Op Ed: Terminology Battle – EV vs Plug-In

FEB 16 2014 BY MARK HOVIS 37

Sign sing everywhere a sign

Sign Sign Everywhere A Sign

Recently, InsideEVs posted an article on vandals targeting hybrids and EVs in LaJolla California. There was a lot of speculation on what sparked the vandalism, but one thing stood out around the conversation on the vandalism – the fact that a large group of people do not separate hybrid electric vehicles HEVs from electric vehicles EVs.

So what generic term do we use to describe our community?

On one end of the spectrum, there is a small group that declares that only pure battery electric vehicles BEVs should carry the title “EV“. In fact, this group usually wishes to drop the “E” out of plug-in hybrid electric vehicle PHEV to PHV as to purge the use of the word electric.  Then there are the Chevy Volt drivers that prefer the term EREV because they argue PHEV does not properly describe their all electric driving experience.

The LaJolla incident made us realize the vast majority still barely separate hybrids (HEVs)  from EVs.

Next, InsideEVs followed with a story on Boulder, Colorado attempting to make it illegal for ICEs to park in an EV spot.   This story drove home that when it comes to infrastructure, the world still needs a generic term to deal with all of us BEV/PHEV/EREV users. So I wanted to understand how the rest of the world (~99%) sees our vehicles and does a generic term exist? Is it EV or is it plug-in? Or is it both? Or is it regional?

I googled plug-in signs and got a sign from the Plug-in America site . When I googled EV signs I got the above grouping of signs. I got everything from EV painted on asphalt parking to a generically labeled EV on a gas pump with a plug.

plug in signevsign3

Contributor Brian Henderson has probably best articulated the outcome here:

There’s no debate, all electric vehicles are EV’s. An EV that plugs-in is a PEV. In discussions relating to a powertrain context an H is sometimes included (PHEV) to denote Hybrid EV, but rarely used in the context of charging. Including PEV and “charging station” on sign is a challenge unless a micro-font is used, so many opt to use an ‘icon’ symbol for the plug/station and EV.

Use of EV is international in that the abbreviation is identifiable across many languages globally (see signs from Japam, Norway, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, etc). Globally the word ‘plug-in’ is not used on signage.

Most will give credit to the modern day electric movement starting on the heels of the Tesla Roadster and catapulting with the launch of the Nissan LEAF (BEV) and the Chevy Volt (EREV/PHEV).  For myself, I like to see it through the eyes of the LaJolla California vandals and see the first hybrids arriving near the start of the 21st century as worthy of our electric cheers. And even with the limited electric miles of a number of PHEVs entering the market, I applaud you for moving one step closer to a fossil free highway.

As for which generic term we prefer, some of our community will quote government documents defining the term of their choosing or explain the technical merits of the better usage. For the outside community, it may be decided by something as simple as the two letters (EV) that are easier to paint on the asphalt than seven – “plug-in” (dash included).

You can make your case, but language evolves on it’s own terms no matter how much one wishes to control it. I would reason that the masses will not start to understand the differences until the number of EVs/plug-ins exceed ten percent of the market.

By then there may not even be a difference or we may be dealing with a plethora of options including CNG, LNG, FCV and maybe even CAVs compressed air vehicles! I am picturing an image of a CAV sign and I don’t like it!

Categories: Charging, Chevrolet, General

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37 Comments on "Op Ed: Terminology Battle – EV vs Plug-In"

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Josh Bryant

I have found myself trying to explain how hybrids are not electric on countless occasions, so you terminology concerns are valid. For that reason, I strongly believe that “Plug-in” should be the term we choose to use the most. I really think we need to forget the BEV vs. PHEV battle for now, and just get average car buyers used to the thought that they should be plugging their car into an outlet when it is parked.

Once the general public expects to plug in their car, then the economies of scale will work out what the best solution is. Like the rest of the car market, it is likely to include many different solutions, based on the varied needs of consumers. While I might not be excited about every plug-in that hits the market for my own needs, every car with a plug, is one step in the right direction.

David Murray

I think it just depends on the context of the discussion as to how generic the term EV can be used. While I personally like using the term “plug in vehicle” to classify any vehicle with a plug on it, the general public likes “electric car” when talking about anything with a plug. And in most cases, I’m okay with that.

In the same regard, I’m okay with calling an EVSE a charger.


If you want to combine HEVs, BEVs, PHEV-10s, PHEV-20s, PHEV-40s, you can use the term GM uses a lot, and that is electrified, as in “electrifying our fleet”.

So these are all electrified vehicles, meaning that electricity is used in different ways to do some part (or all) of the work.

I still would like people to learn the difference in all of these options.

Brian Henderson

The terms: PHEV-10, PHEV-20, PHEV-40 are from the CARB 2003-2011 era. In current 2011-2019 CARB definitions a common PZEV (“Partial Zero Emission Vehicle”) is used with a “Type” classification (0, I, 1.5, II, III, IV, V) for desinating zero-emission range. For under 75 miles, a formula is now used to determine credits vs. mileage groups.


The term “electrified” is not an official term and manufactures use it in inconsistent ways. eg: some call Start/Stop technology electrifying. Start/Stop stops ICE at traffic stops and uses a powerful starter motor and battery to start vehicle in motion while also starting the ICE.

Brian Henderson
There’s no debate, all electric vehicles are EV’s. An EV that plugs-in is a PEV. In discussions relating to a powertrain context an H is sometimes included (PHEV) to denote Hybrid EV, but rarely used in the context of charging. Including PEV and “charging station” on sign is a challenge unless a micro-font is used, so many opt to use an ‘icon’ symbol for the plug/station and EV. Use of EV is international in that the abbreviation is identifiable across many languages globally (see signs from Japam, Norway, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, etc). Globally the word ‘plug-in’ is not used on signage; instead many regions use the sign space to differentiate between Quick (DC) vs Slow (AC) charging … unlike the US where both types of charging are referred to as ‘Fast’ charging. Is this ‘fast’ charging terminology worth debating for better consistency and clarity for the EV community? As far as vandals in LaJolla, CA … the vandals were likely targeting vehicles with HOV (High-Occupancy Vehicle) stickers that have single-occupancy access to car-pool lanes. The white and green HOV stickers differentiate between ZEV and PZEV vehicles (Zero-Emission Vehicle and Partial-ZEV). I don’t think there’s a technology battle between ZEV… Read more »

(Off Topic) I think highway helpers and such should carry adapters so they can charge electric vehicles that run out of charge on the highway. They carry gasoline and are charged with keeping the highways clear and navigable, so why shouldn’t they have the capacity to recharge ev’s?

David Murray

Unless they can provide a DC fast charge, there isn’t much point. Otherwise they’re going to be sitting there for a few hours.


A DC fast charge should be perfectly possible especially when you consider that they don’t have to get to 80% battery capacity, they only need to fill you enough to get to the nearest charge point. I suspect that the ridiculously large number of plug’s and adapters to cater for all the different fast charge options would weigh more than the electrical storage and fast charge bit of the device. I suspect since most BEV’s live in town it that it would probably be simpler to just tow the vehicle to the nearest plug.


AAA has piloted such a program already, although I’m not sure how widespread it is yet (i.e. do they have more than one truck?). Such programs will come when EVs reach critical mass.

Thomas J. Thias

There, done! You asked for EV Charging Road Service-


Link Goes To Google Image Search-



From an infrastructure standpoint, BEV/PHEV/EREV are all “Plug-in” vehicles. “EV” should denote any space for “Plug-in Vehicles” to charge. And pricing should provide the incentives to keep those spaces available and utilized.


The DoE defines EV as strictly electric, which IMHO is the only possibly correct definition because of what EV itself stands for in the first place.

To groups all plug-ins (hybrids and EVs), the California Energy Commission now often uses the term PEV. http://www.energy.ca.gov/drive/technology/plugin_electric.html

I like PEV, it’s simpler than “plug-in” and convey the information that we’re not talking about just EVs, but anything with a plug.

As to adding “electric” when talking about non-plug-in hybrids, I think it is misleading, maybe deliberately so, as those can’t take electricity as fuel.
I’ve seen this term prominently displayed some UPS truck: “Clean, hybrid ELECTRIC vehicle”. Unless it can be plugged in (I’ve not seen an inlet), this is just green-washing; I’d even say false advertising.

Next up: how are we going to call vehicles which can recharge wirelessly? Should we say anything which can take electricity is a “rechargeable vehicle” aka… RV? Oops, nope.
[I actually think the term plug-in/PEV can remain, as all those will likely still include an plug/inlet]


“Hybrid ELECTRIC vehicle” is correct, and is the full term for hybrid. Nothing misleading at all by the company.
It’s a hybrid between gasoline (assumed, and unmentioned as it is the majority standard) and electric. Should there be a hybrid part gasoline, part compressed air, you could call it a hybrid air vehicle. Or simply just ‘hybrid’ as people do for HEV today. Hybrid just means a mix of two or more.. In this case it’s fuel sources. Right now we really only have one kind (gasoline/electric), so most people don’t specify the electric piece.

HEVs came first, now add a plug to it and you get PHEV.


Missed a line in there.
It RUNS on gasoline and electricity. Just because you can’t fill up with electricity directly doesn’t mean it no longer has electric propulsion capability.
You either burn gas to move, or you use stored electricity to move. Dual energy source = hybrid.
If you bought an EV with a non rechargeable battery, is it not an EV? It has only electric drive unit. But no plug…


I’m annoyed when some people try to include hybrids like the Prius into the EV family. If the only energy that is added comes from petrol it’s nothing but a petrol car (but can be a more effecient petrol car with a battery included and regenerative breaking or a flywheel or so but still not an EV).

I generally use:

“electric car” (only pure electric cars like the Leaf/Tesla/Zoe/i3)
“plug-in hybrid” or “electric hybrid” (Volt/Ampera/V60 plug-in/Prius plug-in)
“hybrid” (Prius)
“electric car with a range extender” (pure electric cars where you have the option to add an range extender… so far only the BMW i3 REx falls in this category)

But that is translated from my native language.

Alejandro Czeisler

Correction: the Chevrolet Volt is an extended range Electric Vehicle. I drive mine 35 miles every day with out burning a drop of gasoline. The 1.4 liter petrol engine is there only for those occasions when I need to go further than 35 miles without recharging.


The Volt is definitely not a extended range electric vehicle. If I drove a Prius plug-in 10 miles per day on pure electric and never used the gasoline engine it would still not make it an EREV.
If you can’t buy the car as purly electric it’s not an EREV. It’s especially not an EREV when the ICE can power the wheels directly and when it has an engine that easily enough could power a fullsize car on its own.

The Volt is nothing but a PHEV. What it can brag about it that it’s the PHEV with the largest battery and longest range on electricity on the market.

Thomas J. Thias

If you could drive a Prius PI ten miles a day on pure electricity…
You would have to plug it in twice to do so!
1) EPA Monrony sticker says All Electric Range, 6 miles!
2) Toyota Prius PI Energy Page, says 11 miles, may use gas assist for some or all of those battery range miles!


Thomas J. Thias




The Volt is the quintessential definition of an EREV. In fact it was GM that coined the term when the Volt was introduced.

The PiP is not the same as the Volt because if you try to accelerate the gas engine will come one. Or if you drive over 60mph the gas engine will come on. Or if you drive more than 6 miles the gas engine will come on.


Correction: The Volt, with its three-clutch system, is a PHEV. In certain circumstances, for example at high speeds, all three clutches engage allowing the ICE to directly drive the car in conjunction with the electric motors.

Just because you drive your Volt like a BEV doesn’t make it any different.

I think many Volt customers are confused about this distinction because Chevy originally designed the Volt as an EREV. However, they found out that there is better efficiency in allowing the ICE to help drive the wheels in certain circumstances, so they developed the three-clutch system.

Thomas J. Thias

If I do drive my Chevy Volt, Opel/VauxhallAmpera Extended Range Electric Vehicle, Holden Volt Long Range Electric Vehicle or the stunning Caddilac ELR Extended Range Electric Luxury Coup, many owners are approaching minimal gasoline for propulsion use.

Past 26,000 miles in my MY2012 Chevy Volt EREV and am at 97% electric. Of my 40 or so gallons burned, better then half resulted in ERDTT, that is, Cabin Assisted Heating when cold started in 25° Temps or less. This consumes exactly .07/100th of a gallon each time.

MY2013/2014 can opt in to a 15° temp ERDTT.

Again, at over 26,000 miles, used only 16 gallons for actual Extended Range Driving!

Source- VoltStats.net




Thomas J. Thias



Aaron, you are incorrect. In EV mode you can drive the Volt over 100mph without the gas engine ever turning on. You are thinking about CS mode.


“In certain circumstances, for example at high speeds, all three clutches engage allowing the ICE to directly drive the car in conjunction with the electric motors.”

NOT in EV mode….

Thus the EREV….

For those who keep talking about PHEV, when there is another PHEV that has more power electric motor than its gasoline engine, then we can talk about it…

Whether ICE engages to “assist” the motion of the main traction motor is another matter in the CS mode.

i3 with REx, Fisker Karma and Volt are all EREVs b/c their main power are the electric motor… Electric motors have to be ON before the ICE can even power the wheel. In the case of all other PHEV, electric motors don’t have to be on to power the wheel. the ICE can power the wheel by itself.


There are so many lines you can draw.


Some say EV should only describe BEV and nothing else (as only the BEV has no tailpipe or ICE).

Some say EV should only describe BEVs and EREVs (as standard PHEVs are closer to hybrids than BEVs).

Some say EV should describe BEVs+EREVs+PHEVs (basically EV=plug-in).

Some say EV should include hybrids too (basically EV only describes the drive-train part).

It seems in terms of parking signs, EV = plug-in.


When I bought my Volt a few weeks ago, I was surprised how many of my friends thought it was just a limited-range EV. So when needed, I just describe it as being an EV for the first 40 miles, then it’s a gas-electric hybrid until you charge it again. Everyone immediately understands that. IMHO, the potpourri of extra terminology just serves to confuse the average consumer.

By the time the original Volt had made it to dealers, Toyota had already taught the world the definition of “hybrid”, and most people felt that hybrid=good. Instead of leveraging that terminology/perception, GM confused consumers with new unneeded acronyms and tech-speak that emphasized “EV” just a little too much. I think that’s why so many people still think the Volt is just an electric car, has limited range, etc.


Well it did start out as an electric car. Laukner added the range extender. Maybe we can use Elon’s analogy of an amphibian. It can swim in the water, but if it needs to, it can also go on land. 🙂 (also, at least in my neck of the woods, hybrid kinda has a bad connotation to it, so I can see why GM wanted to avoid it).

Marc Lausier

The fact that you’re writing an article like this is a good ‘sign’!


…or click bait. 😉


If Toyota didn’t “pollute” the word of “hybrid”, I would have been okay with the term PHEV. But since the “ice” car designed by the Toyota has been “polluting” the market for the last few decades, we don’t want to mix with that gas guzzler…