Confusion Might Be Holding Back Plug-In Hybrid Sales


A recent survey of drivers points out that misinformation and confusion about the difference between hybrids and electric cars may be holding back sales.

Autocar, along with research firm Simpson Carpenter, asked 1,000 drivers about different forms of fuel. Not surprisingly, people are still in the dark. The most compelling discovery revealed by the questionnaire is that people don’t want to buy hybrid cars due to range anxiety. Managing director of Simpson Carpenter Tom Simpson shared:

“Potential hybrid buyers are confused by the technology and are being deterred by [perceived] barriers.”

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This means that people may not even consider buying a plug-in hybrid because they equate it with a pure electric car. Nonetheless, at least in the UK, 24 percent of the people surveyed said they may buy some form of electrified model. This is up from a similar 2017 study in which only 17 percent showed interest. However, Autocar points out that, in reality, only 5.1 percent of new car sales in the area are alternative fuel vehicles.German Automakers

With all of this being said, the same study showed that most respondents believe that today’s gas-powered cars are just as “dirty” as diesel models. Though the survey results suggested this, it was more obvious that people’s negativity toward diesel-powered vehicles is growing. All of this could be good for the EV segment, and specifically plug-in hybrid sales (as long as people are educated).

Compared to last year’s study, 23 percent fewer drivers are planning to buy a diesel, while in terms of gas-powered cars, the percentage was nearly flat from the year before. Interestingly, for those that own a diesel, about half plan to stick with an ICE car in the future. However, over half of current gas-powered car owners surveyed said they’d never buy a diesel. Simpson explained:

“We are seeing a shift towards alternatively fuelled cars among both petrol and diesel car owners. Among [existing] petrol car owners, the number intending to switch to hybrid or electric power next time they buy a new car went up from 13% in last year’s survey to 22%. A crumb of comfort for diesel is the fact that the number intending to stick with the fuel type next time they buy remained stable between 2017 and 2018.”

Source: Autocar

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35 Comments on "Confusion Might Be Holding Back Plug-In Hybrid Sales"

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Most hybrids do give range anxiety, at least plug-in hybrids. Imagine the horror when the range ends and…*gasp*..the ICE kicks in. I’m not kidding, it’s the main annoyance of the PHEV owners I’ve met, not enough electric range.

That is the message early-adopters have sent, a problem they created.

For ordinary plug-in hybrid owners, they experience remarkable efficiency and simply don’t get worked up when the engine starts.

In my Prime, the tank reads almost totally full, despite 400 miles since the last fill-up.

Nope, it’s also the message of ordinary plug-in hybrid owners in my experience. Especially since the models don’t get close to the rated range. How “ordinary” they can be considered when the new car sales here are a mere ~6% PHEVs is hard to say though, we are not out of the early adopter phase yet even.

Being that I own 3 different plug-in hybrid models… I can easily say that all of them meet or exceed the EPA range estimates on battery power. So where are you getting this?

I lease (crazy cheap lease) one of the most oldschool PHEVs, the C-max. I am able to regularly achieve 10% to 25% more than the rated range (19 miles combined) in urban driving. I’m a bit of a hypermiler. Cold weather and heater use of course wreck havoc with this (a/c is not anywhere near as much range loss).

I will BUY my next one and would love to have +/- 50 mile electric range but: The volt is unacceptably tight inside and the windows are too small, the Clarity is too big for me (and kinda wierd looking). So the others: Ioniq offers Auto Emergency braking, etc. only on the fully loaded model, Prius is ugly/bizarre looking (though I might try to ignore that). Niro looks like maybe the best choice for now. MB, BMW, Volvo, etc. not in consideration; they are expensive and built to stay that way.

It would not do that on my driving this week! With a Road trip frim Toronto, ON to Panama City Beach, FL! I would burn less gas, though!

Notice how your own post contributes to the misconception that once the ICE starts it won’t ever shut off again.

Not only isn’t that true for HV driving, it also omits the routine behavior of generating electricity for EV driving while the engine runs.

It’s not a misconception, one it starts it will be running for most of the time just like the lousy HV driving until you charge it properly. It turning on and off and on and off and on an off is even worse and contributes to the range anxiety by triggering the emotion over and over again.

Then they shouldn’t have bought PHEVs. Why buy a car with an ICE if you just lug it around like dead weight? Just buy a BEV and be done with it.

Sounds like a Volt owner envious of Bolt.

To have enough electric range the weight of the extra battery is more than the weight of the ICE. Now if your argument is too much complexity having 2 drive trains, that is a much better argument.

Because safety is still more important! If your BEV died or running out of electricity,you are stranded and be in mercy of predators in America, especially women.

Well that was FUDalicious. I chuckle because just this week I had to bring gas to my son who ran out of gas. I brought it with my electric car. Ironic. So let’s try to rephrase and see if it still makes sense:

“Because safety is still more important! If your ICE died or running out of gas, you are stranded and be in mercy of predators in America, especially women.”

Notwithstanding that you are stating that women are predators, you can see that there is absolutely no difference in the situation regardless of fuel.


The stuff that this Dan guy comes up with is ridiculous, zero chance he drives an ev!

ICE kicks in, and suddenly you’re paralyzed. It’s the most horrible experience ever. I hope no one has to live through this ordeal. /s

I belong to a classic car club here in the UK and talking to the ‘petrol heads’ about EV’s tells me most of them have no interest in them whatsoever, they’re not even on their radar so to speak.

I see very few BEV/PHEV’s/hybrids on my travels in my neck o the woods, in fact in the four years I’ve been an avid follower of all things EV I’ve seen a grand total of seven EV’s in the space of four years. pitiful.

Wow move to Birmingham UK I see four EVs or more in a day.

Well, I know what you mean! On my 6 days of Road Tripping for abut 3,000 Kms / 2,000 Miles in the States, I saw one new Volt, parked! I see more EV’s in the Greater Toronto Area, on a 40 Mile Saturday Drive!

“I’ve seen a grand total of seven EV’s in the space of four years. pitiful.”

Are you saying that you’ve only seen seven models of EV or seven, actual, individual cars?
Where the heck do you live? I see at least 10-12 EVs a *WEEK* here in Leicester- mostly Zoes and 1st gen Leafs, the occasional Model S, and i3, Ioniq, and Soul now and again.

Yes seriously I live in north west Lancashire, the only seven cars I’ve seen in the flesh are three Tesla model S, two BMW i3 & two Gen 1 leafs.
I’ve still not seen a new Leaf or a Zoe or an Ioniq or Soul yet in my neck o the woods.

I just tried looking for UK EV sales data broken down by region, but couldn’t find anything. The North-West must obviously be down compared to the rest of the country.

People being ignorant about new tech is nothing uncommon. This is were the dealers could educate and inform the buyers but unfortunately they are part of the problem. Just recently, someone i know bought a Ionic hybrid. Next to it was the ev version. When he asked about it the sales person said “oh, you don’t want that!” And quickly steered him away. He didn’t even mention the plug in which is $3500 cheaper that the regular hybrid. It is all on the manufacturers and the state government to advertise them. Currently these are only 2 manufacturers that actively advertise their plug ins on tv in CA (Honda and Chrysler) so probably the state should get involved and start a educational campaign. They do this all the time for tabaco and other health issues, why not for this? It is just as important.

I applaud the Honda commercials which show frequently. Even though I admire them, I’m still not sure they offer a clear presentation of the operation. I do know that not one person to whom I’ve ever described my Volt had any idea that it has a gasoline engine or how it functions. GM has failed miserably on this count.

That commercial actually say that the end of battery life is not the end of the journey…or something to that extent…and that it “runs on electric but has gas if you need it”. Very clear to me. GM doesn’t advertise on tv their evs specifically.

I will agree that most people don’t understand what a plug-in hybrid is. And I think part of the reason is that it has the term “hybrid” in it. because hybrids have for so long been non-plug in models, people have trouble grasping it. And the sad part is, a PHEV is what a hybrid should have been from day one.

It isn’t really a problem… if you understand audience. GM made the fundamental mistake of asking gen-1 Volt owners how to make gen-2 better. That flawed approach doomed them to delivering an even better niche, rather than a vehicle for mainstream consumers. They repeated a mistake others have made, called “Innovator’s Dilemma”. Toyota was smart enough to steer away from that, well aware of what pitfalls there are when focusing in on the wrong target market. That’s why gen-1 plug-in Prius rollout was halted. Limited to 15 states and without a successor, the gen-2 design wouldn’t suffer consequences of misguided expectations. In other words, Toyota is basically starting from scratch with Prius Prime, since most people really don’t have any clue how Prius works anyway. I know this from the countless encounters I have had with ordinary people walking by the charger at our local grocery store. They see me holding the cord and asked questions. A past without the being able to recharge from the wall is meaningless to someone who never owned a hybrid. Having that ability to plug in seems perfectly nature from their perspective. I simply tell them it takes 5.5 hours to recharge with a… Read more »

I agree about PHEVs being “true” hybrids. If we had only ever had PHEVs, there would likely be less confusion. Has a gas engine, and also has a battery you can charge. Very simple.

Instead, up until the Volt we had hybrids which had a gas engine and a battery, but the battery can only be charged from the gas engine, when the car decides it makes sense to charge. To most drivers, that just makes it seem like magic: The car somehow uses electricity something to be more efficient. And now we have to “unteach” that magic to make people understand the merits of PHEVs.

>> If we had only ever had PHEVs, there would likely be less confusion. Has a gas engine, and also has a battery you can charge. Very simple.

History has overwhelmingly proven that false.

Even when there were just 2 hybrids available, the differences were so profound, they could not be considered in the same category. The designs were fundamentally different. One has a single tiny electric-motor directly linked (RPM locked) to the engine. The other had a small electric-motor and a large electric-motor, each with independent control to connect them to the engine. Yet, both were given the same “hybrid” label.

We already see that problem emerging again for plug-in hybrids. Design varies dramatically, yet some people want to represent them as having a shared design with only battery & motor size as the difference. That’s how greenwash is spread. Omitting important features, like the type of heater or charging speed, contributes heavily to misconceptions and disappointment.

In other words, it is far from a simple matter.

This is 100% true. I constantly had to explain my Volt to people, and I just ran into a woman at a charging station who had just bought a crappy Prius Prime and thought the electric range was 60 miles. Sad.

GM clearly wasn’t interested in market Volt… hence that “Who?” question I so frequently asked. That begs the real question of why? Increasing range for gen-2 obviously didn’t draw more interest. In fact, sales of gone down. Why? Mixed messages is likely the reason. What GM did promote was “range anxiety”. That made sense for Volt, until Bolt came along. Nothing could be said about the EV without contradicting the PHEV support. They cancelled each other out. A hybrid like Prius is different. The natural progress of the battery-pack size increasing is easy to recognize. Plugging in to recharge is an everyday practice for phones & computers anyway, a common routine. As long as the cost isn’t significant, that next step forward is no big deal. Nothing about that is confusing… for those interested in Toyota. Other automakers have a mess to deal with. Chrysler simply gave their plug-in offering a label of “hybrid”. Mitsubishi has been promoting PHEV. That’s not too complicated, for traditional counterparts with a plug. Honda’s approach with Clarity may confuse people, since it is unique, but we really don’t know yet.

I have Prius plugin. I still miss the space I had in a minivan. I wish Pacifica have a second underbody bay for 2nd optional battery to choose to increase the range to 60 miles AER, then I will buy it. Honda and Toyota, did you hear that?

Dude, will you just admit that you hate anything that is not a Prius Prime, let alone a Toyota?

The idea that EV range on PHEVs doesn’t matter is silly. People who understand PHEVs buy them with the idea of maximizing miles in EV mode. I’ve driven my 2017 Volt over 17k miles, and 96% has been in EV mode. I regularly go on local drives of 40 to 50 miles (I did two just today). On a Prius Prime, I would be burning gas all the time. With the Volt, I burn none, which is exactly why I bought it. But, I can still go on road trips without worry. As for the Prime, it’s pretty easy to explain its good sales. A dedicated Prius customer goes to the dealership to get a new Prius. The salesman says “You can get the regular Prius, or you can get the Prime for the same or less after tax credit.” Who in his right mind wouldn’t get the Prime? It’s getting sales by default. All that being said, I bought my Volt when there were no affordable long range EVs on the market in my area. I like it a lot, but I always knew it was a transitional vehicle. If I were buying today, I would probably get the… Read more »

PHEVs are like an electric train having a steam engine attached to the opposite end. Why have Two drive trains when one is good enough. Personally I think you have to go full BEV or stick with ICE until you are ready to switch as it makes the vehicle more expensive to maintain and is there two milometers for the different uses of drivetrains? PHEVs are meh.

I believe this completely misses the advantage of a PHEV. I own two, well suited for the two cities in which they reside, LA and Portland. My 2017 Volt generally gives me 60 miles of electric range (when on non freeway streets), good for LA and my C-Max energi generally gives me 22 mi of electric range, perfect for a smaller city such as Portland. I can, and do, take either of them on longer trips without worrying about charging. However, my next vehicle will be a Tesla model 3. Not only is it a great car, from what I’ve read, but the Tesla supercharging infrastructure allows for long trips, unlike the present lack of such infrastructure that goes with other EVs. From what I’ve read, taking a long trip, even in a Bolt, is a logistical adventure in getting from one fast charger to another before running out of electric fuel.