Plug-in hybrid cars gain momentum in races against electric rivals

In late 2010, General Motors was looking to take the lead from the successful Toyota Prius hybrid with the Volt plug-in hybrid, a car that could run short distances on electricity only and run a gasoline engine for long trips.

But the Volt and other cars like it have struggled to win over drivers, with many early adopters opting for all-electric cars like the Tesla Model S and Nissan Leaf. GM quietly did away with the Volt in 2019 with a focus on all-electric vehicles.

But on the road to obsolescence, a funny thing happened: sales of plug-in hybrids in the United States are on the rise, due in part to the recent spike in gasoline prices. Automakers sold a record 176,000 of these vehicles last year, up from 69,000 in 2020, according to Wards Intelligence. fell to 14.4 million from 15.3 million a year earlier.according to Cox Automotive.

All-electric cars have been confiscated about 5 percent of the new car market, and most analysts and industry leaders expect them to eventually outperform hybrids as automakers commit to eliminate exhaust emissions, a major driver of climate change. But hybrids – led by a growing selection of plug-ins – still make up about 7 percent of sales, and that number could rise for at least a few years.

Automakers are struggling to ramp up electric vehicle production because battery shipments aren’t growing fast enough. Partly as a result, the average cost of a new electric vehicle is now $66,000. This provides an opportunity for plug-in hybrids.

Unlike conventional hybrids, which can only run on gasoline and rely on engines, plug-in hybrids can run entirely on battery power. And because these cars have smaller batteries than all-electric cars, they could be more affordable. Cars are also attractive in that they don’t have to be plugged in for many hours to be fully charged. On road trips, they can be fueled with gasoline, eliminating the range worries that keep many people from buying electric vehicles.

“I think some automakers, including GM, have been moving away from PHEVs too quickly in favor of all-electric vehicles,” said Carl Brouwer, executive director of research for, an automotive research firm. “And I wonder if they regret this decision given the supply chain issues and the price spikes we are seeing right now.”

mr. Bauer and others also point out that many car buyers are not ready to buy electric vehicles. A JD Power survey found that one of the top reasons people don’t buy it is because there aren’t enough public charging stations in the United States. And charging an electric car at public stations in about 30 to 60 minutes – typical speed for even the fastest chargers – or overnight at home is an inconvenience many drivers don’t want to put up with.

Plug-in hybrids were developed as a transitional technology that introduced people to the benefits of electric driving while alleviating their fears about the technology. But when gas is around $3 a gallon, the savings these cars provide don’t always add up.

Now that gas can cost $100 or more to fill up, some people are eyeing these cars. It helps that buyers of some top models such as the Toyota RAV4 Prime, Jeep Wrangler 4xe, BMW 330e and the Hyundai Santa Fe plug-in can qualify for up to $7,500 in tax credit.

Wrangler 4xe became a surprise hit and the most popular plug-in hybrid in America, nearly doubling its sales to over 19,000 in the first half of the year from a year earlier. According to Michelle Krebs, executive analyst at Cox Automotive, the RAV4 Prime is so popular that dealers can’t keep it in stock, and buyers have to wait months for it.

Starting at $41,515, the RAV4 Prime officially goes 42 miles on electric alone. Keep going and the Prime rides like a familiar Toyota hybrid, but with more agility: The Prime is the fastest and most powerful RAV4 with three electric motors and 302 hp. In gas-electric hybrid mode, it consumes fuel at a rate of 38 mpg. With a total range of around 600 miles, it can travel twice as far as many electric vehicles before needing to refuel.

The average American drives 29 miles a day, which the Prime easily manages on electricity alone. During a week of daily charges – the Prime’s battery can be topped up in about two and a half hours on a home charger – the car can go over 280 miles without using a drop of gasoline at the equivalent of 94 mpg. A typical new car gets 27 mpg

Some owners of plug-in hybrids, such as the Chrysler Pacifica minivan, which has been around since 2017, say they haven’t been to a gas station for weeks. Charging the RAV4 Prime costs about $1.07 for a 25-mile trip, according to the Department of Energy.

But critics of plug-in hybrids argue that these numbers and calculations are based on the assumption that people who own them will plug them in regularly, taking full advantage of the environmental benefits of their electric motors and batteries. Some plug-in hybrid owners may never or rarely charge their vehicles using them in the same way as gasoline-powered vehicles. Plug-in hybrids used in this way tend to provide average fuel economy and do little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In Europe, plug-in hybrid vehicles drive in all-electric mode 45 to 49 percent of the time. study published in June by the International Clean Transportation Council, a non-profit research organization.

Some plug-in hybrids can only go about 20 miles on electricity before they need to start the gasoline engine. Skeptical engineers and analysts see unnecessary complexity in combining two types of power plant in one vehicle for such a meager benefit.

Some auto executives, including those at GM, argue that plug-in hybrids are not worth investing in because they need to work with cars that don’t have exhaust emissions. GM has said it aims to sell only zero-emission vehicles by 2035.

Tim Grew, GM’s director of electrification, said that as electric vehicles improve and charging infrastructure expands, plug-in hybrids will become obsolete.

“EVs are simply better,” Mr. said the Count. “Battery technology has gotten to the point where you don’t need a motor to extend range.”

European countries that are further ahead in the transition to electric vehicles than the United States are also encouraging people to switch to all-electric vehicles. Driven in part by sales of plug-in hybrid vehicles in Europe in the second quarter fell 12.5 percent compared to last year, while all-electric vehicle purchases jumped 11.1 percent.

However, many automakers such as Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Jaguar Land Rover continue to release new plug-in hybrids. These companies claim that it could be a decade or more before electric vehicles are affordable and convenient enough for most people.

Some luxury car makers say they have come up with an improved form of plug-in hybrids to fill a gap in the development of all-electric cars. Executives say these cars will appeal to more buyers in the EV era as they will be almost as user-friendly as gas models, while being more interesting and powerful.

The $104,900 Range Rover plug-in exudes London boutique luxury and 443 horsepower. On electricity alone, he can travel 48 miles. The BMW 330e sedan has a button called Xtraboost, which, when pressed, sends out 40-horsepower electric shocks for goose acceleration, akin to the nitrous oxide shots in the Fast and the Furious movies. The 330e costs $43,495 on par with standard versions of the same car, even without tax breaks.

Even supercar makers like Ferrari and McLaren are using plug-in hybrids as a way to squeeze the last Dionysian drops out of internal combustion engines. Ferrari said its 818bhp 296 GTB plug-in hybrid

Beyond these flashy models, plug-in hybrids have an important role to play, some analysts say, as they will bring more people to electrified vehicles sooner than would be the case if the industry solely relied on all-electric vehicles. mr. Brower of notes that nine out of ten car buyers in the US still buy regular cars.

“If a PHEV can serve as a purely electric vehicle, even part-time, and as a hybrid still consume less fuel than a traditional vehicle,” he said, “it’s still a huge reduction in CO2 emissions at a price that makes them more viable.” . consumers.”