EV Updates

The Plug-In Hybrid: A More Perfect Union

The Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid has 48 miles of all-electric range and an electric motor that produces 212 horsepower. Photo courtesy of Honda.

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 Honda Clarity Volt, the Chrysler Pacifica, or the new Toyota RAV4 Prime have batteries that give over 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.

Why Plug-In Hybrids Make sense

Plenty of cars today can be purchased in PHEV versions, which can eliminate concerns about range anxiety and available public charging in certain areas. Plug-in hybrids' shorter electric range of between 18 to 42 miles is acceptable when there's another 300 to 600 more miles on tap from the gas engine. This makes hybrids a great option for people with short commutes, who may only need the gas engine for longer trips or weekend getaways.

All plug-in hybrids can get at least part of the currently available federal income tax credit of up to $7,500. Since it is based on battery size, the credit can vary considerably in PHEVs. A car with a battery of 16.0 kilowatt-hours is eligible for the full $7,500 credit.

The Plug-In Hybrid Rundown

Kia Soul Hybrid Electric Vehicle

The 2020 Prius Prime, in front of its solar powered home.

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 Two 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

Half of the highest rated plug-ins go at least 30 miles, which is roughly the length of the average U.S. round-trip commute, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics . Toyota's RAV4 Prime has almost 50 miles of all-electric range. After that, it's gas motor is essentially made more efficient by the lithium-ion battery, meaning it takes 5.7 seconds to go from zero to sixty, 2 seconds less than the gas engine RAV4.

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.

Attainable Change

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 across the USA is nearly $3/gallon, while the Department of Energy places the eGallon at the equivalent of $1.16/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 .

Read our guide to solar and EV charging in Part 3 - Solar + EV: Drive on Sunshine, Save Big Bucks !