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Electric vehicle charging
6 min read

What are the alternatives to petrol and diesel powered cars?

When you’re looking for a new vehicle, you’ll have lots of choices to make including the size of the car, make, colour and specification. One of the key decisions is which kind of engine you’d prefer. Would petrol or diesel be best for you? With advances in vehicle technology, that question now presents a few more options. It may not seem like the most exciting part of getting a new car, but this choice could have an impact on your business, and your finances.

Petrol and diesel vehicles

As the best-known engine types, petrol and diesel are still the most popular choice of vehicle in the UK.

Powered by combustion engines, with fuel and maintenance widely available, these cars and vans can have a range of up to 700 miles per tank of fuel. Most vehicle manufacturers produce a wide selection of vehicle shapes, sizes and styles with both petrol and diesel options.

Electric vehicles

There are two types of vehicle in this category – electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. Both involve a battery, but there are some key differences.

Car charging

EV = Electric Vehicle

Electric Vehicles do what they say on the tin, and are powered purely by their battery.These need to be plugged into an electricity source between uses to recharge and will have a limited mileage range depending on which model you choose. 


PHEV = Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle

Plug-in Hybrids have a battery, but also have a petrol or diesel engine.These vehicles also need to be plugged in to charge but will revert to the petrol or diesel engine once you’ve used up the battery. Plug-in Hybrids are great for longer journeys as you’re not restricted by the range of the battery.  

With more choice of makes and models, and ongoing improvements to the number of miles per charge, you might be wondering about the benefits of these vehicles, and if any of them could work for you.

This handy video from the Energy Savings Trust demonstrates the pros and cons of each engine type and compares them to the more conventional petrol and diesel options.

Hydrogen vehicles

Hydrogen powered vehicles (fuel cell electric vehicles) are similar to electric vehicles in that they are also battery powered. But in this case, the battery is charged by a chemical reaction created by combining hydrogen with air. The only emission from the vehicle is water (H2O). 

Fuel cell car

These cars need topping up with Hydrogen, which can be done in a matter of minutes at a Hydrogen filling station. This is much quicker than charging a plug-in vehicle, but doesn’t have the flexibility of charging at home. The number of stations in the UK is currently fairly limited, so there may not be onein  your local area, but the government has put forward funding to incentivise the growth of this network.

Working out the best technology for you

Although these new technologies are exciting, and bring a whole host of benefits, you’ll need to consider the best option for you. Factors to consider include:

  • Your daily mileage
  • Type of driving – mostly motorway, or local commuting?
  • Budget
  • Local access to fuel stations/charging points*

* Check out ZapMap to find the electric vehicle charging points in your area.

There’s a lot to think about, so we’ve summarised some information to help you compare some the options.


Vehicle type

Fuel cost & economy city

Fuel cost & economy motorway

Cost of maintenance

Range limitation




Low fuel cost to performance and works well in stop-start conditions.

Limited network of fueling stations in UK. Could be an impractical option, unless you live near a fueling station.

New technology. Not enough competition on prices yet.

Up to 300 miles per fueling.

H2O, Hydrogen & warm air. Fuel produced using only solar power has the best overall emissions.

Electric plug in


Great fuel economy on short trips, only uses energy when moving. Idling at traffic lights doesn’t use fuel like petrol or diesel vehicles.

Limited range for motorway driving.

The maintenance costs are likely to come down quickly as we see more EVs on the roads.

< 150 miles per charge. This is only a problem if you do a high mileage. If you spend most of your time driving in a city or short commute, it could be perfect for your needs.

Depends on how the electricity has been generated. Best if you have your own solar panels at home to offset the extra need.



This can vary a lot depending on what type of hybrid it is but is considerably better than petrol or diesel for city driving.

Better than a straight petrol engine as it is lighter. The cost will vary depending on whether it is a petrol or diesel hybrid.

Due to the mix of electric and combustion elements, this can cost marginally more on maintenance.

300 > miles per fueling. If a hybrid plug-in: Electric only 15 – 53 miles range. Extended (using petrol/diesel engine) 150 – 500 miles range.

Depends on type of fuel used. But lower emissions than a petrol or diesel vehicle, as there are no emissions when in electric mode.



Generally cleaner than diesel engines. MPG (miles per gallon) of petrol engines are getting better, but are still less efficient than diesel engines.

Better on shorter trips.

An older technology, maintenance widely available meaning competitive pricing.

< 700 miles per fueling.

High CO2, compared to other technologies, plus a mix of harmful gases.



Diesels are designed for longer journeys and not stop-start traffic.

Highly efficient on motorway and open A road travel, or if carrying heavy loads.

Can be expensive if not driven as intended. A good option if you cover a lot of miles on open roads.

< 700 miles per fueling.

Can be high NOx (nitrogen oxides), unless using a Euro 6 engine, plus a mix of harmful gases.

Choice and availability of alternative vehicle technologies

Over recent years, many popular vehicle manufacturers including Volkswagen, Renault, Mitsubishi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, Peugeot, Citroen, Nissan, Ford, Toyota, Audi, Tesla, and Kia have started to produce electric and hybrid vehicles. With alternative versions of well-known models and specially designed cars, there’s bound to be a vehicle to suit your needs.

And it’s not just cars. Whilst the range of electric commercial vehicles is smaller there are already electric vans on the market with many new models planned for release over the coming years.

Hydrogen is a newer vehicle option, so there are limited options available in the market today. That said, Toyota and Hyundai already have Hydrogen cars for sale in the UK with many other manufacturers working on their vehicles.

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