Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently equated hybrid vehicles to early amphibians that hopped out of the oceans, learned to survive on land and eventually disappeared.
Ironically, if the electric vehicle (EV) evolved in a similar way, Tesla (an exclusively EV company) wouldn’t exist right now and this would probably be in a vibrant Hybrid Age!
Despite the early birth of production EV, hybrid (HEV) and now plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) sales continue to rise, new models continue to arrive and at least three all-new PHEVs are expected later this year.
A HEV functions just like, or similar to, a conventional gas-engine vehicle from a driver/owner perspective. It consumes substantially less fuel, especially in an urban environment, and a regenerative braking system can greatly extend the life of brake friction pads.
A PHEV increases the energy saving, money saving, and greenhouse gas reducing advantages by tapping into an electrical source and pulling relatively inexpensive electrical power off the main grid. It then uses this energy to go further on electrical power alone. How far depends primarily on the capacity (size) of its storage battery, but also on the drive system, the terrain and weather conditions and how the PHEV is driven.
Lugging around a bigger battery obviously increases the weight of a PHEV and it takes up either passenger cabin or more likely trunk cargo space. The latest lithium-ion battery packs are lighter and more compact, but the space sacrifice is something that a prospective owner must be willing to live with.
Hybrid owner feedback is generally very positive and the fuel savings can be substantial. That said, you generally pay a premium for this technology, but that gap is rapidly narrowing. Last year, GM slashed $5,000 off the price of its popular Chevrolet Volt, the best selling PHEV on the market. While GM marketing promotes the Volt as an “extended range” electric vehicle, as its road wheels are always driven by an electric motor, it’s still classified as a PHEV. A small on-board gas engine generates electricity, when necessary.
The new Honda Accord Hybrid (a HEV) further blurs the differences between HEV and PHEV, as it uses the same two-motor powertrain used in the Accord Plug-in Hybrid (a PHEV edition that’s currently only sold in selected markets). At speeds under 80 km/h the road wheels are driven by an electric motor and its Atkinson cycle gas engine is only used to generate electrical power, when needed.
The current list price for an Accord EX-L is $29,455 and the Accord Hybrid starts at $29,590, which is only $135 more. The top-line Accord Touring V6 sells for $35,400 and the Touring edition of Accord Hybrid is $36,690, just an extra $290. The price differential is almost non-existent.
Choosing HEV or PHEV boils-down to whether an owner can take full advantage of the plug-in electrical storage feature and normal driving commutes are within the electric-only speed and distance range of the PHEV. A low-speed urban driving commute allowing the PHEV to be charged at home overnight and topped-up again while at work, during the day, would be an ideal scenario.
While the popularity of hybrid vehicles continues to grow, barring a sudden spike in the price of oil/gasoline, a meteoric rise in the popularity of alternatives to the old reliable gas engine vehicle is unlikely. Then again, who knows what the future, or the next twist in evolution, will bring. Hybrid vehicles have never been more affordable and certainly well worth consideration, if you’re thinking about buying a new vehicle.
By Bob McHugh