When the Car You Want Is a Rainbow-colored Unicorn

The differences between traditional electric vehicles and hybrids
Jun 7, 2021 11:00 AM ET
Blog

by Danita Park

The year was 2016, and my combustion engine sedan was going through a mid-life crisis. My car went from being the most reliable to completely unreliable in the span of a year. The fact that my car had recently exited the warranty period was—I was informed—inconsequential. With this mid-life sedan, I had driven less than 5,000 miles and had experienced three different engine failures, each at varying distances from my home.

Even my loyalty has limits, and this car had pushed me one tow too many. It was time to move on.

I wanted my next vehicle to be an all-electric vehicle. I had, in fact, already placed a down payment on the announced—still years away from delivery to me—Tesla model 3. Why yes, the engine problems also started around the same time… you don’t think they are related? Do you?

At any rate, I needed a new vehicle, and specifically, I wanted that new vehicle to be plug-in electric. With NRG having newly installed charging stations available for employees—and being the complete opposite of a morning person—this was my chance to consistently get a great parking space and make my life a bit greener.

I also wanted an SUV. The all-electric Porsche Macan was an obvious choice. But there was one problem, the vehicle was and is still not available. When I rolled into the Porsche dealer, the salesperson directed me toward the next best thing: a plug-in hybrid SUV.

Plug-In Electric Hybrids (PHEV)

For some consumers, the PHEV is the best of both worlds. It can drive short distances as an all-electric and has a full combustion engine for longer trips. The PHEV plugs into an electrical outlet for battery charging, while the vehicle’s power is served by a variety of options, including battery only, combustion engine only, or both at the same time. The range of all-electric vehicles varies from 13 to over 40 miles, depending on the battery size. After the battery is discharged the vehicle can continue with the gasoline engine. Additionally, with a PHEV, I could technically snag a coveted space.

Conventional Hybrids (HEV)

In contrast, a conventional hybrid does not plug in to charge. Instead, these hybrids rely on regenerative braking, which converts the kinetic energy that is normally lost into chemical energy that can be stored in the battery. The battery allows the combustion engine to be more efficient but does not allow for an all-electric driving mode. This choice would not grant me front-row parking.

Electric Vehicles (EV)

An electric vehicle has no combustion engine. The on-board battery provides all the energy to the electric motors, and the motors, in turn, propel the vehicle forward. The EV eliminates over two dozen mechanical components – there is no engine, no exhaust, no transmission, no spark plugs, no air filters, no fuel injection, etc. The EV is fully charged by plugging into a 120, 240, or DC fast charging outlet. Further, all-electric ranges of 200 miles or more are now common. With an EV, there would be an indisputable case for me to park in a prime charging spot, and also meet my desire to go fully electric and move away from the combustion engine.

Market Trends

Many consumers in the United States agree with my decision, as they are continually choosing EV over PHEV options. EVs started to outsell PHEVs in 2014, with PHEV sales trailing until peaking in 2018. PHEVs sales continued to decline in the years since. Why are PHEVs losing out? As automakers design and deliver electric vehicles with better ranges—and in the styles desired by consumers—consumers are demonstrating a clear preference for all-electric vehicles.

In 2016, the vehicle of my dreams was an all-electric SUV. Instead, I was offered a PHEV SUV with a paltry maximum electric range of 13 miles. I looked at other PHEV SUVs and PHEVs but ultimately decided that electric range was more important to me than an SUV.

Fast forward to 2021, and I am excited to share that the all-electric SUVS have arrived. The Ford Mustang Mach-e is an eye-catching, fast, well-designed, sporty SUV with Houston-Dallas battery range. The VW ID.4 is built for, and delivers, a pragmatic SUV that will appeal to almost everyone. I prefer both options to the Tesla Model Y, but take one for a test drive, and decide for yourself.

No matter where you are in your electric journey, the possibilities developing in the world of EVs are exciting, as we see long-held concerns and issues turned upside down by innovation. Whether you have a casual interest or are a hardcore enthusiast, I hope you continue to join me as we explore the world of EVs. 

Join me next month when I shift gears and talk about charging your electric vehicle.