, according to Thacham:
Hyundai Kona Hybrid SE Connect GDi, 2020 model, 1.6 litres - Group rating 8E
Hyundai IONIQ Hybrid 1st Edition, 2019 model, 1.6 litres - Group rating 11E
Kia Niro Hybrid 2 GDi, 2019, 1.6 litres - Group rating 11E
Toyota Prius+ Icon TSS HSD, 2015 model, 1.8 litres - Group rating 11E
Renault Clio Hybrid Play E-Tech, 2020 model, 1.6 litres - Group rating 12E
Toyota Yaris Hybrid Icon HSD, 2020 model, 1.5 litres - Group rating 13E
Toyota Corolla Hybrid Trek VVT-i, 2019 model, 1.8 litres - Group rating 14E
Kia Ceed PHEV 3, 2020 model, 1.6 litres - Group rating 15E
Renault Captur PHEV S Edition E-Tech, 2020 model, 1.7 litres - Group rating 15E
Toyota C-HR Hybrid Icon VVT-i, 2019 model, 1.8 litres - Group rating 15E
Cutting carbon emissions is an environmental challenge for both manufacturers and consumers.
Eventually, we may get to a world where driving is a silent experience due to the electric motor and pollution from vehicles a thing of the past. But before widespread adoption, there needs to be significant investment from the Government to ensure there is sufficient supporting infrastructure including charging points, supply chains, and trained technicians. Until then, hybrid electric vehicles provide a practical solution, a halfway home between the present and the future.
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