Hybrid cars Australia: 2020 guide

Greener (or cleaner) options are becoming increasingly popular in the Australian vehicle market. Sales for hybrid and electric cars have grown steadily this year, despite major hits to the automotive industry in recent months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So, what exactly are hybrid cars and what options are available in Australia?

According to June 2020 figures from the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), sales numbers for hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and full-electric cars in Australia were up a total of 79% compared to the same period last year. Full-electric and plug-in hybrid car sales climbed 91% from 201 to 384, while hybrid cars were up 78% from 2,380 to 4,243. These jumps come amid the continued decline of new petrol and diesel car sales, which fell by 6.4% in the same timeframe.

CEO of Australia’s Electric Vehicle Council, Behyad Jafari, told Car Advice in June that the continued rise of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles could be mainly attributed to an increase in availability of new models.

“We’re still only talking about a few hundred cars and we’d like to see a few more zeros added to that number,” Mr Jafari said.

“But the good news is that we were talking about 2019 as a breakthrough year for electric vehicles because then we tripled sales, and now we’re beating that again in 2020 in the midst of a global pandemic.”

If you are looking for an eco-friendly way to travel on the road and potentially cut down on fuel costs, we will drive through some of your options when it comes to hybrid vehicles in Australia and some key things to consider before plugging in to this green vehicle market.

What is a hybrid car?

A hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) is a car that uses a combination of electricity and petrol to power the motor. Most HEVs sold in Australia use a petrol engine as the main source of power to drive the wheels and a small battery-driven electric motor to offer a helping hand in driving short distances or when the car is running idle, according to the Comparisons Editor of automotive publication Car Expert, Mike Costello.

He said the small battery in a hybrid car is kept charged by a system that captures energy created when the vehicle accelerates and brakes.

What is a plug-in hybrid car?

A plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) is a car that is run primarily using a large battery-powered electric motor that can be charged by plugging it into an electrical source (e.g. electricity grid), national secretary of the Australian Electric Vehicle Association (AEVA), Chris Jones, told Canstar.

PHEVs do have a petrol engine, but Mr Jones said it is only used when the battery power in the electric motor is depleted. The larger battery and plug-in feature of a PHEV means that, unlike a HEV, it can operate solely on the power of the electric engine for up to 50 – 60kms in some instances, according to Drive.com.au. With less dependence on the petrol engine, Drive said a PHEV does not consume as much petrol or emit as much CO2 as a HEV. However, due to its larger and more expensive battery, a PHEV will typically cost more to purchase than a HEV.

Unlike a HEV or PHEV, a pure electric vehicle (EV) has no petrol engine, and is powered solely by a battery-powered electric engine that can be charged by plugging into an electrical source.

Because there is no petrol engine, Motorama Australia said an EV emits no CO2 from the vehicle, and can help a driver save on fuel costs. However, with no petrol engine to fall back on, an EV may be more limited in how far it can be driven before needing to be recharged, and is typically more expensive to purchase than a HEV or PHEV car, according to Motorama.

Top hybrid (HEV) cars Australia

There is a wide selection of HEVs available in Australia, including a number of popular Toyota models, which were among the first hybrids to be introduced in the country.

Below is a snapshot of some of the top hybrid cars available in Australia at the time of writing, according to Mr Costello. These cars have been sorted into four categories – most popular, most affordable, when cost is no barrier, and best technology.

The pricing and specifications in this list have been gathered from carsguide.com.au and caradvice.com.au. This is not an exhaustive list and should be used as a general guide only. The ‘CO2’ number is the vehicle’s emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) in grams per kilometre travelled (g/km). According to energy.gov.au, a ‘green’ vehicle is defined as one with emissions that do not exceed 120 grams of CO2 emissions per km. Not all hybrid cars in this list will meet this ‘green’ benchmark.

Most popular HEV

Mr Costello told Canstar that Toyota’s range of hybrid cars were among the most well-known in the market, including the Prius, which took the notion of a petrol/electric car into the mainstream in Australia in 2001. While the Prius is still one of Toyota’s best-recognised hybrid vehicles, Mr Costello said there are now a number of other Toyota hybrid models that have also proved popular with Australian buyers.

Below is a list of the most popular HEVs on the Australian market according to Mr Costello:

Toyota Corolla Hybrid (2020)

toyota corolla hybrid
Source: otomobil (Shutterstock)

Price from: $26,335 plus on-road costs (e.g. stamp duty and registration)

Engine: 1.8-litre, four-cylinder petrol/twin electric motors

Fuel consumption: 4.2L/100km

CO2: 97g/km

Toyota RAV4 Hybrid (2020)

toyota rav4 hybrid
Source: Milos Vucicevic (Shutterstock)

Price from: $35,490 plus on-road costs

Engine: 2.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol/twin electric motors

Fuel consumption: 4.7L/100km

CO2: 109g/km

Toyota Camry Hybrid (2020)

Toyota Camry Hybrid
Source: Teddy Leung (Shutterstock)

Price from: $30,590 plus on-road costs

Engine: 2.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol/twin electric motors

Fuel consumption: 4.2L/100km

CO2: 96g/km

Honda Accord Hybrid (2020)

Honda Accord Hybrid
Source: Kridsada Krataipet (Shutterstock)

Price from: $47,990 plus on-road costs

Engine: 2-litre, four-cylinder petrol/twin electric motors

Fuel consumption: 4.3L/100km

CO2: 98g/km

Subaru Forester Hybrid L (2020)

Subaru Forester Hybrid
Source: Teddy Leung (Shutterstock)

Price from: $39,990 plus on-road costs

Engine: 2-litre, four-cylinder petrol/ electric motor

Fuel consumption: 6.7L/100km

CO2: 152g/km

Most affordable HEV

According to Mr Costello, when Toyota’s all-new hybrid Toyota Yaris arrives towards the end of 2020, it will likely be the cheapest hybrid on the Australian market. The new Yaris is expected to start at around $21,000 plus on-road costs, although Toyota is yet to confirm the exact pricing. Mr Costello said the most affordable HEV on the market at present is the base model Toyota Corolla (found above), which costs around $26,000 plus on-road costs.

Toyota Yaris Hybrid (2020) – Coming Soon

Toyota Yaris Hybrid
Source: tomas devera photo (Shutterstock)

Expected price from: $21,000 plus on-road costs

Engine: 1.5-litre, three-cylinder petrol/twin electric motors

Fuel consumption: 3.3L/100km

CO2: 86g/km (based on EU model)

When cost is no barrier HEV

Mr Costello said the Lexus LS was his pick as the best of the luxury hybrid vehicles on the Australian market. Car Advice said the LS 500h Hybrid ranks highly among the hierarchy of alternative fuel vehicles in Australia, particularly for its solid performance, comfort and low fuel usage.

Lexus LS 500h Hybrid (2020)

Lexus LS 500h Hybrid
Source: Grzegorz Czapski (Shutterstock)

Price from: $80,010 plus on-road costs

Engine: 3.5-litre, V6 petrol engine/twin electric motors and lithium-ion battery

Fuel consumption: 6.6L/100km

CO2: 150g/km

Best tech HEV

For the HEV with the best technology, Mr Costello chose the Toyota Rav4 Hybrid (as detailed further above).

Mr Costello said the Toyota Rav4 allows you to drive 40km/hr on the electric motor alone for those city streets and school zones, and added that when both petrol and electric motors are used in conjunction with each other, it is a “subtle and cohesive experience” with impressive power and performance. He also said the Rav4 is extremely fuel-efficient, using half the amount of petrol in comparison to a regular petrol-powered SUV in another brand.

Top plug-in hybrid (PHEV) cars Australia

While there are not as many plug-in hybrid vehicles in Australia as there are regular hybrid cars, there are many manufacturers around the globe rolling out new models each year.

Below is a snapshot of some of the top plug-in hybrid cars available in Australia, as chosen by Chris Jones from the AEVA and Tim Washington, director of EV charging infrastructure and accessories supplier JET Charge. Like the lists of regular hybrids, these cars have been sorted into four categories – most popular, most affordable, when cost is no barrier, and best technology.

The pricing and specifications in this list have been gathered from carsguide.com.au and caradvice.com.au. This is not an exhaustive list and should be used as a general guide only. The ‘CO2’ is the vehicle’s emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) in grams per kilometre (g/km). According to energy.gov.au, a ‘green’ vehicle is defined as one with emissions that do not exceed 120 grams of CO2 emissions per km. The ‘electricity-only range’ is the maximum distance a PHEV can travel on a fully charged, electric-battery alone before the petrol engine kicks in.

Most popular PHEV

Mr Jones told Canstar the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV was by far the most popular option in Australia for this type of vehicle currently.

“An SUV which can tow is a desirable car, and the option of powering it mostly on electricity means money and emissions saved,” he said.

However, Mr Jones said some PHEVs like the Mitsubishi Outlander did not employ active thermal management in their battery packs, so they may begin to deteriorate faster than a liquid-cooled option like the Holden Volt. When a battery begins to deteriorate it can lead to performance issues with the car, and eventually will mean a new battery will need to be fitted.

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (2020)

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
Source: VanderWolf Images (Shutterstock)

Price from: $45,990 plus on-road costs

Engine: 2-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine/twin electric motors

Fuel consumption: 1.7L/100km

Electricity-only range: 54km

CO2: 46g/km

Most affordable PHEV

According to Mr Jones, the Hyundai Ioniq PHEV offered the most affordable option for consumers who wanted a sedan with an electric-only range of over 60 km, while keeping open the option of longer trips using the car’s petrol motor (which kicks in once the electric component runs out of juice).

Hyundai Ioniq PHEV (2020)

Hyundai Ioniq PHEV
Source: Monir Abderrazzak (Shutterstock)

Price from: $40,990 plus on-road costs

Engine: 1.6-litre, four-cylinder petrol-electric engine

Fuel consumption: 3.7L/100km

Electricity-only range: 63km

CO2: 84g/km

When cost is no barrier PHEV

At the other end of the spectrum, Mr Jones said there were premium plug-in hybrids such as the BMW i8 that could cost up to almost half a million dollars. The electric motor in the BMW i8 provides the torque (power to accelerate) to be able to hit 100 km/h in 4.4 seconds.

BMW i8 PHEV (2020)

BMW i8 PHEV
Source: Glebiy (Shutterstock)

Price from: $318,900 plus on-road costs

Engine: 1.5-litre, turbocharged petrol engine/electric motor

Fuel consumption: 2.1L/100km

Electricity-only range: 37km

CO2: 42g/km

Best tech PHEV

Mr Washington from JET Charge named the Porsche Cayenne PHEV and Panamera PHEV as two of the best tech plug-in hybrids on the Australian market.

The Cayenne uses an E-Hybrid system, where the electric motor is positioned between the petrol engine and automatic transmission. According to Which Car, this positioning allows power to be sent to all four wheels exactly as it does in a V6 engine (six-cylinder engine arranged in a V configuration) car. The result, is a compact transmission that provides consistent performance and requires no adjustment in driving style when the drive mode is switched from electric to the petrol engine, Which Car said.

Cars Guide said the recent Panamera PHEV offers some new and improved features than previous models, including an adaptive three-chamber air suspension (which helps keep the vehicle at a constant and comfortable level when driving regardless of the weight or load), speed-sensitive power steering, a larger charging capacity and a turbocharged petrol engine.

Porsche Cayenne PHEV (2020)

Porsche Cayenne PHEV
Source: Stanislavskyi (Shutterstock)

Price from: $162,790 plus on-road costs

Engine: 3-litre turbocharged petrol engine/electric motor

Fuel consumption: 3.4L/100km

Electricity-only range: 44km

CO2: 78g/km

Porsche Panamera PHEV (2020)

Porsche Panamera PHEV
Source: blaskor (Shutterstock)

Price from: $251,800 plus on-road costs

Engine: 2.9-litre twin V6 turbocharged petrol engine/electric motor

Fuel consumption: 2.5L/100km

Electricity-only range: 49km

CO2: 56g/km

Considerations when choosing a hybrid vehicle

If you are looking to make a switch from a pure-petrol or diesel model to a low-emission hybrid or plug-in hybrid vehicle in Australia, there are a few things to consider before making your decision.

1. Cost

Although there are some relatively cheap hybrid vehicles available in Australia, some as low as $25,000, WA-based car insurer and automotive club RAC said most are generally more expensive than their equivalently-sized petrol-engined counterparts because of the added cost and complexity of electrification, including the battery pack, electric motor, unique transmission and generator technology. However, Mr Costello said the pricing for these cars has come down significantly in recent years, with hybrids now becoming “a mainstream viable alternative” for consumers.

“When deciding on cost, you need to crunch the numbers to see whether the added upfront price of the hybrid vehicle can be made up by the savings you can make on petrol,” Mr Costello said.

“For example, if a Toyota Camry hybrid uses 25% less petrol, that might equate to two litres per 100km, which is 20 litres per 1,000km, costing roughly $30.

“So, after 100,000km you might have saved $3,000 on petrol, and if the added purchase premium of the car compared to its petrol alternative is less than this, your money then may have been made back,” he said.

However, keep in mind, Mr Costello’s example is based on petrol costs of around $1.50/litre, which is higher than most average prices currently available in Australia. It may also take some time to travel 100,000 kms and in that time your car will most likely depreciate in value, so it’s important to consider this when looking at how you can recoup the added upfront costs of a hybrid vehicle.

Because there are two propulsion systems in HEVs and PHEVs (petrol and electric), RAC said this can also add to the cost and complexity of servicing and repairing these cars which is important to consider.

When it comes to plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), the upfront cost of one of these types of cars is often substantially more than its petrol and HEV counterparts, due to the added technology.

Mr Washington said that while upfront cost was an important factor, consumers should also look at the total cost of owning the PHEV when making their decision.

“PHEVs tend to be more expensive to buy, but they can pay their value back over time when it comes to reduced fuel consumption,” Mr Washington said.

In some states there are registration and stamp duty incentives available for low-emission vehicles, such as HEVs and PHEVs, which may also help drivers of these cars save money.

2. Greenhouse gas emissions

RAC said hybrids and plug-in hybrids produced fewer carbon (CO2) and nitrogen oxide emissions than petrol or diesel cars, resulting in “dramatically more economical and cleaner vehicles”, especially in city areas where heavy traffic (and therefore more braking) means the electric motor is more likely to be the main force driving the wheels.

Mr Costello said by running a normal hybrid car, you can save a lot of fuel and CO2, “up to 30% in some cases”.

However, in order for a vehicle like a HEV or PHEV to be considered ‘green’, the Australian government has said it needs to have an emissions intensity that does not exceed 120 grams of CO2 emissions per km (g/km).

So, if you are looking to be kinder to the environment and switch to a low-emissions hybrid vehicle, it may be worth checking to see whether that vehicle falls within the government’s emissions guidelines. You can often find the CO2 emissions per gram online when researching the specs of a vehicle. The other option could be to consider purchasing a pure electric vehicle (EV). According to the Electric Vehicle Council, EVs emit zero exhaust emissions and when charged by coal-fired electricity they generate lower emissions than a HEV car.

3. Battery range and warranty

How long a plug-in hybrid vehicle can travel on its battery power alone (its ‘range’) could be important to consider, particularly in a large country like Australia.

Mr Washington said when a PHEV is plugged in and recharged appropriately, it often allows anywhere between 20km to 60km of range on battery only. This means that for many, their daily commute can be covered off using battery power only.

“If the vehicle is driven primarily on battery, it means that drivers can use, for example, rooftop solar to charge their vehicle, which will result in very low costs for fuel,” Mr Washington said.

“Batteries can also be charged with off-peak electricity, resulting again in lower fuel costs.”

Mr Washington added that as well as these potential cost savings, driving on battery power alone results in a smoother, quieter drive, with no emissions from the exhaust pipe.

In addition to checking the range of your PHEV, Mr Jones said it was also important for consumers to check whether the battery of their car had some kind of heat management system, since batteries last longer if they are kept cool.

Mr Costello said most batteries in a PHEV and HEV carry around an eight to ten-year warranty, however, because the electric engine isn’t always working full tilt in a HEV (only used for short distances or when the car is idle), they are proven to last for longer than a battery in a PHEV.

4. PHEV charging options

In Australia, you can charge your PHEV vehicle at home or at a public charging station.

If you choose to charge up at home, you can often use either a standard existing wall socket (used in combination with a specialised cable, often supplied with the vehicle) or a dedicated PHEV charging station (which usually needs to be installed by an electrician).

For those who need to charge away from home, such as while travelling, you will need to use a public charging outlet.

According to Mr Jones, all PHEVs sold in Australia will come with an on-board charger, either 7.2 kW or 3.3 kW, which means a full charge is possible within two or five hours respectively, depending on the vehicle.

“A more powerful on-board charger is ideal for ‘opportunity charging’, such as at a shopping centre,” he said.

Before purchasing a PHEV, it may be worth checking what charging options are available with the manufacturer to help decide if these options will suit your needs and budget.

5. Insurance

Based on Canstar research, most car insurers in Australia offer insurance for hybrid vehicles.

While insurance premiums for pure-electric cars will typically be more expensive than cover for petrol or diesel cars, this is not always the case when it comes to hybrid vehicles.

To get an idea of the possible difference in insurance premiums for hybrid cars and petrol-powered vehicles, Canstar Research compared the 2020 Toyota Corolla ZR 5 Door Hatch Petrol and Hybrid options. While these two cars are similar in terms of their specifications, the upfront purchase price does vary, with the hybrid currently costing around $2,000 more (at the time of writing).

Based on a sample of quotes across a range of customer profiles and addresses in NSW, with a target excess of $750 (actual excesses ranged from $695 to $800), Canstar found that comprehensive car insurance premiums for the hybrid car were, on average, 1.3% cheaper than the petrol alternative.

However, it’s worth noting that whether the hybrid premiums were cheaper seemed to depend mostly on the insurer. Canstar Research found that around half of the insurers that provided a quote priced the hybrid premiums cheaper than the petrol alternative, and for the other half the opposite was true.

Given this finding that premiums for hybrid vehicles may well largely depend on the insurer chosen, it’s important to compare car insurance options to help find a policy that will suit your needs and budget.

If you’re in the market for a car insurance policy, check out the table below which includes some of the car insurance policies on Canstar’s database for each of a 25-29, 30-39 and 40-49 year old male driver in NSW without an extra driver under 25 years old, with links to providers’ websites. The results are sorted by Star Rating, then by provider name (alphabetically). Check upfront with your provider and read the PDS to confirm whether a particular policy meets your needs before deciding to commit to it.

For more information about buying hybrid vehicles in Australia and their environmental performance, you can visit the Australian Government’s Green Vehicle Guide website.

This article was reviewed by our Sub-editor Tom Letts and Senior Finance Journalist Shay Waraker before it was published as part of our fact-checking process.

Cover image source: otomobil (Shutterstock)

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