Op-Ed: The Reality of the Plug-in Hybrid


Watching the comments section of any news story about an EV seems to have changed over the last few years. 5 years ago, most of the comments were mis-informed people or shills spouting off the usual anti-EV propaganda about them being fire hazards, or being worse for the environment than gasoline vehicles, or costing the taxpayers a quarter of a million dollars a piece, etc. And while there is still some of that, it seems now most of the arguments seem to come from within the EV community itself, fighting over things like whether or not a vehicle with a range extender can be considered an EV at all.

So, as both an open-minded person, as well as somebody with a lot of experience on both sides of this fence, I am going to lay down some facts, opinions, and speculations and hopefully settle some of this argument.

U.S. Plug-In Car Sales (as expressed by market share) – through March 2017

People need to realize that the new vehicle plug-in market in the USA is at 1%. That means 99% of buyers today are still buying traditional cars. So it is annoying, to say the least, when people make generalizations about what people will and won’t buy.

For example, I can’t even count the number of comments that said Toyota wouldn’t be able to sell the Prius Prime due to its smaller EV range. That has obviously turned out not to be true (the Prime lead all plug-ins in sales in April).

This market is still very much in the early stages. It is safe to say, though, that most of the misinformed or unreasonable comments come from the “Pro BEV” side. So I’m going to be arguing mostly against those people. Before I begin, I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not by any means against BEV products. I’ve owned two Nissan Leafs already. And even though my wife and I both have PHEVs now (2017 Volt and 2014 i3 Rex), I am not against the possibility of buying another BEV, although it would need at least 50% more range than our 2013 Leaf had, plus a body style I like.

The first thing I’d like to point out is the charging infrastructure situation. If you live in California, you’re biggest problem is probably finding a station ICE’d or in use by another car. However, where I live the situation is much worse.

Take a look at this map of DC fast chargers in the Dallas/Fort Worth area:

DC Fast Charging Around Fort Worth (via Plugshare)

With the map condensed down like this, the 30 stations we have seems like it should be enough. But once you take into account how large our metroplex is, you suddenly realize most of these stations are 10 to 20 miles apart. For me, anyway, it seems the stations are never where I need them to be and would often require heavy planning to use them. Not only that, but sometimes I would have to drive 10 miles out of my way just to get to one. Then top it off, sometimes the stations are broken, ICE’d, or unavailable after hours. So this had led to me being stranded and calling for a tow truck in my Nissan Leaf. Ideally, we need about 10 times this many stations before people could really start to depend on recharging on-the-go as an option.

So, let’s start with some of the annoying arguments I see.

Why should I carry around an engine that I don’t use every day?

This argument is tired and illogical. First of all, people want a car with usable range. If we ever hope to reach the rest of the 99% that is not buying a plug-in car, then range needs to be hundreds of miles. There’s only two ways to accomplish that. You either need a really big battery, or carry a gas engine. So, keeping that in mind. Let’s examine some numbers.

  • Tesla Model S battery weight: approx. 1,200 lbs.
  • Chevy Volt battery weight: approx. 400 lbs.
  • Typical 4-cylinder engine weight: approx 300 lbs
  • BMW i3’s entire range extender system: approx. 265 lbs

Looking at that data, it seems to me as if carrying the larger battery ends up as the loser when it comes to carrying around weight that you don’t need every day. In fact, it turns out that a smaller battery plus a range extender engine currently wins out on both price and weight.

If it burns gasoline on every trip, then what is the point?

David’s 2017 Chevrolet Volt

I find this argument ironic, because the previous argument is that the engine isn’t needed every day, but apparently now it is needed every day. Still, the point is very clear. Even if the PHEV has as little as 15 miles of range, that is still around 5,000 miles of EV driving per year, twice that if it is recharged at the destination. And it’s still going to be better than 99% of the other vehicles on the road in this regard. And to be honest, I could literally go most days without ever starting the ICE on a vehicle like that. I realize everyone’s needs are different, though.

In fact, what I’m seeing is exactly the opposite. There seems to be a lot of traditional hybrids popping up and they can’t recharge at all. It seems to me that once you’ve gone to the trouble to design a hybrid, you might as well give it a plug, even if the EV range isn’t that impressive. Any EV range, even 15 miles, is better than no EV range.

People won’t even bother to charge them.

It is true that there are some documented cases of this, especially on company vehicles where the employees are not given any means to charge. My previous car was a 2013 Volt which was off lease and had never been plugged in until I brought it home. There have also been some cases where people bought them just for HOV lane access. However, the official telematics data from these vehicles shows that the majority of drivers do plug them in. And even for the rare cases like the one I had, they will all end up on the used market eventually. And just like mine, it will eventually get used for its intended purpose.

Son of a … is that a BMW 530e with ~18 miles worth of range charging?

Hybrids are (or will be) hogging up our charging stations!

Good! We need more charging stations. If they sit around idle all day not getting used, then how do you expect the charging companies to afford or even desire to install more stations? Plus, you just got through complaining that these vehicles run too much on gasoline and that drivers wouldn’t bother to charge them.

I don’t want the maintenance and repairs of the gas engine!

Well, there is some valid concern there, but it isn’t as bad as you think. A strong PHEV like the my 2017 Volt can go months between starting the engine. Thus, I only have to change the oil every 2 years according to the maintenance schedule. Also many states don’t even require emissions inspections on vehicles like these. The engine and related system should last a very long time compared to a regular car. My Volt only has 600 miles on the engine after 1 year of ownership. At that rate, when the car is 10 years old it will have 6,000 miles on the engine. It’ll almost be brand new!

Some real benefits of a PHEV

Range – The main obvious benefit is the extended range. Even a Chevy Bolt EV is still just a city car. You can’t drive it across country. Now, I’m sure somebody in the comments will disagree and say that they’ve done it by stopping at RV parks and all other sorts of creative charging tricks. But if you think the other 99% of the population will put up with that, you are delusional. So until the charging infrastructure matures to the point that travel and range are no longer an issue, a PHEV is the only way to affordably have your cake and eat it too.

Using more of its range…more of the time

Use of entire EV range. While pure EVs may have more total EV range, they typically can’t use the entire battery. I learned this lesson the hard way when my Nissan Leaf ran out of power despite saying it had 6 miles left, and only 2 miles away from the DC fast charger I was headed to.

As such, I always left a 10 to 15 mile buffer on my Leaf, thus actually meaning about 17% of my Leaf’s battery was simply not available for me to use. However, with my Volt I can use up every last mile of my battery without worrying about getting stranded.

Can charge easier off-peak. When I had a Leaf I always plugged in the moment I got home to start charging. I was always worried I might need to go somewhere in the evening and thus would want more charge. And sometimes I was right. However, with my Volt I can easily set it to charge after 10:00pm when our electricity is free. I don’t need to worry about an unexpected trip since I can always use the gas engine in a pinch.

Chevy Volt enjoying a opportunity L1 charge via the Telefonix PowerPost

Level-1 charging practical – While I already have an L2 left over from my Leaf. I could probably just as easily get by on a level-1 with my Volt. This makes it easier for Joe consumer to buy the car and charge it. Getting a 240V station installed can be expensive and a turn off to possible buyers of an EV.

Subsidies – Right now an EV has an advantage in the USA by getting a $7,500 subsidy, where most PHEVs wind up getting half of that or less, The Volt and i3 Rex being the only exceptions. However, when the subsidies are gone, the smaller battery PHEVs will be the best deal. the Prius Prime, for example, will be almost $10,000 cheaper than a Bolt EV. And yet, it will give a lot of people an all-electric commute with no range anxiety.

Dealers – While it may be annoying that some dealers don’t even bother to charge up their PHEVs before test drives or sales, the simple fact that they can treat them like a regular car they are used to means they are probably more likely to actually want to sell it. It’s also an easier to sell to Joe consumer when he doesn’t have to mention that it dies on the side of the road when it runs out of power.

Battery Production Capacity – Let’s face it. We couldn’t have everyone switch to EVs tomorrow even if everyone wanted to. There simply isn’t enough production capacity. Obviously, we could manufacture more vehicles with 10 Kwh batteries than we could 100 Kwh batteries. Eventually the capacity will come, of course.

2nd GenChevrolet Volt: It’s 2017, are we still talking about 3.6 kW L2 charging?

Some real possible concerns of PHEVs.

-Most don’t have DC fast charging, so they won’t help with the building of those types of stations, which arguably are the kind most needed for BEVs. The solution is to get manufacturers of PHEVs to start including that as an option. The only PHEV I am aware of in the USA that has it is the BMW i3 Rex. However, the Prius Prime has it in Japan as well as the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. So it can be done. Even if it only works at 25KW, which would be cheaper to implement on the vehicle, it would still be compatible with the faster stations and thus encourage more build-out of such stations.

-Many PHEVs are performance limited in EV mode, which leads to a less enjoyable EV experience, and could help perpetuate the old myth that EVs are slow. I haven’t seen this so far with most PHEV drivers, but that is because generally those drivers currently are very well informed about how their car works. As the masses start to buy them, they will be less informed. An obvious solution to this is to move away from current designs and more towards designs like the Volt and BMW i3 Rex.

-While fueling up at home with electricity will be the cheapest fuel, gasoline often winds up being cheaper than public charging. So PHEV owners are more likely to hog up the free public stations and ignore the ones that charge money. Thus not helping the infrastructure as much as they could. however, I suspect the cost of charging to go down in the future once the cost of the stations drops and the cost of the installations are amortized. Not only that, but when gasoline eventually does go up, that will also curb that issue.

Still loving the all-electric cars too!

So, to conclude this opinion piece: I’m all for BEVs. But I think some of these people that are criticizing PHEVs at every chance they get must live in one of those cities where there is a charging station on every street corner.

I would invite that person to come to Texas and try getting around with a BEV for a while. Sure, it can be done, but it is a lot of extra work. Getting between cities like Dallas and Houston is still virtually impossible, even with a Bolt EV. The only vehicles that can do that are Tesla vehicles due to the supercharger stations along the interstate routes. And since the few fast-charge stations we have inside the cities aren’t even that reliable, being stranded is still a real possibility. I speak from experience. That’s why I’m driving a PHEV today.

So, in short, I wish the EV purists could stop being so arrogant and get a view of the bigger picture. Realize that any vehicle with a plug is a good thing compared to not having a plug. Buy what makes you happy, but don’t feel the need to criticize those who buy something different.

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187 Comments on "Op-Ed: The Reality of the Plug-in Hybrid"

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Brilliant. Smart, fair, and concise. This should be “stickied” at the top of your site for about a year. Well done.


Thirded! (If that’s even a thing…)

The comparison of the weights of the various systems is definitely something that I look forward to busting out the next time I get sucked into this debate 🙂

I wouldn’t cite his numbers; they are very cherry-picked. The Model S’s battery is the heaviest, and it’s for a big car. He’s comparing that to the BMW i3’s REx range extender, which uses a very under-powered scooter motor (no, really!) that’s only suitable for maintaining speed on level ground. It’s hopelessly inadequate for repeated heavy acceleration or driving in hilly/mountainous regions or towing.

A much fairer, apples-to-apples comparison would be the Volt’s gas-powered powertrain vs. its EV powertrain.

And the other thing to add as in the case of many “skateboard battery” EVs is that it is part of the vehicles frame and aids in crash worthiness…

For example, crash a Tesla Model S without a battery and the injury risk goes up by a significant amount…

We can’t count the full weight of the battery as dead weight as a portion of it is a multi-tasker to provide strength to the chassis…

By that logic, none of the battery is “dead weight.” The more cells you have to draw from, the greater the on-demand power you can produce.

Furthermore, I seriously doubt the battery cells themselves are being used for structural rigidity; the pack may be, but you could replace the expensive battery cells with plain old aluminum bars and get more rigidity at a lower weight and price.

I don’t think the issue at hand is whether the extra kWh is literally useless extra weight; it’s more of whether that extra kWh is used on a day-to-day basis.

I never said the word cells yet it’s well known that on the lower kWh Tesla’s that they include “dead” cells in order to skirt around having to crash test every battery size…

Regardless the overall point remains, if we removed the Tesla’s heavy 1200lb battery and crash it, it will be far worse…

I own a nissan leaf. Love it for local stuff. Nissan is coming out with a Versa Note and a Juke series type hybrid. Juke too small for me, but owned a gas version Versa.
All electric drive train with a gasoline generator like the Volt. All the smoothness, torque and simplicity of the electric and can drive across country with ease. They rate gas mileage in the 80+ range. Destined for Europe.
Now if they’ll just bring them to America. I’ll be first in line to test ride one.

If the Chevy Bolt was sold here in the UK, the Leaf, Zoe, Soul, Golf etc would never have sold in the numbers they have and we would not have any arguments against EVs. This is because of the physical size of the U.K., where 200 miles equates to around 4 hours of driving and where everything, by comparison to the states, is much closer together. It’s not that we all need to drive 200+ miles, just that for the vast majority, the thought of having to stand about at a charging point for 30-60 minute top ups, doesn’t feel very ‘British’. As a nation, we don’t like to hang around, let alone at a charging point, we like to look busy and important and that means either faster charging or greater EV range.
Once the 200 mile EV ‘no brainer’ barrier has been resolved here in the UK, EV sales will increase and EVs will be considered normal cars.

Good Op-Ed.

Well done

The critics, BM&C every chance they get, of EVs, are those that live in cities with chargers on every street corner? And then, you give us the Texas lack of chargers argument and longer distances? Can’t figure your critics argument. Why are they throwing shade on EVs, when there are seemingly chargers on every street corner of their cities?

Thank You!! – and very well said. I also have a gen 2 volt, and in 18 months and about 21K miles have only used about 55 gallons of gas. It gets old getting negativity from the EV crowd.

I would also add that Toyota, although very, very slow to offer a BEV, has been instrumental in getting things started with the Prius, and via the Prius Prime will bring many, many more people to experience an EV driving experience. Yet, an incredible amount of negativity has been heaped on them by BEV purists. I really think that is unhelpful.

Added to these comments about BEV verses PHEV, I would say the same can apply with hybrids. For me especially coming from diesel loving Europe hybrids are great and a starter for electric driving. Toyota deserve a lot of praise for bringing hybrids to market.

And dare I say the same can apply to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. (ducks for cover)

Shah, good one

HFCs?! We don’t need no steenkin HFC cars around here!!! 😉 Give us a chance to get our heads around charging batteries first, let the market develop and then HFCs can be mentioned in a safe and calm environment.

I’ll probably be buying a Prime, based on price and reliability.
But, lets be clear, I’m not happy with ~25 miles of range.

The best hybrid out there is the BMW i3 REX, and I’d buy that hands down, before the Prime if I could afford it. The tech, and performance of this car is amazing. You don’t have to suffer the performance of a Prius.

We can only hope Toyota does a redesign soon and gives us a Toyota i3 REX-Prime.

If you want a Prime, then go for it. It is the best version of the Prius currently available by far.

If you’d prefer an i3 Range Extender you can get a used one for 25k with about 20,000 miles at carmax if you live in the US.

You can also pick up a 2016 Volt Premiere for about the same price as a higher trim 2017 Prius Prime. (25k-29k)

All 3 are great replacements for any gas car so you cannot go wrong. 🙂

I think an edit of this statement is needed: “So, to conclude this opinion piece: I’m all for BEVs. But I think some of these people that are criticizing them at every chance they get must live in one of those cities where there is a charging station on every street corner.”

Perhaps changing the word “them” to “PHEV” gets at the author’s intended meaning.

Makes sense to me, with heads-up to David, I will edit that for him in the piece.

I have never understood the hating on the “un-pure PHEV”. It is just an EV with a rolling power plant attached. It must be the notion burning gasoline or other petrol is inherently bad. That is nonsense and very tribal. Petroleum deposit are Earth’s mechanism to store solar energy and nothing more. Humans extracting petrol and burning it at a rate exceeding Earth’s ability to respond without harming us is a different issue.

“But I think some of these people that are criticizing PHEVs at every chance they get must live in one of those cities where there is a charging station on every street corner.”

That is a possibility for some of them. Others do not actually own an EV.

Either they are aspiring owners who follow blogs or forums like electrek that tend to attack all hybrids/plugins.

Or they might have put a deposit down on a model 3 and are waiting. So they have no idea what it actually is like to drive electric every day.

Or they are fans of one particular brand and are looking to share with others that the exact specifications of their EV is the best and want to express their opinion to others.

The article makes good points, there are many good reasons for owning a PHEV. I personally think one PHEV and one BEV is the best combination for now. But some people will be able to make a 2 BEV household work just fine if they have a longer range vehicle like a Bolt or Tesla and good charging access.

That’s our situation. My primary commuter is a smart fortwo ed, and my wife has a gen 2 Volt, which she uses to commute (a ten mile round trip) and which we use for longer drives. It works perfectly for us. I hope when we’re done with the gen 2 Volt (which I don’t see happening any time soon, it’s a great car) that we replace it with a large range BEV, but that wasn’t remotely in our budget when we bought the Volt in late 2015.

The i3 REx is a Battery Electric Rage Extended (BEVx) cat, not a plug in hybrid. This is a very important distinction. Prius prime, Ford energi, volt…all have gas engines that can -and do- engage with the transmission under certain circumstances to drive the wheels.

The 650cc BMW motorrad sourced engine driving the “electric machine” generator (1) cannot power the electric motor attached to the wheels faster than 45mph 1:1, (2) it’s attached to the battery. This is an electric car with a power plant, not a gas engine with electric assist (which is the definitive definition of a hybrid).

I pay an EV tax on the i3, and I wouldn’t if I had a volt or energi ford. If my state can figure this out, I’d expect enthusiasts to as well.

It’s not an important difference at all, it’s a minute technical detail that makes no difference at all for the driver. In the end the driver experiences the exact same thing, first you run on electricity and when that runs out you run on gas.

Yeah, just because the Volt in extremely limited circumstances can power the wheels from the gas engine doesn’t take away from the fact that it has basically full power available from the battery for a solid electric-only range.

Other plug-ins that have weak electric-only motors and battery, such that the gas engine has to routinely come on to assist acceleration, those are a different story, but they still can replace a lot of gas consumption with electricity.

Opps , It makes no difference. Its like driving a car on 30HP. Makes no difference .
Of course driving up the hills also makes no difference. it works like driving max speed at 40 miles on free way uphill. no difference. only small technical difference 🙂

Why do people make a fuss of driving a car with 30 HP ??? Why does this owner , who has not coded his rex does not take his car up the hills ???. In CA we do have hills. May be we should level them for the sake of small technical difference….

The BMW i3 has 170 horsepower.
That’s what your driving on.
If the 7% generator cut in isn’t enough, you can get someone to recode it for you.

“It’s not an important difference at all, it’s a minute technical detail that makes no difference at all for the driver.”

Try driving up a mountain with your BMW i3 in range extended model. When the car slows down to 25 MPH because the scooter motor is hopelessly inadequate to provide the power the car needs, then maybe you’ll admit the difference is quite real.

Is it “wrong” to call the BMW i3 REx a “PHEV”? Well, that’s a matter of semantics, not facts. It depends on how you define “PHEV”. Technically, the BMW i3 REx does fall within the definition of “PHEV”.

But BMW successfully lobbied CARB to create a separate “BEVx” category for the i3 REx, and that’s the category it actually fits in:

BEVx, or a battery-electric vehicle with a small “limp-home” range extending engine or APU (auxiliary power unit)—i.e., not a series-hybrid type vehicle such as the Chevrolet Volt equipped with a full-capability engine.


You’re pointing out a problem with CARB.
The REX should have a mountain mode, that would allow a battery reserver of 20-40% so that it would recharge the battery at those levels, and you can drive up hill all day long.

Many owners recode the software for just this.
If it’s an issue for you, you’d recode.
In New Jersey, it’s Never going to be an issue.
Flat highways as far as the eye can see.

It’s misleading to say it’s a “problem with CARB.” That regulation is a direct result of lobbying specifically from BMW.

BMW essentially went to CARB and said, “Hey, if we restrict the range-extender from activating until the battery is nearly depleted, will you give us more zero-emission credits so we can sell more ICE cars?” And CARB said, “Sure.”

At any time, BMW could choose to unlock REx usage at any battery %. They don’t, because their priority is not the usability of the car. It is the ZEV credits they get for selling the i3 REx.

In other words, the U.S. i3 REx is the worst kind of “compliance car”: a car that is intentionally crippled to maximize their ability to convert EV sales into zero-emission credits (and therefore, ICE sales).

A hybrid has more than one way to either fuel/power it or to propell it.

The BMW i3 REx is very much a hybrid. It has two different motors/engines and can be fueled by petrol or electricity.

What you are talking about is if it is a parallel HYBRID or a series HYBRID. Or in the case of the Volt a mix of a series and parallel hybrid.

The Nissan e-Power is a hybrid. An FCEV is not a hybrid, unless you can plug it then it’s a hybrid.

It is not purely one thing, if it is a mix of somethings then it is almost always a hybrid.

A FCEV has batteries like a “regular” hybrid (i.e. standard Prius), so you can call it a hybrid.

Well…maybe… but you can only fuel it one way and you can only propell it one way.

Anyway, I believe almost all FCEVs will be chargeable too in the future and then they are definitely hybrids. 🙂

Chris Browder I don’t understand your objections at all; all your complaints are GM VOLTEC enhancements. If the VOLTS and ELRs were just like the i3 rex, the situation would be much worse, especially in cold weather. The I3 rex uses ELECTRIC HEAT for the defroster which ends up using at least 3 times the gasoline a Volt or ELR would, simply because the only extra load in a VOLTEC vehicle is the electric fan motor – the main heat from the engine jacket is efficiently utilized, not discarded as in the I3 rex. Apparently no one has ever tested this, (I have no clue as to why), but a 10 hp drain off of a 35 hp engine has just GOT to impact hill climbing ability with the heater on high. I can only assume owners switch off the heater when attempting to scale one. I’m assuming the I3 has a 6 kw heater in very cold weather – my volt and ELR have larger draws so even ‘efficient German Engineering’ can only make the heater small enough without affecting defrosting performance. The VOlt and ELR electric heaters are anemic in cold weather – they are DEFINITELY not oversized.… Read more »
Huh? In the US, nearly all marginal generation is NG. There may have been an instance where an emergency diesel generator was used for supercharging during an outage. But diesel for generation routinely at a Supercharger – that is a true alternative fact. Please list the large scale diesel generators that are getting used on the US mainland. I will mention and agree that there are small scale emergency diesel generators used in my area. My hospital has a few. When we are in a super peak – like July at 5pm on the hottest day of the year, the hospital will ramp up the generators. This is an event that is anticipated to be less than 10 hours in a year. Now explain to me how the average supercharger uses diesel regularly or often or any significant amount? Your wording just implies something that isn’t true. Also predicting electricity generation over the next 5 years or 10 or whatever is going to be diesel flies in the face of current fracking tech and economics in the US. Not to mention the low capital costs of NG plants. Not to mention, the continued LED revolution and solar revolution. LEDs can… Read more »

David, I did not say what you claim in your paragraph. I never stated “MOST” of the energy from supercharging comes from Diesels…

Apparently ‘NONE’ of it does. Until you think about what is actually necessary to happen if there are suddenly 20 times as many Teslas as there are now on vacation.

What I said is 100% true, even if ZERO energy for fast chargers and superchargers comes from Diesel – but then as I say, people don’t understand Load Shedding.

Now in my particular area, such arrangements would be rarely used – the more common work around would be to keep running old rusting hulks of central stations that people in general want shut down (as, for instance, the GINNA plant in suburban Rochester), yet, NY’s grid operator (NYISO) has deemed that the plant is necessary for ’emergency cushion’, and, allowed a 3 cent/kwh rate increase for Rochester Area customers, let alone Cuomo’s $8 billion (and counting) subsidy for Fitzpatrick and Nine Mile Point 1 & 2.

“People who routinely go to the super-charger or other fast chargers on such days do not realize Diesel Generators are making such charging possible, especially if a significant percentage of EV vehicles are finally sold.”

Wow, another tinfoil hat post from our resident conspiracy theorist nutcase!

Hey Bill, your claim here that a significant part of the power for fast-charging EVS comes from diesel generators, is right up there with your claim that Tesla Superchargers do not have the legally required emergency shutoff switches.


Pushi and David Cary –

You have no idea what load-shedding arrangements are – but they are common place with electric utilities.

I’m not going to discuss the issue with idiots like NIX who went on and on and on and on and on and on saying the 1999 NEC required them and the 2017 NEC required them but not the 2012, UNTIL I QUOTED FROM IT.

And Pushi is an ignorant Tesla hater – accusing Musk of hiding defects from customers – which he has never apologized for making the accusation. He is another one who is too Narcistic to use his real name, besides having no skin in the game anyway – the very definition of a magpie.

David, try to imagine how exactly a load-shedding arrangement would work, and then reread my comment. It will go over pushi’s head, but hopefully not yours.

For some of us driving a BEV just feels good, by not contributing as much to climate change and by not buying fossil fuels and thus funding the the oil industry financed Republican party. Sure a PHEV is convenient, having more range and much better than an ICE, but if there’s a way to avoid buying fossil fuels altogether then that’s the way to go for me. What I spend my money on is, in the USA at least, a political statement. Unfortunately most people don’t think about the consequences of where they spend their dollars. Liberals I know believe in climate change, dislike the current administration and then go and buy a brand new SUV for trips to the mall. There’s a disconnect there.

Like all of David’s work, it is articulated well. I look forward to the day that it is BEVs all the way, but for now, I agree with David that the Volt/I3 is pretty practical, unless your lifestyle is such that you never need the use of another ICE to travel the long distances.

My driving habits match that of the Volt community. I drive 97% on all electric, though 30% of the time is powered by gas. The reason being is that 3% of my driving is comprised of long trips. Now like yourself and some others here, a 220 -250 mile BEV will cut it down to less than half of one percent. My wife and I have made it on the Volt and an ICE that will be replaced next year with the 200+ mile BEV.

So with minimal planning, I still favor the BEV/PHEV combo for the two car household, and I need the BEV to be 200+. If everyone did as much it would take us way down the road to a fossil-free transportation without being picked on by our own community.

Liberals don’t know how to WIN.
Yes, there is a disconnect there.

This is war, a war of ideas and an economic war.
Liberals never fight hard enough.
They don’t cheat at elections.
They don’t point out that 95% of economics know that a tax cut doesn’t pay for itself.
They don’t do anything to stop climate change.
They don’t vote.

Last month I was able to take a 148 mile trip in my 2017 i3 94Ah BEV, and then yesterday I took a 108 mile trip in my 2014 Focus EV. Such a contrast in experiences in making longer trips with DCQC vs just L2 charging. First of all, I will start with my Ford Focus EV. I wanted to go to the new Burbank Ikea store. Being the largest in the US, it even boasts a 600 seat restaurant! Being that the estimated distance from home to my destination was 49 miles and my Focus range was about 76 miles, I figured it would be no big deal to pick up another 30 miles of L2 charge (about 1hr 15 min) while eating or shopping. Big mistake. My attempts at L2 charging were as follows: 1. Warner Center Canoga Park EVgo station: Since this was almost exactly 30 miles from home, I figured I would pick up an hour or so of charge here while eating lunch. That way I wouldn’t have to worry about it when coming home. As I pulled into the parking lot I spotted 2 BMW i3 Rex models charging. One was using the ABB… Read more »

Wow, what a story! Very interesting, but hardly surprising. I did an experiment long ago to see if I can live on L2 only, and relying on public L2 (or L1) charging was essentially out of the question.

It’s not that SparkEV has 3.3kW L2, but the fact that L2 are so unreliable. Many are broken (Blink), many are taken by other cars, and unknown when they’ll return, others are blocked by EV and PHV without plugged in (using L2 as parking spot). In addition, any “free” L2 is perpetually taken, and you have to be lucky lottery winner to find it available. L2 is fine as a back up in a pinch if DCFC on same location is taken, but definitely not good to reply on.

My arm pits literally started sweating while reading that story. 🙂 I’m probably going from my 2011 Volt to a Bolt within the next 12 months. Not sure if I’m ready for that kind of drama but am enticed by the Bolt’s performance, passenger room, and utility.

Wow, what a story!

It’s things like this which leave me entirely unsurprised that 55% of BEV drivers say they have never used a public EV charger.

Here’s my 2 cents after owning a Volt for 3 years and now a Tesla Model S that I bot used for 50K$ about a year ago. I agree with David. People that are driving a PHEV get very tired of listening to crappola from the BEV purists. Especially if said purist doesn’t even own a plug in of either variety. So the natural reaction is to fight back and say something negative about Tesla just to even the score. Then these people get blamed for being a troll which makes them even madder. That’s my take on it anyway. Now to address another issue. Why is the adoption rate for PHEV’s so bad? Tesla sells more 100K$ BEV’s than GM sells Volts. It doesn’t make sense. I think it is because the general public looks at a PHEV as a car that has all the complexities of a gas car AND an electric car combined into one vehicle. It sounds too complicated for them. If you can give the general public a pure BEV that has decent range and price and charging infrastructure they will buy it. Model 3 proves it. The other problem is that the companies that… Read more »

I think the Volt hasn’t sold well for the simple fact that it has always been expensive for what you get in terms of space and performance, especially earlier on in the first years of Gen 1.

The price/performance/size equation is a ton better with Gen 2, or even the later Gen 1, but you still have to compromise on interior space compared to it’s ICE competition.

Bolt similarly suffers from the price/performance/space equation making it a niche vehicle. They did solve the space and performance deficits, though cargo space is cramped. But the price for the category is too high. I’m hopeful that GM’s has built the Bolt to be profitable at a much lower in coming years though, as capital investment costs are amortized and battery costs come down. GM has made a real attempt to get out in front of the curve on plug-ins so I give them a lot of credit.

Tesla wins the price/performance/space comparisons against comparably priced sport-luxury sedans and SUVs, that’s why they’ve been so successful. Smart of them to attack the high-end market where the cost of the battery could be much more easily absorbed.

Yep. The rear seat headroom is an issue, they still haven’t fixed, with a wagon version. That would have been very little engineering change.

Looks like GM really isn’t interested in the Volt outselling the Cruz, which will get a wagon version.

Another thing working against PHEVs is that many people have a very difficult time understanding them. They can’t seem to wrap their brains around a car that can use two very different sources of fuel. When I tell people that my 2016 Volt goes about 50 miles on electricity, they either think the car won’t go any further than 50 miles or they wildly overestimate how often they drive more than 50 miles in a day. It often takes repeated explanations before people start to understand that even with only having a 50 mile battery, I can go up to 6 weeks at a time without using a drop of gas or I can drive as far as I want to, provided that I put gas in the car.

georgeS said: “Now to address another issue. Why is the adoption rate for PHEV’s so bad? Tesla sells more 100K$ BEV’s than GM sells Volts. It doesn’t make sense. “I think it is because the general public looks at a PHEV as a car that has all the complexities of a gas car AND an electric car combined into one vehicle. It sounds too complicated for them.” I suspect there are several reasons, but frankly I doubt that “it’s more complex than a gasmobile or a BEV” is a significant one. For those people who do own PEVs (Plug-in EVs), it may be revealing if we could see statistics for how many days a year they drive what kind of car. A lot of those PEV owners have a “hybrid garage”, meaning their family owns one BEV, but also at least one gasmobile. They didn’t consider buying a PHEV because the EV range is much shorter, and if they’re going to drive beyond the BEV’s range then they’re going to drive the gasmobile instead. That’s almost certainly a large part of the reason why 55% of BEV owners say they have never used a public EV charger. If we could… Read more »

“But there isn’t a single PHEV on the market that has a 60+ mile range when driving at freeway speed, especially not if running the heater or A/C. Even the new Volt has an EPA range of only 53 miles, and that of course is only under optimum conditions; real-world highway range is almost certainly less.”

Geez, for someone who hasn’t driven one or owned an EV, it is aweful amount of claims coming from it…

Maybe that is what the problem is… A Bunch of arm chair internet posters who have no EV owning experience spewing craps around.

“The other problem is that the companies that build PHEV’s are really only doing it because of the government regulations and as in the case of GM are only interested in selling enough of them to meet the requirements.”

I agreed with most of what you said until this part.

So, GM’s original goal of trying to sell 45k/year in 2011/2012 and then go up to more than 50k/year was just all BS? It was GM’s own goal and guess what? Less than 23K buyer showed up in 2012 and less than 15K showed up in 2011 so GM had to cut back production MULTIPLE times.

GM had ads and pushed for Volt hard back then and still no buyers. So, at some point, we should look at those “*&*(&)(& BEV purists” say maybe they are part of the problem?

Minor correction: The 2017 Volt cannot go “months” at a time without running the gas engine. At a minimum, “engine maintenance mode” must run once every 6 weeks, though, that process only uses about 0.03 – 0.10 gallons of gas.

I drive about 95% electric in my C-Max Energi. I’d like that to mean I could get away with a non-Tesla BEV (simply because Teslas are too expensive) but when I do use gas, it’s to pick up somebody at an airport 70 miles away or to drive from Allentown to Boston. Only the Bolt would be practical for that…and I’m not sure the DCQC infrastructure is ready for that long trip in a Bolt with three little kids. I could rent an ICE to do that trip…or just use my PHEV and use less gasoline overall.

Hopefully the Model 3 will change this calculation. Believe me, Is rather not have oil changes and associated ICEnonsense to deal with.

(Also, only Ford and Chevy market their plug-ins here. Even the nearest Tesla service center is a 45-minute drive away.)

Oh, BMW sells plug-ins locally too, and has a nice free charger at their dealership, but three kids don’t fit inthe 4-seat i3.

Tesla vehicles still have to be maintained as do GM EVs….the motor/inverter and battery coolant flush is suggested/required (warranty) every 40 to 50k miles on the Tesla’s and can theoretically only be done at a Tesla service center unless you can manage to get tesla toolbox and the right cable (Massachusetts only for private parties). Even then Tesla may block certain actions remotely such as firmware upgrades etc unless you are a Tesla certified mechanic. I have ran into on my RAV4 ev and the only non drastic option for me was to suck out coolant from the reservoir one quart at a time and replenish the zerex g48 and cycle the coolant, rinse repeat since I am in Colorado where Toyota dealerships are unable to perform Tesla related parts service themselves. I am not paying to fly a person from CA from Tesla for coolant flushes… EVs may have less maintenance, but far from none.

My LEAF doesn’t suffer such insanity. Lifetime fluids, except brake (weirdly).

Should have gotten a “simpler” EV. 🙂

Because your LEAF doesn’t even have liquid to cool that battery as it should have done from day 1. If it did, it wouldn’t have suffered so much degradation in hot climate!

Very good Op-Ed article. Thanks David!

I have a C-Max Energi that I plug in whenever I can out in public. This includes the charger at work where I pay by the hour at 6.6kw while my car can only accept 3.3 which in practice doubles my cost. Break even for this practice equates to $2.70 a gallon while gas in my area is currently $2.30 so it’s not a huge loss.

I do this for a few reasons. Every mile not on oil is a win because that’s less oil being imported and burned. Electricity is all domestically sourced energy, especially the solar in roof. My usage pattern shows as much time as possible on public chargers so that more chargers get installed, plus to normalize the sight of car charging to ICE drivers. I flat out like driving the car in EV mode. EV mode has limited power but it’s smooth, silent, and quite nice to drive. Lastly, it’s more convenient to just plug in versus going to the gas station.

“it seems now most of the arguments seem to come from within the EV community itself, fighting over things like whether or not a vehicle with a range extender can be considered an EV at all.”

Yes, the dispute about what is EV and what is not goes on and on and on. And it’s not only in comment sections and forums. Even IEVs isn’t always consistent on this issue. Most often PHEV’s are considered EV’s. At least in the sales scorecard they are EV’s. But every now and then there are articles where PHEV’s are not considered as EV’s. I know it isn’t easy to have complete consistency with so many writers, but I think a journalistic guideline on basic terminology would be a good idea.

Unfortunately you’re correct. I have noticed that in some InsideEVs articles, the term “EV” is used to mean BEVs and only BEVs.

It would be better, and appreciated, if writers would use the term “BEV” when they are referring specifically and only to BEVs.

The unambiguous umbrella term is plug-ins. That also usefully excludes fuel cell vehicles, which have an electric powertrain but none on sale can plug in

Mostly good points, but I disagree with this opinion: “Ideally, we need about 10 times this many stations before people could really start to depend on recharging on-the-go as an option” (I drove a 2010 Volt from Dec 2010, and moved to an i3 BEV in 2014 and my wife drives a Model S since 2015, living in the SF Bay Area) I rarely use any public charging in my home area. I charge at home and at work. When we drive to Sacramento (less than 150 miles one way), we try to L2 charge at our destination, if that does not work out, we might have to use a DC fast charger on the way home. Driving to Monterey (70 miles) and back can be done without charging. Neither of us do enough daily driving to need charging if we are not taking a trip. Once you can charge at home and at work, I do not think you need a large infrastructure to support locals doing regular charging at DC fast chargers. You just need enough for emergencies, non-locals traveling through. It is the free charging at these that causes a market distortion, once you eliminate that, and… Read more »

“(I drove a 2010 Volt from Dec 2010, and moved to an i3 BEV in 2014 and my wife drives a Model S since 2015, living in the SF Bay Area)”

There was no 2010 Volt. It is 2011 Volt sold in late 2010.

Excellent article David. You hit all the nails right on the head.

I very much wish I could use a BEV, but I travel all over the country and even a Tesla would be awkward for the remote places.

It would be impractical for me to have two vehicles at the moment, so I must compromise. I have a Prius, probably to be followed by a Prius Prime, or possibly the upcoming Honda Clarity PHEV.

If you want to experience an EV, I would recommend the Volt over a Prius Prime. The Volt drives like an EV when the batteries are charged, but the Prius does not, it drives like a hybrid. Go test drive both and see if you can notice the difference.

We did a 5000 mi road trip in our Tesla in the summer of 2015, traveling from CA through 10 states (NV,UT,CO,SD,ND,MT,WY,ID,WA,OR) and back to CA, with a toddler, and no real charging issues, but we did stick to freeways covered by superchargers for 80% of the trip. I do think 98% of people in the US would have no range issues driving a Tesla, but you might be one of the other 2%.

I’ve read that the Prime offers a usable all-electric experience. It’s a bit slow, but the the gas engine doesn’t kick on in normal usage.

This is exactly my point. Driving “like” an electric car does not mean you can drive without using gas, what it does mean is:

– instant torque, with a 0-30 MPH time that rivals or beats most sports cars. this also means instant responsiveness when you put your foot on the accelerator at any speed
– strong regenerative breaking when you release the accelerator for good 1 petal driving
– no creep

I wonder how the Prime is on 0-30mph in EV mode? I bet it compares favorably with a Corolla.

Some people don’t care about beating other cars from the stop-light. In my experience most people don’t care, since they’re always loafing away from the stoplight anyway.

The Prime supposedly offers a serene, laid-back EV only driving experience. That will appeal to some people.

I’m with you though on enjoying the better performance of the Volt.

Well done David! I’ve considered writing something similar and couldn’t have done better. The criticism if PHEVs is completely illogical. Not everyone lives in San Francisco. Some if us live in the real world. I love what BMW is doing. Just add up the EV miles from plugin 3,5,7, and X5. Imagine if every popular model had a PHEV version. I drive a BEV but I support all things plugin.

The only small problem being that if everyone switched to PHEVs with 15 miles AER we would still have the same problem we do today: it’s utterly unsustainable and puts out far more greenhouse gases than is acceptable. We need to cut 90%, not 10%, and personal cars happen to be one of the easiest areas because the tech is here. The grid takes longer to green sufficiently, but this just means that even if we favour BEVs and get everyone to switch it’s STILL difficult to cut emissions as radically as we need to do. Viewing the problem through a lens of “how well does this product fit my needs” completely fails to consider the big picture that Murray says he wishes the BEV proponents could see! While the instant torque and silence are real benefits and great selling points they aren’t fundamental. The emissions part IS essential, and not just any PHEV will do. The fact that 99% are still buying ICE is obviously a huge problem, but it’s silly to pretend nothing can be done about it. Look at Norway. We have proved that if you make EVs cheaper than other cars, to buy and to run,… Read more »

Sure we can hypothetically “do something about it”, but it will take a political change.

I personally advocate for a carbon fee and dividend approach where a moderate and rising fee is charged on fuels as they enter the economy, proportional to the heat-trapping gas released on their use, refunded in full to US residents, full share for adults and half share for dependent children.

“…if everyone switched to PHEVs with 15 miles AER we would still have the same problem we do today: it’s utterly unsustainable and puts out far more greenhouse gases than is acceptable. We need to cut 90%, not 10%…”

While I certainly would like to see PHEV makers offering longer EV ranges in their vehicles, at the same time, an all-or-nothing approach isn’t going to help much. For the fleet average, even the Volt doesn’t eliminate 90% of gasoline-powered miles.

To take what you’re saying to its logical conclusion, only gasmobiles and BEVs should be available on the market. But if you force people currently driving gasmobiles — and that’s more than 98% of drivers — then nearly all of them are going to continue to choose gasmobiles.

Okay, so a PHEV with only 15 miles of EPA range isn’t even “half a loaf”; more like a quarter. (But even a 15 mile electric range PHEV should cut gas consumption by more than 10%, Terawatt. Let’s be serious.)

Let us not make the BEV vs. PHEV argument into a case of “The perfect driving out the good.” PHEVs, even those with <20 miles of range, are still better for the environment than gasmobiles.

Good article. It pretty much sums up my choice to buy a Volt. The number of charging stations in the Dallas/FW metro is far greater than the number in the entire state of Arkansas. Furthermore, I can attest that some of these are non-operational or frequently ICE’d. Finally, there are no superchargers in the state, limiting any Tesla road trip. At least for the foreseeable future, a BEV here is not a practical choice.

As with George S above, we owned a gen 1 Volt for 3 years and have owned a Model S for the last 9 months. I also agree with David. We’ve used Superchargers here in Texas a few times (Sulphur Springs, Waco, and San Marcos) and they have been reliable (and free for those of us with older cars), but on longer distance trips gas is still markedly more convenient. Still, it’s a “Tesla Only” club.

For our next pairing of vehicles I am actually considering a cheaper “in town” BEV with no local range anxiety like the Bolt EV and a small PHEV SUV (like Volvo’s upcoming XC60 T8) which should work well for local short trips while providing the additional flexibility and comfort of a small SUV and long range capability. Like everyone else, we’d like to see a spate of small PHEVs SUVs!

Good write-up!

Glad you noted the anemic performance many PHEVs have in EV mode. The i3 REX and Volt don’t have that issue because they’re closer to being EVs with less powerful gas generators for range extension (yes I know the Volt sometimes directly uses its gas engine to help propel the car). That’s in stark contrast to other PHEVs (Prius Prime, Ford offerings, etc) that are really gas powered cars the use less powerful electric motors for assitance/efficiency.

GM calls the Volt an EREV because it’s different (I’d say better) than a PHEV. But, many people don’t understand the difference.

The Prius Prime operates like the Volt when in EV mode.

Except that the PP is really designed to use its gas engine as its primary power source. So, it’s underpowered in EV mode.

The Volt is designed to use its electric motors as its primary power source. No power issues in EV mode.


No. The Prime ts not underpowered in EV mode. It has no power issues in EV mode. Try test driving one.

I have. It’s underpowered.

The sales stats seem to show it’s mostly canabalizing sales of the standard Prius. Makes sense, as anyone who does research and test drives wouldn’t choose the PP. Volt kicks its ass in every way, especially when the actual selling price of the Volt and larger tax credit are taken into account.

Underpowered in EV mode compared to Hybrid mode, or underpowered in every mode? Both the Prime and Volt are slightly slower in EV mode than when both the EV motor and ICE are running.

It was underpowered in both modes that I tried, compared to the Volt. The stats for both cars uphold that perception.

The Volt is a bit less powerful in EV mode. But it’s powerful enough not to matter. The PP is underpowered in Hybrid mode, and gets worse in EV mode.

>> Volt kicks its ass in every way

Prius Prime is more efficient in EV mode, more efficient in HV mode, and had the ability to compete with traditional vehicles without any dependency on tax-credits.

That’s the real formula for success. Kicking those guzzlers is what counts, not bragging rights. Replacing their sakes with plug-in choices what really matters.

All three of those are false. Easpecially pricing, where you compare MSRPs instead of actual selling prices.

I do agree that getting people into plugin vehicles is a good goal. The people buying the PP seem to be doing so instead of buying the the new fugly standard Prius. That’s a good thing. Though they’d be better served by a Volt if they did their research and weren’t biased against American cars.

They’d be better served by a Volt … if they aren’t worried about the “Much Worse than Average” reliability rating of the 2016 Volt from Consumer Reports driver survey, or the “Worse than Average” rating of the 2015 Volt.

I personally will not consider a car that doesn’t rate at least “Average”. Luckily the earlier Volts did that and that’s what I drive. 🙂

2015 is Gen 1, so I can’t imagine how it suddenly got so bad compared to the previous years (which were rock solid).

GM didn’t sell enough 2016s for CR to have gotten enough reports to make any statistically accurate report on it.

I’d be curious to see what the 2017 reliability looks like.

R.e. the drop off in 2015 Volt results, it is far from unheard of for cars to vary in quality from year to year in the absence of major changes. There were some minor changes to the Volt that year, and who knows exactly what minor differences in the car and in production combined to drop the reported quality. Or maybe quality didn’t actually change significantly, but the average quality of new cars that year improved incrementally enough to push the Volt into the “Worse than Average” category. R.e. the bad reported quality of 2016 Volts, I don’t know if there may be some confusion among Gen 2 Volt owners about what “model year” they actually own since the “2017” model year started selling in the first half of 2016. Maybe some of those 2017s sold in 2016 were reported in the survey as 2016s. But Consumer Reports does have standards for number of responses before they will report a result. I.e. they don’t report any result for 2011 Volts for lack of data. We do know that they have sufficient responses on Gen 2 Volts to assign it a “Much Worse than Average” for it’s first year. I am… Read more »
And “rock solid” for the first generation prior to 2015 may be a matter of perspective. Consumer Reports consistently rated them as Average reliability. Which is fine. Cars built in the last five years are more reliable than at any time in the past, so “Average” among cars built during that time is fine, maybe even call it good. But when you compare to a Prius, say, that has consistently ranked “Much Better than Average” over that time frame, the Volt owners were dealing with significantly more problems. I know from looking at the service records of my 2012 Volt, provided to me when I bought it used last year, that the initial owner did have a number of problems that had to be fixed, including replacement of the charging cord two times and other stuff. I’ve had no real problems with it so far, except a very minor one of the charge-port door getting stuck closed, which I think is an artifact of the overall relatively poor fit of the body panels on the car. It’s not big deal as I can always get it to open by pushing the door as a click the open button on the… Read more »

I’m surprised the Gen 1 Volt has an Average rating for reliability. I know of a few issues, but from following gm-volt.com, I’ve seen very few major complaints (and people are usually very vocal about issues).

I have a 2012 with close to 100k miles. Only issues were with the tire sidewalls cracking (really goodyear’s fault, but GM covered) and with a click from one of the axles (which GM replaced under powertrain warranty a few thousand miles ago). It’s been troublefree other than that. I consider it one of the best engineers cars ever made. Hopefully the Gen2 can live up to that standard once they get past the normal first year issues.

sven said: “No. The Prime ts not underpowered in EV mode. It has no power issues in EV mode.” If you’re comparing the Prius Prime to the Volt, then what you’re saying is physically impossible. The Prime’s battery pack can’t possibly put out sufficient power to give it as good an acceleration as the Volt gets in its “EV only” mode. So far as I know, the Volt is the only PHEV that’s a true switch-hitter; the only PHEV which is not underpowered in EV-only mode. If you think you can drive the Prime above 35 MPH, stomp on the accelerator, and not have the gas engine kick in, then you either haven’t driven it much, or else you are unable to tell when it turns on the gas motor. I don’t need to drive it to know this, because… physics. Also, because I can read what actual owners say about the car. For example: Toyota initially said that I must have gotten a bad car so instead of waiting on a non-existent replacement, I went to my local Toyota dealer and tried the white base model of the Prius Prime. Again, with a salesman in the car, the ICE… Read more »

Nice job David. Very well thought out and well written. You mentioned you bought a used Volt that had not been plugged in until you bought it. I am considering buying a used 2015 Volt that appears to have been also used ONLY as an ICE vehicle. Did you notice any reduced range or any problems with your 2013 Volt?


Once again let me state that insideevs is my number one favourite.

Electrec has caught up recently but that is based on their higher percentage of solar topic posts.

Such well written articles are really scarce in mainstream media. Thank you David and all of the insideevs team for doing the world something good.

When I started reading about EV I belonged to the “EV purist” group (I still drive my really really dirty old diesel camper but that is a personal issue… ) but in fact I was against the phev idea in general. Well I’ve grown up over the last 5? Years (at least a little ;-)) and now I accept that we need this bridge technology… If I was able to buy something with a plug it would be a Prius prime. But most likely I will be able to retrofit 5-10 kilometres of electric range into my ducato before that. Exciting times ahead!

As much as I dislike the promotion of the 48V system which German manufacturers are pushing, I think I might end up with exactly that…

With EV’s and PHEV’s, Your Mileage WILL Vary. Even more than with ICE cars.

What EV or PHEV will work for your specific needs really 100% depends upon your personal needs, not what people tell you on the internet.

Even with gas cars, there is no such thing as the perfect car for everybody in every situation. That’s why there is such a wide variety of ICE cars for sale around the world. The more EV’s and PHEV’s to compete with all that variety of ICE cars, the better.

This is true. But if the op-ed is to have any value it has to be about systems and policy and what kind of solution we should try to steer towards, not about his individual product choice given today’s selection. To argue that anything with a plug is better than anything without is factually incorrect, but more importantly it misses​the point. We need radical emission cuts. Short range PHEVs do not deliver. Even BEVs will deliver the needed cuts only if greening the grid progresses rapidly. The fact that 99% are still buying ICE only makes it MORE urgent to improve the situation, so to use this fact as an argument in favour of PHEVs, especially those with pathetic AER, is illogical. It’s also silly to base the argument on the first generation cars that are already obsolete. Precisely because the EV market is very much just beginning to emerge it is far more relevant how EVs will be in five to ten years than how they are now. And we have every reason to believe EVs with more than 200 miles AER will be cost-competitive, even excluding externalised cost, with PHEVs by 2020 or so. If you include all… Read more »

Government shouldn’t pick the technology. A Carbon Fee and Dividend is the way to go. Solar powered BEVs, like you advocate for, would be vastly more competitive under a CFaD.

A straight-up carbon tax is much simpler, which is why I think it is a better way to go.

There is no reason that current incentives cannot be slowly phased out as a carbon tax phases in.

“To argue that anything with a plug is better than anything without is factually incorrect…”

Just because you can find some “edge case” or outlier data which is an exception to the general rule, doesn’t mean the general rule goes away. It just means that, like most general rules, if you look long and hard enough, you can find a few exceptions.

Most of the “statements of fact” we say or write in everyday conversations have exceptions. Does that mean we are all going around saying things that are “factually incorrect” all the time? No, indeed it does not! What it means is that what we call “facts” are often not true in every case. Humans could not function in the real world if we always had to keep every single exception to ever rule in mind at all times.

Only in technical or formal scientific writing is it appropriate to try to note, or try to identify, every possible exception to a rule. If we tried to do that in everyday speech or everyday writing, we would waste most of our time to very little purpose.

Human life is messy. It’s analog, not digital!

Terawatt — Let’s look at what happens when you replace a current gas car with a similar PHEV equivalent. (Based on 15K/yr, US gallons, US Lamborghini Aventador or Aston Martin V12 Vantage S. 12 mpg Replaced with a Porsche 918 Spyder with 12 miles EV range. Potential for around 4,000 miles/year charging once a day. Around 7,000 if charged at home and work. That saves 330 to 580 gallons. That is the same gas savings as completely removing a 25 MPG car from the road if charging at home and work. Or completely removing a 45 mpg car from the road just charging at home once a day. Example 2 Jeep Wrangler 18 mpg. Replaced by a BMW X5 xdrive40e with it’s lousy 13 mile range. Potential for around 4,500 miles/year charging once a day. Around 7,500 if charged at home and work. That saves 250 to 410 gallons. That is the same gas savings as completely removing a 35 MPG car from the road if charging at home and work. Or completely removing a 60 mpg car from the road just charging at home once a day. Is it good to remove a 25 mpg car from the road?… Read more »

I also live in the Dallas Ft Worth area (in Burleson), and have preordered the Tesla Model 3. I can’t wait to get it and look forward to driving it daily, and even occasionally using the supercharger network (especially with 1000 free miles each year).

I am glad to hear this perspective from PHeV’s, as I didn’t know a lot of he information presented. Thanks for a great, honest article!!

Thanks for such a thoughtful piece, David. All us alternative fuel drivers are pioneers, but not all technologies will change the game. PHEVs and other duel-fuel vehicles, interesting and important as they are today, are a transition mechanism toward BEVs that can out-do everything an ICE does. If the product is better, and it is cheaper, then there’s no stopping it. Massive battery production in Nevada and globally is cutting costs down to size, just the way solar PV electricity finally can underprice grid power throughout the Southwest. It’s a consumer society, and a PHEV’s 20-50 mile electric range plus-gas-tank is just too fussy for most car owners. The Tesla-with-supercharging system will move you over 1,000 miles in one long day, and you just stop thinking about charging when you plug in most nights at home. (Aside: for the dull stretches, its auto-drive, which reduced accident rates by 40% through 2016, according to the NHTSB. This clearly works because it never gets bored, never gets tired or mad, never gets even – just helps get you where you’re going with lots less hassle.) I admit I’m a proud early adopter, as is any driver of a Volt, Bolt, Leaf, M3,… Read more »
A great article. Thanks for the opinion and information. I have a 2017 volt and I am still learning the complexities of the EV community. I live in the mountains of Colorado. Where I live it is 25 miles to town. There are only 3 L2 stations in a 50 mile radius of my house. There is 1 Tesla supercharger about 30 miles from my home. Needless to say there are not many options. I also drive a lot of miles, over 14K since the beginning of January. A true BEV would be impractical at best. My daily commute is roughly 80 miles, with frequent trips in excess of 250. With all of that said, the only BEV that stands a chance is a Tesla, which I can’t afford. I think it is always important to conserve fossil fuels whenever possible. The change in my driving habits and the lower fuel costs are substantial. I don’t have to worry about being stranded on the side of the road somewhere, which can be very desolate in some places. Overall, I wish the automotive community would change their collective minds and offer more options for PHEV’s. If Chevy would offer a small… Read more »

The sleeper company here might be Chrysler. The 3.6L engine they use in the Pacifica and now Pacifica PHEV is the exact same setup across the board throughout Fiat Chrysler. It’s used in the Jeep Grand Cherokee, various cars, and is the entry level Ram engine. This means presumably if the Pacifica PHEV proves popular, it wouldn’t be terribly difficult to use that same setup in other models. i.e the company probably closest to a PHEV truck is likely ironically Fiat Chrysler.

Great article. It seems the Tesla model 3 covers all those issues and more.

Great article. Hit all the points while being entirely rational. I agree it needs a permanent place on the front page.

BTW, I’m pretty sure the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid also gets the full $7500 credit.

Let me add my name to the roll of people applauding this article.

There are some extremely aggressive posters in the comments of this site and others, who are very quick to deride PHEVs as “filthy gas guzzlers” while driving ICE cars themselves. A fully PHEV market would reduce 80-90% of consumer gas consumption. How is this not a great thing?

Because people have a tendency to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Agree. Excellent article. We have an Accord PHEV. Average MPG per fill up has been in the high 60s. Helps that we live in the SF Bay area with lots of opportunity to get that extra 15 miles or so of ICE free driving…

Sigh. Why is it always the small-minded, every little helps conservatives who get to write the op-eds on this site? David Murray goes on and on about all the reasons why PHEVs are wonderful and must be considered EVs. His crowning argument is that they are better than ICE. Well, they can be a little better, sometimes, if they actually do have enough AER and are being plugged in. But the data shows they are actually nowhere near good enough to deliver the emissions cuts that we need and need fast. In fact, the average PHEV sold today is worse than many regular hybrids in terms of their real world emissions as they are actually being used. A study in Norway found that less than 25% of distance covered was in electric mode. Btw, I have never seen anyone here “attacking” people who bought PHEVs. I don’t attack people who buy diesel cars either. But I do attack misguided claims that PHEVs are significantly more environmentally friendly than BEVs, because they aren’t actually, while conceding at the same time that they CAN be, but only if they have significant AER and are plugged in. If continuing to insist that these… Read more »

Terawatt said:

“Sigh. Why is it always the small-minded, every little helps conservatives who get to write the op-eds on this site?”

Hmmm, I think you calling the author “small-minded” says a lot more about you than it does about him!

Grow up, Terawatt.

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” — Mark Twain

Best plug-in hybrid is smallish BEV with DCFC + large gasser (van/truck/SUV) as a second car. Since gasser isn’t used much, it can be used car + per-mile insurance like Metromile.

The whole BEV vs PHEV matter is just the latest example of “flame wars”. Back in the day, it was Apple 2 vs “Trash-80”. More recently its Windows vs Linux or even Ubuntu vs Fedora, iPhone vs Android, etc. The simple fact is that there are hundreds of models of vehicles available because everyone’s situation and requirements are different. David’s requirements are different than mine so he has a Volt and an i3-Rex. I have a Leaf and an old Altima ICE (to be replaced with a Tesla 3 next year). Who cares? His cars work for him and mine work for me. (FYI I put 16,000 miles on the Leaf annually, I have never needed a tow truck, the battery is still at 12 bars and it charges in 30 minutes or less) This whole argument will be moot once autonomous vehicles and mobility services start to take over. The vehicle dispatched to pick you up will be based on your trip needs. If I have a group of 15 people that need to go somewhere, no existing BEV or PHEV will fit the bill, I need a small bus. It would be fair for the site to publish… Read more »

Interesting post.

My best option is a 200+ mile BEV. Why? Because I don’t want to buy another gasoline engine, any gas or wait around at a gas station or charging station when I should be on my daily commute.

I am in the DFW area also, and my widest daily possible round trip is less than 50 miles, so a 200+ range offers lots of winter cushion. Fully charged each night at home with 200+ miles of range every day, no public charging station needed.

PHEVs are a good gap vehicle while waiting for a 200 – 300+ mile EV. But sometimes it’s hard to let go of what you are comfortable with, like a gasoline engine, or the idea of going to the public gas/charging station, when the charging station is in your own garage.

But as always, there is no one size fits all for anything really. Consumers get to decide what works best for them.

Excellent article. Like someone wrote, can we have this on top for at least a year?

I’m generally in favor of them. But personally I prefer to drive with no gas. I didn’t put solar panels on my roof so I could drive the first 50 miles with electricity or most of the first 22 miles with electricity if I’m light on the pedal. But they definitely have their place. I do however disagree with some of the statements. And those fold into a larger argument. I think that the position doesn’t really take into account work charging and work-owned vehicles much. One thing is that in countries in Europe there is massive financial advantage to a company which owns fleet vehicles (and that includes vehicles that execs are allowed to use as their own) to fill that fleet with PHEVs. Countries have given financial breaks to companies that buy PHEVs without a lot of regard as to whether it is practical for people they let use them to charge them. This means that companies have financial advantage to loan PHEVs to employees who then have no way to charge them. And with the short range of PHEVs they may not be able to drive home and back with a charge acquired at work. I feel… Read more »

oh my gosh, I had fortunately forgotten about the ‘worse for the environment than gasoline vehicles’ argument.

I bought a gen2 Volt last year, and I’m very happy with it. I’m also in Texas, and I’m 100% EV locally, and I only use the ICE for road trips. That’s more than good enough for me. I like the performance, and filling up in my garage, and hardly buying gasoline. The grid in Texas isn’t green enough to argue for PEVs over PHEV’s; for my usage a gen2 Volt is a little greener than a Prius. I couldn’t afford a Tesla when I bought my Volt; realistically its not much different for the environment. I could afford a Leaf, but it is flat out unacceptable for my needs.

I guess the numbers are what they are. 99% of people are destined to go out and get another all gas car. There has to be a glass half full angle to that, which isn’t as discouraging as it really is. Better them than me though, right? 🙂

I fully agree with you.
I believe there should be more DC charging over L2 overall.
Ideally ppl should charge in night , and DC should be used at a minimum at day time , due to duck curve.

But we have a different problem in CA.
CA bureaucracy have EV charging plans , where they assume drivers will pay 3 times for electricity in day time. They think, EV drives should not stay at home or cook at home in day time. if they want to cook in day time , they should not buy a EV.

Like the stupid rule on i3 rex ‘charge hold’ , CA Energy Efficiency bureaucracy has its silent war on EV’s. And we pay for it.

I know many ppl who charge in day time if DC , as they are not able to benefit from cheap EV charge rate for night , due to the very bureaucracy created to promote Energy efficiency

The same Energy Efficiency bureaucracy does not like cars like the i3 rex.

The problem with “charge hold” isn’t California, it’s BMW. BMW didn’t want PHEV/EREV credits for this car, they wanted BEV credits for this car. In order to get them they had to agree the car would act as a BEV until its battery was so low it could not do so. No other maker did this. Not Volvo, not Chevy, not Toyota.

Don’t like this usage model? Complain to BMW, not California. Tell BMW to stop looking for BEV credits on a PHEV. Once they do so they can reprogram the car and sell it operating in the mode you expect and demand.

As to time of use rates, electricity actually does cost more in the daytime. Businesses pay time of use rates everywhere. Residences have often been exempt and instead levelized pricing is instituted. California ended this. It’s not unreasonable to pass the true price of electricity on to customers. Sorry it doesn’t work with your usage model.

Good article, you fail to mention the root of the problem however. Have you ever seen a BMW i3 owner attacking a bolt? Or a Prius attacking a volt? Or perhaps e-golf Vs 530e? Leaf against ionicq? No, you haven’t. It’s always the t-rats. Am I wrong?

Actually, there is a frequent commenter here that owns a (non-plug-in) Prius and regularly attacks all PHEVs as “filthy gas guzzlers.”

That was a thoughtful, well written piece. Thanks, well done!

@ David Murray: Thank you very much for this op-ed piece. It gets pretty tiresome seeing all the posts from “BEV purists” claiming that PHEVs aren’t “real EVs”… as though the “EV” in “PHEV” means something different. That “holier than thou” attitude is counterproductive, and gives EV advocates in general a bad reputation. Thank you also for going through the list of “PHEV myths”! The one about “People won’t even bother to charge them”. It astonishes me that EV advocates can be so clueless about PHEVs. They should visit volt-stats.net and look at the figures there. Currently, 66.7 of all Volt miles reported here are powered by electricity, not gasoline! So some people are obviously charging up their PHEVs regularly. * * * * * David Murray said: “For example, I can’t even count the number of comments that said Toyota wouldn’t be able to sell the Prius Prime due to its smaller EV range. That has obviously turned out not to be true…” Hmmmm, while I agree with the vast majority of what you wrote, here I have a quibble. I dunno what sites you were looking at, but I doubt it was InsideEVs. A lot of people posting… Read more »
Good article. One issue that wasn’t brought up (or I missed it) is that large battery vehicles allow large cars with good performance (actually great). The Volt is small. It’s performance is certainly adequate (not meant as an insult) but its form factor is small. We all agree that is the issue with the Volt. When you make a large battery EV, you typically get good performance and that can carry over to a larger car. Hence Tesla sells more cars than GM sells Volts. The Bolt has good acceleration in a shape that is not appealing to the majority of the car buying public. The Volt doesn’t have the size. Now is someone figures out how to have a 10-15 kw battery drive a small SUV to 60 in under 7 seconds, then we can do a PHEV. (Mitsubishi?) Until then, Tesla will win out with 60+ sized batteries and keep the ICE out of it. I have no problem with a PHEV but there isn’t one on the market I would buy. But I have 2 EVs. I would absolutely have a Malibu PHEV and we will look at the Pacifica when it comes. But that isn’t a… Read more »

The Volt’s exterior is big enough for mass sales, certainly plenty of Corollas and Civics sold every year, but the T-shaped battery that intrudes into passenger and cargo space makes the interior much less roomy than its ICE competition.

The solution is to put the battery into the floor pan under the passenger space like the Bolt and Tesla do, but I guess that would have taken too much re-engineering of the shared car platform that GM used.

The flies in the ointment are the 200+ mile BEVs with DCFC. Once you drive one you will never look for an ICE solution again.

That’s my simpleton viewpoint, and I’m sticking to it.

Unless you like to take long trips that don’t have good DCQC options along the route, then you will still need an ICE solution for now. That will be the case for a lot of people for a long time.

Such as where? Places where there aren’t a lot of people? Sorry, don’t see it. People are just unwilling to change, unwilling to even accept that change is possible and in fact quite doable.

I’m happy with my gen2 Volt for both today and the foreseeable future, 100% EV locally and only using gas for road trips. But I think a Tesla S75 works also today for most trips. Looking the the future, the CSS/Chademo network is also growing as the Bolt becomes available nationwide, and the Tesla’s M3 will become available in a year or two.

Such as anywhere outside the West Coast.

It will be years before there is even a skeleton of usable CCS charging stations in the southeast.

For me to consider it a useful skeleton of a network I’d say you’d need multi-charger stations (4 minimum) every 100 miles of major interstates, open at least 16 hours a day. The current situation of a single charger stations leave you vulnerable to disruption of your trip when those stations don’t work, work substantially slower than you can use, or are occupied or ICEd or behind a locked gate. Got to have multiple, well-maintained, fully public chargers at every station if people can depend on using it for unfettered travel.

I live in the northeast US, about 60 miles from NYC. Plugshare says there are a bunch of CCS chargers around me. Problem is, at any given time at least 25% of them are broken. And, they’re mostly single charger deployments, so you’re screwed if the unit is broken or ICE’d.

CCS charging just can’t be counted on yet. I hope it gets better soon.

I don’t understand how your Nissan Leaf were stranded with 6 miles left. Did you get a very low battery warning (VLBW) prior? Did you reach the reduced power mode, aka turtle mode prior? There should be plenty of warnings before the leaf runs out of power. I don’t see you need 10-15 miles buffer. As long as you don’t go below VLBW, the leaf would not let you stranded.

Interesting article. I don’t understand the first point, however, where you compare the Model S and Volt battery weights to the engine weights of ICE vehicles and the i3 Rex. Full disclosure: I’ve owned a Model S for 3 years.

If the anti-PHEV argument you’ve heard is, as you stated, “Why should I carry around an engine that I don’t use every day?”, then what does battery weight have to do with it? The battery on the Model S is the “fuel tank”, not the engine. I can’t say I’ve heard this particular argument before, but I’m certain that I’ve never heard an argument that carrying around extra fuel capacity is a bad thing. This seems like an apples-to-oranges comparison to arrive at the conclusion that the bigger battery is the “loser” in this.