Technology

Plug-In Hybrid Cars compete with electric rivals

In late 2010, General Motors tried to take the high ground from the successful Toyota Prius hybrid with the Volt plug-in hybrid, a car that can be driven for short distances on electricity and burn the gasoline engine for long trips.

But the Volt and other cars like it are trying to win over drivers as many early adopters opt for fully electric vehicles like Tesla’s Model S and Nissan Leaf. GM has been quiet with the Volt in 2019 as it trains its sights on all-electric vehicles.

But a funny thing happened in an old-fashioned way: Sales of plug-in hybrids are climbing in the United States, partly because of recent increases in gasoline prices. The automaker sold a record 176,000 of the vehicle last year, according to Wards Intelligence, up from 69,000 in 2020. This year, plug-in hybrid sales could reach 180,000, analysts said, even as the overall new car market fell to 14.4 million from. 15.3 million years ago, according to Cox Automotive.

All-electric cars account for about 5 percent of the new car market, and most analysts and industry executives expect them to overtake hybrids eventually as automakers pledge to eliminate tailpipe emissions, a major contributor to climate change. But hybrids – led by a growing selection of plug-ins – still account for about 7 percent of sales, and that number could grow for at least a few years.

Automakers are struggling to ramp up production of electric vehicles because battery supplies aren’t growing fast enough. Partly as a result, the average cost of a new electric car is now a steep $66,000. That provides an opening for plug-in hybrids.

Unlike traditional hybrids, which can only be fueled with gasoline and depend on the engine, the plug-in variety can run entirely on battery power. And because these cars have smaller batteries than all-electric vehicles, they can be cheaper. Cars are also appealing because they don’t need to be plugged in for hours to fully charge. On road trips, they can fill up with fuel, eliminating the range anxiety that makes many people buy electric cars.

“I think some automakers, including GM, have been too quick to throw PHEVs aside,” said Karl Brauer, executive director of research at iSeeCars.com, an automotive research firm. “And I doubt they regret that decision, given the supply chain issues and price hikes we’re experiencing now.”

Mr. Bauer and others also noted that many car buyers are not ready to buy an electric car. A JD Power survey found that one of the biggest reasons people cite for not buying is because there aren’t enough public charging stations in the US. And charging an electric car at a public station for about 30 to 60 minutes – the usual rate for the fastest chargers – or overnight at home is an inconvenience that many drivers do not tolerate.

Plug-in hybrids are designed as a transitional technology that introduces people to the advantages of electric driving while easing their concerns about the technology. But when gasoline costs around $3 a gallon, the savings these cars provide don’t add up very often.

Now, when filling up with gas can cost $100 or more, some people are giving these cars a second look. It allows buyers of some top models like the Toyota RAV4 Prime, Jeep Wrangler 4xe, BMW 330e and Hyundai Santa Fe plug-in to claim a federal income tax credit of up to $7,500.

The Wrangler 4xe has become America’s most popular plug-in hybrid, nearly doubling sales to more than 19,000 in the first half of the year from last year. Michelle Krebs, executive analyst at Cox Automotive said.

Starting at $41,515, the RAV4 Prime officially travels 42 miles on electricity alone. Go ahead and the Prime drives like a familiar Toyota hybrid, with plenty of oomph: The Prime is the fastest and most powerful RAV4, with three electric motors and 302 horsepower. In hybrid gas-electric form, it sips fuel at 38 miles per gallon. With a total range of about 600 miles, it can travel twice as far as an electric car before needing to refuel.

The average American drives 29 miles a day, which the Prime Minister can handle on electricity alone. Over a week of daily charging — the Prime’s battery can be topped up in about two and a half hours on a home charger — the car can cover more than 280 miles without using a thimble of fuel, equivalent to the typical new car’s 94 mpg. Get 27 mpg

Some plug-in hybrid owners, such as the Chrysler Pacifica minivan, which has been around since 2017, claim they’ve gone weeks without visiting a gas station. According to the Department of Energy, charging the RAV4 Prime costs about $1.07 for a 25-mile drive.

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 cars, using them like a gasoline-powered car. Plug-in hybrids used in this way tend to achieve moderate fuel economy and do little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In Europe, plug-in hybrid cars are driven in all-electric mode between 45 percent and 49 percent of the time, according to a study published in June by the International Council on Clean Transportation, a non-profit research organization.

Some plug-in hybrids can only go about 20 miles on electric power before needing to fire up the gas engine. Skeptical engineers and analysts see unnecessary complexity in marrying two forms of propulsion in a single vehicle for the sake of it.

Some auto executives, including at GM, have argued that plug-in hybrids aren’t worth the investment because they need to work on cars that don’t emit tailpipe emissions. GM says it aims to sell only zero-emission vehicles by 2035.

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

“EVs are better,” Grewe said. “Battery technology has gotten to the point where you don’t need a range-extending engine.”

European countries, which are making the transition to electric cars more than the United States, are also encouraging people to use electricity more effectively. Full. Partly as a result, sales of plug-in hybrid vehicles in Europe in the second quarter fell 12.5 percent from last year while purchases of all-electric vehicles increased 11.1 percent.

However, many car manufacturers, such as Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Jaguar Land Rover, continue to introduce new plug-in hybrids. These companies argue that it may take a decade or more before electric cars are affordable and convenient enough for most people.

Some luxury car companies say they have updated their plug-in hybrids to fill the gap as they develop all-electric vehicles. These cars, executives argued, would attract more buyers into the electric era by being nearly as comfortable as gasoline models while being more fun and powerful.

The $104,900 Range Rover plug-in drips with London-boutique luxury and 443 horsepower. It can travel 48 kilometers with electricity. The BMW 330e sedan has a button called Xtraboost, which sends 40 horsepower to accelerate the goose when pushed, similar to the nitrous oxide shot in the movie “Fast and Furious”. The 330e is priced at $43,495, about the same as the standard version of the same car, even after taxes.

Even supercar makers like Ferrari and McLaren have embraced plug-in hybrids as a way to squeeze the last Dionysian drive from internal combustion engines. Ferrari said its 818-horsepower 296 GTB plug-in hybrid, which starts at $323,000, is faster in its benchmark tests than any V-8 it has produced.

Aside from such flashy models, plug-in hybrids play an important role, some analysts say, by getting people into electric cars more quickly than would be the case if the industry relied only on all electric vehicles. Mr. Brauer of iSeeCars.com points out that 9 out of 10 car buyers in the United States still buy conventional cars.

“If a PHEV can serve as a pure electric vehicle even part-time, and as a hybrid still uses less fuel than conventional vehicles,” he said, “that is a significant reduction in CO2, at a cost that makes them more viable. Consumers.”

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