Electric Cars / Employee

What are ULEVs, PHEVs, HEVs and BEVs?

Electric cars are a hot topic and the different acronyms used within the industry can be more than a little confusing if you’re not familiar. If you’re finding yourself unsure of what ULEVs, BEVs, PHEVs and HEVs are and the differences between these different types of car, or if you’re new to the Ultra-Low Emission Vehicle scene altogether, you’re in the right place for a plain English explanation of these four acronyms.


ULEV is a catch-all term for any vehicle that uses low carbon technology and emits 75 grams or less of carbon from the exhaust pipe for every kilometer travelled. You’ll often see this written as 75g/km CO2.

ULEVs include cars propelled by electric batteries, fuel cells and a mix of internal combustion engine (ICE) plus electric battery. Most ULEVs use electricity although a small minority use alternative fuels like hydrogen.

Electric cars are mainly charged by being plugged into a dedicated charging point or the mains. Hydrogen cars are refuelled in much the same way as petrol and diesel cars except hydrogen is used to refill fuel cell batteries at special refuelling points.


Also known as pure electric vehicles or EVs, these cars are powered entirely by a rechargeable battery which can be charged at home or in public. Cars can be charged from the mains or using one of the UK’s 31,456 electric car charging points*. Virtually every manufacturer now provides electric cars as part of their range and many EVs can travel over 200 miles without needing to stop.

BEVs produce no tailpipe emissions – that means no carbon dioxide (CO2) or other harmful gases like nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – helping to protect our own health and that of the planet – they’re also entitled to some generous tax breaks through salary sacrifice arrangements making them much more affordable for people to drive.

These cars are far cheaper to run than petrol or diesel cars because electricity is much cheaper than petrol or diesel. Charging an EV to travel 100 miles costs around 70% less than traveling the same distance using fossil fuel. With zero emissions, low running costs, plenty of places to recharge and highly practical single-charge ranges, BEVs are an increasingly popular choice for motorists.


PHEVs combine an electric motor with an ICE that runs on petrol or diesel. These cars use the electric motor on its own to travel distances typically ranging from 10 to 40 miles at which point the ICE kicks in to power the vehicle.

These cars need to be charged by plugging in to the mains or a charging point at home, work or in public. They can also charge the battery using regenerative braking power, a process that captures the energy lost through braking which is used to help the car accelerate or recharge the battery.

Plug-in cars are great all-rounders. They’re excellent for shorter, urban journeys – like commuting or the school run – which can usually be driven using electricity only. And, for longer journeys, or if the battery is depleted, the ICE can be used as in a normal petrol or diesel car. However, with UK drivers averaging around 19.5 miles each day, many plug-in hybrid drivers find they rarely need to use their fossil fuel engine.  In fact, we ran a survey to 2000 participants at the beginning of 2020 and discovered that 80% of respondents drove less than 100 miles in an average week.


As the name suggests, these ultra-low emission cars don’t need to be plugged in. Powered by both electricity and fossil fuel, the electric motor is powered by regenerative braking alone. HEVs use the electric motor to boost or take over from the ICE, for example as more speed is needed or the car becomes more heavily loaded. The car’s internal computer assesses whether the electric motor or the ICE will provide the greatest economy for the journey and switches between the two.

So there you have it – a clear, non-technical description of the main types of ULEV. If that’s built your confidence and you want to find out more about ultra-low cars, take a look at a few of our other articles on the topic:

Interested in finding out more?