Op-Ed: All Electric vs Plug-In Hybrid


Is the BEV or PHEV the future?

I think most people who read this website agree that ultimately, the battery powered vehicle is the future of transportation. We just don’t know how far into the future. So for the focus of this article, I’m talking about the next 10 to 20 years and I’m also talking about the USA with wide-stretches of highway and lots of rural land.

To start with lets figure out where we are now in order to figure out where we are going. If you look at sales for 2013 of PHEV vs. BEV, you’ll see that PHEV actually won by just a hair.

  • PHEV – 49,043 (51.1%)
  • BEV – 46,816 (48.9%)
The Nissan LEAF Is Most Commonly Identified BEV Of Today

The Nissan LEAF Is Most Commonly Identified BEV Of Today

Now, obviously I suspect there is room for both technologies. In fact, in my household we have a Chevy Volt and a Nissan Leaf. So we have embraced both technologies. But I’m trying to look at where the market will go when the mainstream car buyer starts to purchase these types of vehicles.

Up to now, choosing a PHEV vs. a BEV has been a complex decision. It usually involves somebody picking between two very dissimilar vehicles such as the Leaf or Volt. There are a lot of differences between these types of cars besides just the power train. They have very different styling, different price, different number of seats, etc. As such it is difficult to say how many people picked a specific car due to the power train alone. All that’s about to change, though.

One of the reasons I’m so excited about the BMW i3 is that it is the first vehicle to be offered with or without a range extender. I know there are a few minor differences, but for the most part the customer will have the option to buy what is essentially the exact same car as a BEV or a PHEV. In this particular case, we know the PHEV will cost more money, but not a huge amount. And I think anyone who can afford an i3 in the first place can probably afford the REx if they really want it.

BMW i3: Best Of Both Worlds?  BEV and PHEV

BMW i3: Best Of Both Worlds? BEV and PHEV

There’s another car that is rumored to help define this market too. There have been many credible rumors that Ford might build a “Focus Energi” which would be a PHEV with around 25 miles EV range. (that story here)

The Focus Energi would probably be priced within a few grand of the existing Focus Electric. So again, giving the customer the option of identical cars with PHEV or BEV power train. The focus may be an even better test bed since the two cars will probably be closer in price than the two BMW i3 models.

So what will these two cars tell us? Simple. They will tell us that with all things being equal, which power train will sell the most?

I’m going to make a prediction that the PHEV will start outselling the BEV by significant margins in the coming years. I know there are some “purists” out there. I was driving my Volt one day and parked next to a Tesla owner and he told me, “get that dirty thing away from me.” However, when dealing with the American public as a whole, my experience is most people want that safety net of having gasoline for a backup. Despite that, there are some possible scenarios that might alter the course of things. My predictions are based on a few assumptions, such as:

  • All affordable BEVs will have a EPA driving range between 70 and 80 miles.
  • Batteries don’t become significantly cheaper or smaller than they are now.
  • Charging station infrastructure, especially DC fast charging infrastructure continues to grow at the snail’s pace it has been.

So how could things change?

Nissan Has Shown A Willingness To Install Massive Amounts Fast Charging Infrastructure Worldwide - Which Could Affect Consumers Decisions On Buying A BEV Over A PHEV In The Future

Nissan Has Shown Determination Installing A Lot Of Fast Charging Infrastructure Worldwide – Like This One We Snapped Outside Their Smyrna, TN HQ

To start with, Nissan is rumored to be increasing the range of the Leaf to an EPA 150 miles in the next year or two, while still keeping the car affordable. There are also rumors of Nissan starting a push for more charging stations, especially DC fast chargers. With 150 miles of range and plenty of locations to fast-charge, I think a lot of potential PHEV customers would easily make the switch to BEV.

Another way things could change would be that the PHEVs ALSO get more EV range. So imagine a Chevy Volt with 60 or 80 miles of range. I don’t honestly see that happening simply because of cost and the fact that there are diminishing returns for every EV mile added to PHEV. But if the price and size of batteries improves more rapidly than expected, this could happen too – making the PHEV still a viable choice.

To put myself in the picture, being that I have years of experience driving both types of cars. I ask myself if I had the option of a Focus Electric with 75 miles range or a Focus PHEV with 25 miles EV range for similar price, which would I pick? I’d honestly pick the PHEV. 25 miles is enough for me to have a gas-free commute and still have the option to drive anywhere I need to go. But if that focus electric had 150 miles range and DC fast charge, at a similar price – then I’d go with the all electric.

There’s one more wrench in the works, however. One that a lot of people don’t think about. When discussing topics like this, one common assumption made is that people will sit down and logically compare all available cars before making their purchase decision.

Most people don’t do that.

Keep in mind that it is still very common today for people to walk into a car dealership with absolutely no idea what car they want, then drive out in a new vehicle after the salesman helps them pick a car.

Many Customer May Not Know They Want A Prius Plug-In Until they Arrive At A Toyota Dealership

Consumers May Not Be Aware There Even Is Prius Plug-In Until They Are Upsold One At A Toyota Dealership

Although I have no hard data, I suspect that Ford’s Energi products as well as Toyota’s Plug-in Prius have sold quite a few vehicles to people who just came into the dealership and became interested in the car. For example, a person shopping for a Prius might not be aware of the PHEV version, but the salesmen mentions it as one of the options and viola! Another plug-in gets sold. When this technology goes mainstream, this will likely be the largest source of sales. And so it must be taken into account how likely it will be to get average Joe that walks into a dealership to make the leap to an all-electric vehicle or to move to a PHEV that gives them the comfort they’re used to.

For At Least The Next Decade, The PHEV Likely Is The Most Common Choice Of Auto Buyers

For At Least The Next Decade, The PHEV Likely Is The Most Common Choice Of Auto Buyers

So that about sums it up. We really don’t know where this technology is going. It all depends on the cost and size of batteries. We see new stories in the news every day about a new breakthrough battery technology, but 99.9% of them are hyped nonsense it seems.

The only battery technology we can count on are the ones already in cars right now. Anything beyond that is just speculation unless you work for a car company and know what their plans are. So, when working with current technology, I predict PHEVs to win.

Categories: Battery Tech


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84 Comments on "Op-Ed: All Electric vs Plug-In Hybrid"

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A lot is made of the Volt’s EV %, leading to a corporate missread of how much battery is needed, IMO. They may conclude less, but by being short of “80% of drivers going 40 miles, or less”, they never hit the saturating PHEV formula they started out targeting. Much below a 25 mile commute and why not ask “just how much am I saving?”. PHEV/BEV appeals to those with the economics of more miles electric, not less.

False dichotomy much?

When the EV technology finally matures it’s cost will be much reduced. We see that we are now still on the steep fast declining part of the price curve, especially for battery prices. At some point the price of EVs will be so low that it will be considerably less than PHEV prices and somewhat less than ICE prices. The dual power train of the PHEV will alway have them overpriced in comparison to the EVs and ICEs. This is an intrisic disadvantage. The car companies will still push them however, since they will be more expensive and thus more profitable

I quite agree. Awareness that a BEV is much less to operate (fuel + maintain) will increase as well. There will be a tipping point when range is not concerning and battery cost makes a BEV’s up front capital investment not a blocker in the decision. Consider how quickly the Leaf and Focus Electric pricing has dropped and newer cars like the Smart and Spark BEVs are being cheaply introduced. It is already easy to find examples where the net present value (NPV) calculation for total costs of ownership (TCO) of BEVs beats comparable PHEVs. The Model S made such a splash in 2013 that I think the GenIII will be that tipping point with 200 mile range for $35,000 in 3 to 5 years, not 10 to 20…

Adding to this, why is 200 mile range such a sweet spot? It is the point at which the discussion on infrastructure becomes not so relevant. Consider that for most people, there are only three basic trip scenarios: the daily commute including a couple errands (plugin at home, no public stations needed); a weekend getaway (under a three hour drive, charge once to get back home); and the vacation road trip (therefore Superchargers). Why is it that Tesla is the only company that gets this? Because all other car companies are too entrenched in ICE, and don’t want us to be convinced by a threatening alternative. This is the real reason why PHEVs will maintain substantial sales, because they’ll be pushed much harder than BEVs, so as not to cannibalize their own profitable ICE sales.

I guess, until you realize that *some* car companies aren’t like that. Nissan and Tesla in particular are particularly gung-ho about the idea that all-electric *is* the future.

If (when?) batteries get cheap enough that the price difference between ICE and EV is small-to-none, people are going to say “well, *duh*, the cost of ownership is clearly in favour of the EV”, and by then I predict most people will jump at the chance of buying an EV. Currently, you can sort of waffle over whether or not the cost difference is worth it, because the premium is pretty high. I think that’s the biggest stumbling block to EV ownership, and currently the only market willing to make that jump is the environmentalists.

Range is a close second to that concern, and again, cheaper batteries make that possible too. At the 200 mile mark, that concern is mostly erased. 300+ miles completely erases it, as has been shown with Tesla Model S owners.

‘All affordable BEVs will have a EPA driving range between 70 and 80 miles.’

Is no longer a reasonable premise unless you imagine that Nissan management have collectively gone insane.

Did they survey Leaf owners asking how much they would pay for a 150 mile range in order to say:
‘Well, you can’t have it anyway!’

They would not have conducted the survey unless they had the battery pretty well ready to go.
Since Renault have told us to expect further surprises in 2014, I assume that the release is to be within the year.

My guess is very soon indeed.

I agree that leaf should grow in range, although I doubt they will anounce it this year. Every year batteries get better, and I bet they will want to test in heat and cold for 2 years before putting it in a car after the arizona fiasco. The leaf could also use a major style makover, and a better motor to deal with the extra power of that higher capacity battery.

I also agree with the author that phevs will likely sell better than bevs for the next 10 years. get rid of the silly carb rules and it makes perfect sense that that bmw i3 would have a bigger gas tank, and no range anxiety. That nissan could drop an ice in the leaf and charge $4K more, they do have a 88lb turbo 3 cyclinder from the zeod’s range extender that they could detune and probably produce cheaply.

Batteries don’t actually grow in energy density incrementally very much.
They have step changes, with new chemistries reaching readiness for production.
This is then smoothed out by commentators to: ‘8% a year’ or whatever.
What has happened is far more jerky.

Nissan have been perfecting their higher energy density battery for production use in cars since at least 2009:

Since 150 miles of range fits in perfectly with the parameters of this battery, there is no reason not to assume that this is not what being made, and that they have had plenty of time to test.

There would be no purpose talking about it now if they were not ready to release, and no reason to do so much before hand, as it could make people wait instead of buying the lower range one now.

How long did Nissan talk about the Leaf before people could purchase it? It was 1.5-2 years before anyone could buy the car, and another 1.5 years before it was available nationwide. I signed up for an account with them 3 years prior to being able to purchase a Leaf myself.

I do think that the new battery is imminent. I would not be surprised if it didn’t show up until the Leaf 2.0 in model year 2016 or 2017.

That’s rather different, Brian, as if you fancied an electric car you had little option other than to hang on, as they weren’t out there in the market.
So Nissan was incentivised to say:
‘Its coming!’
‘Its coming!’
As that made them more likely to hang on for it instead of going out and buying a petrol car.

For the new battery though, if people think that a new battery is coming soon, they may decide to hang fire on buying the present Leaf.

That is why I think, now that they are mentioning a possible 150 mile range, they are prepared to execute imminently.

This is an excellent point, Dave. You’re right that they risk people not buying today’s Leaf because they expect a 150 mile Leaf is coming for no more than a $5k premium.

Trust me, I want to believe it’s coming that soon. My lease is up summer of 2015 and I would LOVE to roll over into an increased range. I just want to temper my enthusiasm so that I’m not as disappointed when I can’t.

I’m not easily persuaded, and have been resolutely unmoved by umpteen battery ‘breakthroughs’ which have been announced over the last 6 years. This though I think is the real deal, as is the similar news for increased battery density by VW, although it is going to take the latter longer to move to production. That is because it is not a breakthrough at all, but production engineering gradually making the already established NMC technology ready for deployment. I used to do cost and works accounting, and whilst no-one knows when or if breakthroughs will happen, or what the resulting cost will be, once things move on to the production engineering stage things are a lot more predictable. The models are surprisingly robust, which is why Nissan were able to know 5 years ago approximately when this would be ready to deploy. In fact this chemistry is probably the reason why Nissan OK’d pouring resources into electric vehicles. Ghosn said that the engineers wanted more time. He chose to push ahead with chemistry he knew was not really up to the job to get things moving. He always knew they would need better chemistry to really do the job. Whilst I… Read more »

I’m pretty sure (but not certain) that the 4.1Ah Panasonic 18650s are NMC also.

That article was published in 2009, aka ancient history. Much can have changed since then. The LEAF was not even in production until the Fall of 2010. Remember how GM had “discovered” a new 200 mile battery that could be put in a $30,000 car, just little over a year ago, only to abandon the prospects within 6 or so months thereafter? Sometimes a hopeful idea doesn’t hold up under testing, and those hopes can shift a lot quicker than five years. What’s the conviction here?

Do you want to bet?

There are parallel developments at VW, and there has been plenty of time to match the energy density in the 18650 Panasonic cells in the Tesla in a prismatic format.

GM was just taken in by Envia, and that idea was utterly untested.

I would trade my Volt in for 150 mile BEV. As it currently stands, I will stick with my Volt. A Ford Focus Electric with 150 mile range would be preferable due to aesthetics for me. The leaf is just too ugly. There are no other BEV options here in Arkansas.

If the Leaf was 150 mile range I would have bought it instead of my Volt in Nov. The model availability, technology, incentives and pricing is changing so fast it is impossible to predict which will lead in sales.

Just bought a volt. Same here I would trade even for a 150 mile FFE.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

I couldn’t have an EV as my only vehicle unless it had 80kW or better charging, and public charging stations every 50%-of-my-range on roads across the Texas triangle. Right now, only Tesla has that.

Good to see you writing again David. I ponder over this topic often too. The other really big issue which you touched on is the perception of the individual themselves. Even among this community the perception varies. I too am very interested in the i3 and the Focus. I do find it interesting as pjwood pointed out that the more electric miles are actually coming from the EREVs.
Honestly I am happy to see any car on the road with a plug for they will discover the things they like and the things that they don’t and it will effect the purchase of their next EV.

I think it’ll be tough to go pure BEV, as entire households, for quite some time. One car, sure, but completely gas free, not so. I’m in Eastern PA and we just had an ice storm. Power is still out since yesterday morning, and may be for a few more days. These events are rare, but tend to make you appreciate the versatility of the PHEV concept. Coincidentally, my Volt refused to charge the day before. Perhaps it’s the charger, or the electronics in the car. (There’s no error code showing up. The car just does not seem to notice it’s plugged in.) No huge deal, as I’m not stranded. And yet, with all of this, I still have only burned ~45 gallons of gas in 15,000 miles.

You also forgot to mention the VW Golf. It will be available as gasoline, diesel, PHEV or BEV. Along with the Focus, it will be an interesting vehicle to watch. It’s also more affordable to mainstream buyers than a BMW.

I agree with the conclusion that PHEVs will likely outsell BEVs in the near to medium term. But I think they will be a gateway to BEVs for a lot of folks. People who are upsold will be more likely to choose a PHEV than a BEV. Once they’ve driven electric for a few years, however, they will be much more prepared for a BEV as their next vehicle. I don’t know how many years the typical driver goes between buying cars, but assuming it’s about 5, that would make PHEVs the big sellers for this decade, but BEVs will likely start taking over going into the next.

That’s my prediction, anyway, and it’s no better than anyone else’s, so don’t be too hard on me 😉

Before the recession, the average U.S. new LDV was kept (by the original owner) for 4.5 years; that increased to 6 years in the aftermath, although it may have decreased somewhat since then as people felt confident enough to replace their older cars, and sales have increased every year since they bottomed out in either 2009 or 2010, forget which. IIRR average age of _all_ U.S. LDVs was 9.5 years before, and increased to 11 years after the recession, with the same caveat applying.

So in a nutshell, 5 years is about right, give or take 😉


If you are going to own two cars that is the way to go. By having two cars, you can buy either one of them first without missing. Most two car families are using at least one of them as a regular commute vehicle which could easily be a BEV. That is the message to the two car family. Test drive some, you are gonna love it!

I think the conclusion is right for the near term – 2-5 years. However, I am shocked by how close BEV and PHEV sales numbers are. However, if Toyota really pushed the Prius PHEV, we would see radically different numbers. What’s missing from this is some thought as to what the inflection point range is. I define IP Range as the BEV range that 80% of drivers will need at least once a month. Average daily commute is something like 32 miles but at least once a week people drive farther than that and monthly have at least one long driving day – monthly max. Don’t confuse this with road trip distance. It is about having to make a number of long drives in a single day. IP Range is a function of the monthly max drive – probably something like 150% of monthly max. We know that IP Range is more than 80 miles and less than 200. This is because the “affordable EVs” all have about that and the “unaffordable EVs” (i.e. Teslas) are production limited. 150 could well be that number. If Nissan does product a 150 mile LEAF, we should see a significant (i.e. non-linear) increase… Read more »

I like the analysis you have for “IP” range. I think another way to get more miles in a day is to add more fast charging stations. One could still cover the same number of miles in a day with perhaps just one stop of 20 minutes. I don’t know what the balance point for the various aspects of this alternative would be. In other words, a smaller battery costs less and makes for a lighter (slightly more efficient) EV but more charging stations cost more and is less convenient for the driver. Presumably we could also build, as is the case in some large cities, more car sharing services for those 1-2 times a month that someone needs more range, but again “costing” the user time and inconvenience.

As many have said, for those that need more range but want to drive mostly EV miles, without breaking the bank, a PHEV is the way to go in the next 5 years. But, I predict that as early as 2020 the EV will thump sales of PHEVs and probably new ICEs too.

The problem is that fast charging isn’t really that fast. It still takes a lot more time than filling a gas tank. Waiting 10 minutes before you get to the pump is considered close to an eternity. Think how people will see 30 minute “fast charging time”.

Good article! There are many things to consider, and it is still too early to see how things will turn out.

I am curious how used EV’s will retain value. Once people realize how cheap it is to run and maintain an EV (I assume some reasonable battery warranty/lease will be common) many things will change.

I hope Nissan makes the 150mile Leaf, but I think it is just as important to make 75mile EVs cheaper. I think the latter a bigger driver for EV adoption, and used reliable EVs will also help a lot. It is easy to forget that a large part of the population never purchase a new vehicle, and range is not super important for everyone.

Right now with the FIT tax credit, low end BEVs are not significantly more than their ICE brethren. And, there is a clear argument for TCO being lower than ICEs. I’m sure there is some elasticity wrt price but if you only have one car, it better go more than 80 miles before you have to wait a long(ish) time to recharge. If you can find a charger at all. That is why commute distance is a red herring in all this. We’ve all had those “perfect storm” driving days. Last week, I had to drive about 140 miles. Thankfully, I have a Model S with 270 miles of range.

I think you missed my point. You write … “low end BEVs are not significantly more than their ICE brethren”, which is true only in a narrow sense where direct comparisons are available, but currently there are no EV choices for somebody about to buy a new low end car for $12000 or a used car for half that price.

I’d like to see a huge increase in EV adoption, and while I am very impressed by the great choices that are available at the mid and top end of the market, I believe the sales volumes will shoot up then market provides more low cost choices.

I accept that you may want a long range and be willing to pay for it, but others may have different priorities, and it would be great if the market contains a wide selection.

New car for 12K, ummm, ok, sure. what ever that is.

Fiesta, Yaris, etc.

I think that BEVs will clearly win out over PHEVs. As elon said, PHEVs are a weird temporary transitional beast meant to satisfy those who don’t believe an BEV can work. But the simple fact is that a PHEV MUST cost more than a BEV. By definition, it has dual drive trains which mean it is more costly, has more space consumed by machinery, more complexity and therefore service requirements. While a PHEV tries to have a foot in both worlds, it can’t be the best at either being a BEV nor being an ICE. It is by definition a compromise vehicle.

In contrast, as batteries drop in price and range is extended, there is no reason not to get a BEV. No added weight being lugged around. A LEAF with a 150 mile range would be a game changer depending on its price.

BEVs will clearly, undeniably rule the roost sooner or later. It’s only a question of when, not if.

I can find plenty of things which deny that! 😉 If your RE is an ICE, then perhaps fair enough, although Toyota do a remarkable job of making complexity affordable, as they showed with the non-plug in Prius, which may including notably GM derided as ‘too complex’. Fuel cells are a different matter. You add a carbon fibre storage tank and a fuel cell stack, but you lose the high temperature exhaust, gearbox, and the other stuff you need to have a combustion engine. You also get good range whilst losing hundreds of pounds of battery weight, and have heating thrown in for ‘free’ as a by product of the electricity production. La Poste and FedEx both reckon they can double the range of their vehicles, especially in the cold, by using a modest fuel cell RE. Now maybe batteries will drop in price and increase in energy density so fast that they won’t be needed. So to: ‘BEVs will clearly, undeniably rule the roost sooner or later. It’s only a question of when, not if.’ The only answer based on what we know, as opposed to assume, is that maybe they will, maybe they won’t, and whether they will… Read more »

Fuel Cells, dream on…

Yep, Toyota know nothing about introducing groundbreaking transport technology, and no doubt the 500 engineers they have working on it can’t add up, or the engineers at the DOE who regard it as a practical technology.

Substantive criticism is one thing, an assumption of superior insight which is rarely based on having read up extensively about the various technologies, let alone the multiple degrees in chemical and automobile engineering that the people at Toyota and elsewhere bring to bear is, frankly, ludicrous.

Laffin’ No offense but there are volumes written about FCEVs vs BEVs. I have no desire to repeat all those arguments here. What is ludicrous is to believe in any FC technology happening anytime soon for automobiles. Toyota is notorious for missing the EV boat and I wouldn’t hold the DOE up as a model of anything these days.

Toyota’s record is second to none in alternative fuelled vehicles, and they continue to research solid state batteries.

No one is saying that fuel cells can take over the market for passenger vehicles immediately.
But then again, without subsidy the market for battery vehicles would be tiny.

Things take time to mature.

I’m sorry, the Prius is not an alternatively fuelled vehicle. It runs on gasoline and only gasoline. Therefore, it uses the same old fuel as the Ford Model T did.

I think that Toyota is taking a gamble with Fuel Cells. It may pay off or it may become a dead end if BEVs advance quickly enough. The fact that they are pouring money into fuel cells says that they believe they have a future, but I wouldn’t necessarily pin this one a winner just because Toyota supports it.

I miss-spoke by calling the Prius an alternative fuel vehicle, but the point I was making was clear enough.

Most of the rest of the car industry said that it could not be done economically, but Toyota went ahead and proved they wrong.

Funnily enough, a fair few of the guys who brought us the Prius are working on fuel cells.

Don’t bet against them.

In this case almost the entire motor industry thinks that fuel cell are worth pursuing too.

There is no doubt that hydrogen fuel cell cars work just fine, and that eventually the production cost will achieve decent parity with gasoline and electrics. The issue right now is charging stations. There are 10 in the whole country; 8 of whom in So.Cal. One just has to wonder: Why bother boiling the oceans on this one? By the time it’s remotely attractive outside of 5 five zip codes in Los Angeles, EVs will be firmly planted as the alternative to gasoline/diesel.

“It needs totally different chemistry to do that though, whereas we can do the job just fine with fuel cells without any breakthroughs”

I disagree. Technologically, BEVs require no breakthroughs. The only real challenge is cost. Think about it – what if you could buy a car with the range / refuel time of a Model S 85 for the price of a Honda Civic? No technological breakthroughs, just dramatic reduction in cost. And definitely no new chemistry needed.

Fuel cells face a whole host of challenges. Hydrogen still requires 4 “miracles” to work: sourcing the hydrogen, storing the hydrogen, fuel cells and infrastructure. None of these is insurmountable, but all require breakthroughs.

I was referring to range.

Moving beyond the present energy densities in the Tesla S does require breakthroughs, as Musk saying that he did not expect major increases for 4-5 years confirmed.

The 1500Wh/kg or so of a fuel cell system and the precious metal consumption of around the same as a diesel car’s catalyst both do the job just fine.

So the cost reduction as the barrier you refer to applies much more to fuel cells than batteries.

Fortunately costs are dropping a lot faster than for batteries.

I’m not even go into your claims on hydrogen production and storage.

Worldwide production and storage where necessary of some 55 billion kilos per year perhaps indicate that they are not fact based.

Here is the DOE in 2011 on hydrogen and fuel cells:

So what breakthroughs are needed that they seem unaware of?

Please be specific and provide full references in all the areas you claim, as as far as I am aware no such breakthroughs are needed, just regular production engineering.

As I note and reference elsewhere on this site today, for hydrogen infrastructure in the UK around £400 million is needed for pump priming, until full commercial viability, which is less than 1% of the costs of the projected high speed rail link from London to Birmingham.
There are already hydrogen pumps in operation, so why you claim there is a breakthrough needed I can’t conceive.
Some money, yes, but no breakthrough.

The “four miracles” I refer to are straight from then Energy Secretary Steven Chu. Although now I see that he made those comments in 2009, and the reference you provide is more recent. I will have to do some more digging when I have time (not right now), and try to catch up a little. A lot can change in almost 5 years.

As far as I understand, though, Hydrogen is almost entirely manufactured from natural gas. This is clearly not sustainable although it works for the near term. Do you know whether we even produce enough natural gas to replace petroleum as a transportation fuel? It seems questionable to me.

You do know Chu changed his mind?

There are plenty of references to hydrogen production by other means than natural gas reformation in the one paper out of many I have referenced.

The demand that all hydrogen should be produced from non-fossil fuel sources straight away is as daft as it would be to refuse to use electric cars because much of the electricity comes from non fossil fuel sources.

Both hydrogen and electricity can be generated with much lower amounts of fossil fuel than our present combustion engine cars, which is the important thing.

The meme that BEV cars are much more energy efficient than fuel cell cars is also untrue, when generation and transmission losses in the US grid are taken into account.

Both run at around 1MJ/mile.

Dave, Let’s face it fuel cell and tank storage costs are much much higher today than they predicted a decade ago. FCV not only need to compete with phevs. No breakthroughs on batteries, a 20 kwh battery pack should cost less to a consumer than $6000. That should be good for 130 kw (176hp) of power for 60 miles in a mid sized car. You could add a ice and generator as well as gas tank and pollution control for about $5000. That would be a phev that can refuel all over the country, use electricity for daily driving, and gas or biofuels for long trips.(use methanol if you want to use nat gas as your feed stock, apples to apples. But ofcourse a flex fuel phev doens’t need hydrogens infrastructure. Now replace that with a smaller battery, hydrogen tank, and fuel cell stack. I don’t know how you do that for $11K, but my guess is you need to drop costs to about 25% of what they are today. THat certainly is possible but it will take some advancement to drop costs this much for both fuel cells and 10,000 psi tanks (or different tanks like metal hydrydes completely).… Read more »

‘Let’s face it fuel cell and tank storage costs are much much higher today than they predicted a decade ago’

Yeah, a lot of people jumped the gun a decade ago, when the technological base just was not there to do it.

That does not mean that the thing itself is impossible, just that they miss-timed it.

Pretty much like Ford was out by a century or so, in predicting that electric cars would beat petrol ones! 😉


Kudos on the nice op-ed.

Personally (as I’ve said a zillion times…) I think it’s a win-win and we’re all on the same team here.

IMHO the glass ceiling that affordable BEVs need to shatter in order to break into more massive American markets, is 100 mile EPA. Not so much b/c of logical considerations – as you well write, most car-buying is not really rational – but because of psychology. Those 3 digits make a difference.
It’s no coincidence that Nissan pitched their Leaf as a ‘100-mile BEV’ for as long as they could get away with it.

In other parts of the world (most of them, smaller countries and less per-capita driving) it’s a completely different ballgame, one that’s even more favorable for BEV adoption. Right now it seems that makers just need to put more and more BEVs out there at affordable prices. They’ll get sold.

For trucks and SUVs, all we can hope for in the short-to-medium term are PHEVs like the Outlander.

I plan to buy a BEV to go along with the standard 2010 Prius and 2004 Chevrolet Silverado in our driveway now. It could be a 150 mile range Leaf or a 200 mile range Tesla, but will not be an ~ 80 mile range anything. I make a twice a month 85 mile round trip drive and the roads traveled have a hill here and there. To make my options worse than those who reside in the “limited markets” all EVs are sold in, I’m in Alabama with virtually no EV infrastructure besides at the dealer who’s trying to sell the car.

I wish I had another 50% of battery out of my Fusion Energi. It would be enough to cover the winter loss and still get me work/home on battery. I get to charge in both locations, but the 19 miles is too much for ‘her’ to make it to work on battery. It was sweet in the fall… 2300 miles per tank, over 7ish weeks. Fuelly.com has me down to 205 MPG & 91 MPGe. 🙁

Yeah, the Ford Energi cars seem pretty nice but they could really be better if they had more battery capacity in them like the Volt. I guess it is hard to pack more batteries into them. (Or is there space? If so then they should offer bigger packs as an option.)

What about BMW i3?
Is it BEV or PHEV or It’ll depend if it has REX or noREX

The argument isn’t whether BEV or PHEV is better. Everybody who drives either is driving it because they want to use electricity as much as possible instead of gas. I drive a Volt, I think it’s better than a Leaf for most people, but I will absolutely jump ship and go BEV as soon as I can afford a 200+ mile BEV. All electric is ultimately the goal for everyone here. The real argument is, what is the best compromise we can make until we can all afford 200+ mile BEVs? The best compromise is the one that allows you to use the least gas overall, which has to include the gas that you use in your backup ICE car. For many people, myself included, I use the least gas overall by driving a Volt. That makes it the better compromise for me. To illustrate my point, here are my driving habits. I live in Madison, WI which is a small/medium size city. Nearly 100% of my driving within Madison is within the electric range of a Volt. For that driving, a full BEV offers no advantage. However, whenever I drive outside of Madison it is on long trips. I… Read more »

Just like everything in life, everyone is different. I live in the Houston area. The city urban area is over 60 miles from end to end. There are many days when I drive 120 miles. Today’s BEVs do not meet my needs. Tomorrow’s BEVs won’t meet my needs either unless they get the fast charging thing figured out. A 200 mile range is useless unless I can recharge in 5 minutes. That’s how long it takes to refill my ICE powered car and I’m not about to reverse time and go to a lesser capability. The folks on these forums are the 1% of the population that loves electric no matter what. The other 99% will adopt when the technology is clearly superior to what we already have.

We bought our Volt two years ago and we love it! I have to admit we love it a lot more when it’s in EV mode than when it’s range extender engine is running. We go out of our way to not burn gas and have averaged over 250 mpg.

Ultimately, the Volt was our EV gateway drug and it now shares our garage with a Tesla Model S. It’s clear to us that BEV is the future. With sufficient range it makes no sense to haul around a gas engine you’re rarely going to use.

Tesla figured out that there’s more to it than just a car with good range. The really revolutionary thing is their network of Superchargers. No other manufacturer has a BEV with half of Tesla’s 200 mile range or a nationwide chain of fast chargers. Infrastructure is important.

Here’s what others have predicted:

“Working Paper Sustainability and Innovation
by Patrick Plötz

Uncertainty in Diffusion of Competing
Technologies and Application to Electric


Again, this whole discussion boils down to two factors: 1. What time frame are you talking about? 2. What do you assume the price of batteries will do over the next 2, 5, 10, 20 years? IMO, PHEVs and BEVs will continue to run neck-and-neck for a few years, perhaps five, but beyond that the decrease in battery prices will overwhelm the comparison. As the price of ICE cars continues to rise, PHEVs (PHEV = ICE + sub-BEV-size battery + electric motor, essentially) will at best see a slight drop. BEVs will see a big drop, until we hit the mainstream tipping point. No one right now knows what that point is, but my guess is something like a decent, but not loaded small car, say a Civic or Corolla or Cruze, with a 200 mile range and a $20K price. The two most entertaining things we EV fans will experience in the next few years are: 1. Honda, Toyota, and maybe some other companies inducing whiplash in observers as they do a full-speed 180 turn on EVs. 2. Our friends, neighbors, and relatives going on and on about how great their shiny new EV is, using the very same… Read more »

Toyota for one continue to invest heavily in battery research.
If it ever works out, they are happy to produce BEV cars.
Meanwhile they are making much better progress with fuel cell cars.

I am not sure why you think that your guess on how battery prices will decrease and energy density will increase is better than anyone else’s, as that is what it is, a guess.

Serious firms and Government are pursuing all alternatives, as unlike many on the web they don’t think that they have infallible insight.

Better/Cheaper batteries will solve this very fast. ICE backups will fade out because bigger batteries will require less energy to prolong the range. Compare i3s engine with the Volts. Next step should be an even smaller CNG motor in a 120 mile PHEV, which should be able to generate heat (if wanted) and range at the same time. Step four could be a little fuel cell for that job. After an EV can finaly do 500 miles a charge and recharge in one hour – nobody would need a Rex any more…

“Compare i3s engine with the Volts”

That Volt gets better MPG in extended range than the i3 with REx? That is with over 900 lbs weight difference in i3’s favor….

What is there to compare?

It’s smaller because you won’t need it that much because the i3 has a larger all electric range. Compare mpg on 100 miles with a fully charged battery and Rex support at the end of the 100 miles. Also you have the possibility of fastcharging on i3.

Don’t hold your breath. We’ve been waiting over 100 years for better batteries but the laws of physics haven’t changed. We need Mr. Fusion to make a real impact. Oh and I want a 5 minute recharge the same as I have now before I would even consider it.

With regard to the i3 vs i3 w/ rEx question…my prediction is the rEx version will dominate (handily) in the States. The issue for that car probably has less to do with people wanting to drive really long distances and more to do with BMW just “phoning it in” on the battery size for this car. It seems as though the rEx might have been a bit of a last minute (comparatively) addition to the i3 to compensate for an EV range that looks to be no better than the Leaf introduced years before – a solid 100 miles range would have made this car stand out. BMW is probably PRAYING a 150 mile range Leaf doesn’t hit next year (or even the year after) when they are still trying to get i3 sales off the ground in the U.S.

I think 99% people here agree that once the 200 miles BEV is available at fairly low price of $30K, then BEV will dominate the plugin segment. But the key question is really whether that so called 200 miles BEV can happen in the next 10 years as what Tesla claimed at affrodable price range. Now to simply look at the sales number, it isn’t exactly an indication of how each technology is winning. BEVs on average enjoy FAR MORE incentives than PHEV in real life. In the two biggest selling state of BEV (CA and GA), BEV enjoyed signficantly more incentives than the PHEV does. Combined with low lease rate, BEV sales are somewhat “inflated” by those discounts. Additional incentives will go away this summer in CA (with green HOV stickers running out), so that will put BEV on top with short term boost. However, I believe that until the battery is cheap enough, the PHEV technology will win out in the next 5-10 years and lose steam after that when the 200 miles battery becomes real and affordable. Ultimately, it should cost less to build a 200 miles BEV with quick charge than a PHEV with 40 miles… Read more »

For those who argued against the incentives program, look at Norway and Georgia, both are perfect example where the strong incentives that favor BEV will push the sales way ahead of PHEV.

Once you dominate the plug in segment, you’ll soon reach 200,000 units and had better be ready to drop to the mid twenties (for something along the lines of the Leaf).

I like both and hope both succeed. I think PHEV is typically a more feasible replacement to ICE vehicles in rural cold locations like Eastern MT and the Dakotas. Right now PHEV is closer to being affordable with no federal state tax credits. Seems like Toyota and Ford can spin out plug in variants fairly closely priced to comparable non plug in models, that qualify for less incentives, yet still sell a decent number. My hunch is they’ll do this with more models before we see reasonably priced EV’s in more variants. If the Model E comes in priced too high, and if Nissan gets up to 200,000 units sold they both may be more than I want to spend on my next vehicle, I’d probably go with a PHEV.

I haven’t read every reply here but I’ve seen a lot about how the EV’s need 150 or 200 mile range. I think it is just as important to get the price down before incentives so it corresponds with the after incentive price.

Obviously range is the issue.

If you are talking about a single-vehicle household, and you must pick between the two types, then you buy a Tesla.

If you can’t afford a Tesla, then you buy a PHEV.

If you can’t afford a PHEV, then you buy an HEV.

It’s not complicated….

Do you want:

A) a car that goes for hundreds of miles, recharges in 5 minutes and recharging stations are on almost every street corner?


B) A car that only goes 100 miles, (60 if you need heat or a/c) and needs hours if not all day to recharge and recharge options are extremely limited?

I would not even consider a BEV until they have the characteristics of A….

Great article! I’ve also been interested in how PHEVs and BEVs will fare with the broader public (as opposed to the enthusiast who frequent sites like this). I think that PHEVs would win out, except that it’s hard to quickly explain how it works and what the benefits are in a 30 second commercial.

I always thought the Fisker Karma and Tesla Model S were going to be a great showdown in terms of PHEV vs BEV, but “all other things being equal” didn’t really apply in this case, much more so than with the Volt vs Leaf. Styling, market segment and pricing were all about the same between the Karma and the Model S, but execution and packaging are a whole different story, leading to much better value in the Model S. Not only that, but Tesla’s “just do it” attitude to fast charging infrastructure has taken a big chunk out of the advantage of the EREV powertrain.