ICE, HEV, PHEV and BEV – What they mean and what’s under the hood

Click here or on the pdf file to learn more or read an excerpt below.


ICE – Internal Combustion Engines

Your traditional engines, powered by gasoline, diesel, biofuels or even natural gas. These make up the bulk of the vehicles on the road, and we’re likely all very familiar with them. While today’s ICEs are significantly more efficient and have lower emissions than those from decades ago, the fundamental technology – burning fuel to create power – remains the same.

Car with internal combustion engine

HEV – Hybrid electric vehicles

The most common of the alternative fuel vehicles we see on the road these days – the Toyota Prius is the most obvious example – are powered by a combination of an ICE and an electric motor (hybrid vehicle drivetrain). While the exact function of an HEV’s drivetrain may vary, fundamentally they all share the same characteristics of having a hybrid vehicle drivetrain and an electric battery, where either or both the ICE and electric motor power the drivetrain.  The batteries can be charged in a few ways, either by spinning an electric generator when the ICE is operating or in some cases, by converting the vehicle’s kinetic energy into electric energy through systems like regenerative brakes.

Toyota Prius

PHEV – Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles

These engines are in many ways very similar to the HEV in that they have a hybrid vehicle drivetrain and use both an ICE and electric power. The big difference with these vehicles is that their rechargeable battery can be charged by plugging in to a power source. When the battery is depleted, the plug-in hybrid starts acting as a regular hybrid, with the combustion engine taking the role of primary power source. The most common example of this vehicle type is the Chevrolet Volt.

To learn more, check out this article from autoevolution on the difference between hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles.

Chevrolet Volt

BEV – Battery electric vehicles

Unlike the other three vehicle types on this list, the BEV has no internal combustion engine or fuel tank at all and runs on a fully electric drivetrain powered by rechargeable batteries. These vehicles need to be plugged in to a power source to charge, and depending on the vehicle, they have varying charging times and driving ranges. The most common two examples of these vehicles are the Nissan Leaf or Tesla Model S.



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