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Electric vehicle acronym guide: Know your BEVs from FCEVs from PHEVs from ULEVs

What does it all mean?

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Polestar accelerates the shift to sustainable mobility, by making electric driving irresistible.

Welcome to SHIFT Basics, a collection of tips, explainers, guides, and advice to keep you up to speed with mobility tech.

When it comes to more sustainable driving, there is a whole host of options now and it can be confusing knowing what’s what. In the olden days you pretty much had the choice of diesel or petrol, but with the ever-evolving market of low-emission vehicles, there’s more choice than ever.

When it comes to “EVs,” you can choose from BEVs, PHEVs, HEVs, or FCEVS, all of which are classed as ULEVs. But what do all these acronyms actually mean?

If you need some quick pointers on what all these acronyms stand for and what they refer to specifically, look no further.

[Read: 5 things to know when you’re buying your first electric vehicle]

BEV

Let’s start with the most common type of EV, and the type of vehicle we usually refer to when we’re talking about EVs: the battery electric vehicle, or BEV.

As the name suggests, a BEV is an electric vehicle that uses batteries to store and deploy power which powers electric motors to drive the wheels. It’s also common to see words like “pure electric,” or “all-electric” when you read about battery electric vehicles.

Polestar 2, car, ev, bev
Credit: Polestar
The Polestar 2 was launched recently, and has created quite a fuss in the motoring press. It’s powered entirely by a BEV platform that gives 275 miles of range.

Popular BEVs include cars like the Nissan Leaf, the whole range of Teslas, the Polestar 2, the BMW i3, Hyundai Kona Electric, Kia Soul EV, VW’s ID.3 and e-Golf, the Jaguar i-Pace — you get the idea.

PHEV and HEV

Plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) are perhaps the most confusing of the partially-electric vehicle world. There’s one key difference, though: plug-in hybrids can be charged up like a battery electric vehicle by plugging-in to an EV charge point, regular hybrids cannot.

It gives you the flexibility to drive and use your PHEV like it was a BEV and not rely on the combustion engine, for very short journeys at least. They typically have very small batteries and are only capable of driving between 30 and 50 miles on all-electric mode.

Popular PHEVs include the Mitsubishi Outlander, Hyundai Ioniq, MINI Countryman PHEV, and the Volvo XC60 T8.

phev, ev, volvo
Credit: Wikimedia - CC
The Volvo XC60 T8 twin engine is a popular PHEV. It uses both electric motors, battery, and a conventional combustion engine to power the vehicle.

Regular hybrid vehicles (HEVs), like the original Toyota Prius, can’t be plugged in and the only way to charge their batteries is from regenerative braking or by using the engine like a generator.

Some companies have even referred to these vehicles as “self-charging hybrids,” as if not having to plug them in is a benefit. That phrase has been branded as misleading, and Toyota and Lexus ads in EV loving Norway using the tag line have been banned for being misleading. In reality, to charge them, you need to fuel them with gasoline.

FCEV

FCEV stands for, Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle. These are a small offshoot of EVs that use hydrogen fuel cells to create an electrical charge that’s used to power motors that drive the wheels.

Most FCEVs use a small battery or super capacitor to act as a buffer between the fuel cell and the motors to ensure power delivery is consistent and reliable.

Some tout fuel cell vehicles as a better option than batteries for the future of sustainable transport. They can be filled up in the same way as a combustion engine vehicle, hydrogen is the most abundant element in the world, and their only waste product is water vapor.

mirai, toyota, FCEV, car, ev
Credit: Wikimedia - CC
The Toyota Mirai uses a hydrogen fuel cell to generate electricity to power its electric motors. It’s a great application of hydrogen tech, it’s just a shame there’re hardly any hydrogen filling stations.

The main issue with this is that there’s hardly any hydrogen infrastructure and very little choice of hydrogen vehicles. The Toyota Mirai is one of the few H vehicles currently available, in fact, James May, of Top Gear/Grand Tour fame, has one.

GM recently said that it would be building Nikola’s hydrogen truck but that’s a few years off, so maybe things will change.

ULEV

Ok, ok, I know; technically Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicles shouldn’t be in an explainer about hybrids and battery electric vehicles. But it’s a common acronym used to describe the whole collection of vehicles that produce very low amounts of CO2, in the UK it’s a class of vehicle that produces less than 75 grams of CO2 per kilometer. In the US, it’s vehicles that produce less than half the CO2 per km of the current year’s average models.

By definition, battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids are all ULEVs, when driven appropriately. Take the Range Rover PHEV for example, according to EV Database, it produces 71 g CO2 per km, when driven in hybrid mode. If the battery is flat though, that figure shoots up to 214 g CO2 per km, which is, ahem, a lot. So take the ULEV moniker with caution.

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Credit: Wikimedia - CC
The Land Rover Range Rover PHEV has largely come about so that Land Rover meets fleet emissions regulations. It’s only good when driven on hybrid mode. Otherwise, it’s as polluting as any other Range Rover.

So there you have it, now when you’re browsing the electric vehicle world you’ll be able to tell your PHEVs from your BEVs at a glance.

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Published September 17, 2020 — 14:15 UTC