Electric Vehicles

What's the difference between a hybrid, PHEV and BEV?

The Government recently announced the Clean Car Discount to incentivise the uptake of Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) and Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs).

If you’re confused by some of these different terms, you’re not alone – we’ve taken many calls from AA Members that want to know the difference between regular hybrids, PHEVs and BEVs.

All three suit different needs, so we’ve put together a guide to help you decide which one is for you.


A ‘regular’ hybrid is a vehicle that can travel a considerable distance using both electric and petrol motors. Hybrid vehicles never need to be charged through an external power source, instead they recharge their battery via the energy produced when the vehicle is being driven.

Depending on the system, the energy is generally developed via a petrol motor, which is used to charge the battery and drive the wheels directly. On top of this, the electric motor can provide some electric assistance during low-speed-driving but it can also assist at times of sharp acceleration.

In reality, many motorists who drive around the city find themselves in stop-start scenarios quite often. If you’re driving a hybrid, it’s during these times that you’re able to utilise the otherwise wasted kinetic energy from braking and deceleration by storing it in the low capacity hybrid battery. When the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) is not required, it simply shuts down.

The Toyota Prius is by far the most common hybrid in New Zealand, and it’s easy to see why. It’s economical to run - fuel consumption in the latest Prius is just 3.4L/100km, with a CO2 fuel emission rating of just 80g/km. It also boasts a spacious interior, solid reliability and low maintenance costs.

Year-to-date, hybrid vehicles have experienced 100 per cent growth when compared to 2020.

According to Waka Kotahi NZTA, from 1 January 2022, subject to legislation being passed, it is proposed that the Clean Car Discount programme will offer an increased range of rebates for both new and used imported low-emission and hybrid light vehicles and will charge a fee for high-polluting vehicles based on the CO2 rating of the vehicle.

Plug-in Electric Vehicles (PHEVs)

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) are exactly what their name suggests – they're hybrid cars that can be plugged in to gain additional charge for a higher voltage battery.

Essentially, these models use two different powertrains, both of which can drive the wheels. There's an electric motor that enables drivers to travel a certain distance using electricity only based on the capacity of the battery, and there's a normal petrol engine that kicks in once the battery has depleted, in essence, reverting the system to a regular-hybrid-like operation.

The electric-only range of a PHEV is generally between 30km and 60km, which is perfect if you don’t want to consume fuel on short journeys. It’s even better if your daily commute to work and back falls within that range. PHEV drivers get the best of both worlds - BEV efficiency around town and traditional car range for longer trips.

The most common PHEV currently on New Zealand roads is the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, but recently this segment is growing with more options available, with the links of the Peugeot 3008 Hybrid4 GT PHEV, Kia Sorrento PHEV, Ford Escape PHEV and from the Volvo XC 40 PHEV all being added to the mix over the past 12 months.

Battery Electric Vehicle (BEVs)

Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs), otherwise often also referred to simply as ‘EVs’, offer several advantages over PHEVs. The main attraction is that BEVs benefit the environment more than a PHEV does since they don't use any fossil fuels at all. That's a big deal for consumers looking to minimise their carbon footprint as much as possible.

They also offer a much longer electric-only range – up to 652km on the Tesla Model S Long Range - and save drivers a fair bit of money on running costs.

Of course, there are some drawbacks to BEVs, the largest being range. As these vehicles rely solely on their energy that is stored in their batteries, drivers must be mindful to monitor their range, the same was you would traditionally monitor your fuel gauge. Generally, entry-level BEVs offer ranges between 200km and 500km.

Drivers with a longer commute or those who routinely travel longer distances without overnight stops would be wise to consider a PHEV over a BEV until the network of BEV charge stations is extended further.

Here is a list of some new BEV models that meet the current rebate criteria:

  • Tesla Model 3 from $66,900 (+ORC)
  • Nissan Leaf from $61,990 (+ORC)
  • MG ZS EV from $48,990 (+ORC)
  • Hyundai Kona Electric Series II from $69,990 (+ORC)
  • MINI Electric Hatch from $60,400 (+ORC)
  • Hyundai IONIQ EV from $65,990 (+ORC)
  • BMW i3 from $78,700 (+ORC)
  • Mazda MX-30 from $74,990 (+ORC)
  • Renault ZOE from $65,990 (+ORC)
  • Renault Kangoo EV Van from $74,990 (+ORC)

The Clean Car Discount

With so many vehicle manufacturers now committed to an electrified future and further incentives now being offered from 1 July 2021 for BEVs and PHEVs both new and used, electrified options are becoming more talked about than ever before.

Currently, new BEVs under $80,000 and with a minimum three-star safety rating are eligible for a rebate of $8,625. New PHEVs are eligible for $5,750 providing they also meet the same pricing and safety requirements.

Used BEVs and PHEVs under $80,000 and with a three-star safety rating or higher are also eligible for rebates of $3,450 and $2,300 respectively.

It’s worth noting that while conventional hybrid vehicles aren’t currently eligible for rebates, low-emitting hybrid vehicles may become eligible for rebates too in early 2022 when it’s proposed that a range of discounts and fees will be introduced based on the vehicles CO2 and safety ratings.

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