The Plug-In Hybrid: A More Perfect Union
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The average American has a commute of 20 miles or less. It just so happens that there are more than a few outstanding plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) that can easily cover that distance without a drop of gasoline. A plug-in hybrid like the Chevy Volt, the Chrysler Pacifica, or the upcoming Workhorse pickup truck have batteries that give around 40 miles of range, or more, enabling people to get to and from work without charging.
If you are interested in driving electric, but have reservations about leaving behind a gas-powered engine, a PHEV might be a great fit for you. Though their batteries are smaller than a battery electric vehicle’s (BEV), most are ample enough to cover the everyday distances that many Americans drive. In this way, PHEVs go a step further than the original hybrids, making a proven idea even better.
The Plug-In Hybrid Rundown
PHEVs are a group of cars you might not always notice are operating on electricity. BEVs, like the Chevy Bolt, often look very different from previous gas-powered models, so they’re easy to spot. PHEVs drive on battery power, but still have a gas engine under their hood, and so many models have kept a familiar look.
A plug-in hybrid typically starts up in all-electric mode. When the battery range is gone it switches to gas power. Earlier hybrids will only use their battery capability for shorter distances, and lower speeds, whereas a PHEV driver may not hear the internal combustion engine at all for long stretches of time. Certain PHEVs do still function like earlier hybrids, but not commonly. Whichever is the case, PHEV gas engines are smaller than their predecessors’ and usually much more efficient.
For charging, a PHEV is plugged into a charger, just like a BEV is. Since the battery is smaller, though, it takes less time to recover full range. Level II charging stations are ideal places to refuel for PHEVs and BEVs, alike. ReVision installs many of these for commercial clients as well as homeowners, as they are a great balance of price and efficiency.
Additionally, PHEVs recover battery range with regenerative braking, which hybrids and BEVs also employ. The energy efficiency of a conventional car is only about 20 percent, and the remaining 80 percent of its energy is converted to heat through friction. Regenerative braking captures as much as half of that wasted energy and puts it back to work, extending range and reducing fuel consumption.
Let’s Talk Range
Toyota’s Prius Prime has 25 miles of all-electric range. Beyond that distance, its gas engine will run at an efficient 54 MPG. The combined equivalent for the Prius Prime is 133 MPGe. In 2018, it was recently named the “Best All-Around Performance Car” and the “Best Environmental Performance Car” by the Automotive Science Group.
The Chevy Volt, which preceded the Bolt, is another top-selling PHEV, and it has 53 miles of all-electric range – well beyond the average total daily driving distance of 40 miles for American drivers. Its gas engine runs at 42 MPG, resulting in the combined equivalent of 106 MPGe. It’s also notable that the Volt’s battery is large enough to qualify it for the full $7,500 federal tax credit.
Beyond sedans, a much-awaited PHEV class is expected to arrive in 2019: a 4WD pickup truck. The Workhorse W-15 has 80 miles of all-electric range, and a 460 HP engine that can operate at over 30 MPG. The truck has been positioned as an excellent fleet vehicle, allowing workers to plug tools directly into the body, but the pricing will likely be attractive to many in the general public, as it also qualifies for the full federal tax credit. Over 5,000 pre-orders have been made already.
There are a variety of other options available today, offered by Honda, Volvo, Kia and Ford, among others. Many PHEV drivers, including ReVision co-founder Phil Coupe, report that they hardly ever need to run the gas engine. Though, when they do need it, it’s there, seamlessly.
“I’m doing 90% of my driving on pure solar power stored in my van’s battery. All my work commuting, grocery store trips, school drop-offs, kids’ sports activities and other local errands are handled by the battery. If I drive to Boston, the first 38 miles are on battery and then the gas back-up seamlessly kicks in to take me the rest of the way,” said Phil Coupe, who first leased a Volt six years ago and now drives the Pacifica plug-in hybrid van.
We’re all looking to do more to reduce our carbon footprint, and using cleaner transportation is a huge opportunity to make a difference. While not free of tail-pipe emissions, a plug-in hybrid largely relies on (increasingly cleaner) electricity. It’s not just cleaner to drive on grid electricity in all 50 states, it’s cheaper too.
Right now, gas is hovering close to $3/gallon, while the Department of Energy places the eGallon at the equivalent of $1.15/gallon. Why stop there? The savings grow even further if you pair a PHEV with solar. Solar and EVs work synergistically to accelerate your ROI, and together they deliver a fixed fueling cost of $0.71/gallon over the lifetime of your solar array.