When a PHEV beats an EV

While there are 48% more electric vehicles being sold this year than last, the lack of a broad nationwide charging network continues to be an impediment to EV ownership, especially non-Tesla brands. Industry analysts expected other brands to significantly cut into Tesla sales by now, but that has not happened for a couple of reasons: First is Tesla’s price reductions (their Model 3 with a new $7500 rebate for US-made cars brings the cost down to $35K.) Second is their big advantage with their own charging network.

In recent news stories, EV owners report that they are struggling to find working charging stations on long trips, while getting a lower than rated battery range. As a result their family vacations are turning into anxiety-filled experiences.

I’m currently driving a 2019 Volt, a plug-in hybrid electronic vehicle (PHEV) that gets 55 electric miles on a charge, before switching to gas. While I’d really like to go all electric and buy an EV, I find it hard to justify based on my driving 20-50 miles per day and rarely buying gas now. Having the gas option that I rarely use, eliminates all anxiety of running out of battery.

An EV purchase should be based on how often and how far you drive and accessibility to convenient charging. For example, an EV is ideal for for frequent trips of 250 miles (or whatever its maximum range is) or less, without requiring a refueling stop. But for longer trips, where you depend on the availability of working chargers, a Tesla is the best choice today. (Ford, GM and Volvo have signed agreements with Tesla to use Tesla chargers on future models begining Spring 2024).

But if you rarely drive those long distances, then a PHEV model makes more sense, especially with a daily use of 40 to 50 miles or less. In those situations, you can run completely on battery, just like an EV. Or if you have a 50 mile commute to work and your workplace offers charging, the PHEV will get you 100 miles a day without ever using gas.

So here’s a summary, assume an EV car with 250 real miles on a charge (probably equivalent to one rated at 280 to 300 miles)

  • For up to 50 miles per day, a PHEV works great, yet also allows long trips using gas.
  • For trips of 60-250 miles, most any EV is a good choice. Charging can be done at home. If you can’t charge at home, then a Tesla will make it a lot easier to charge elsewhere.
  • For frequent trips over 250 miles, a Tesla makes the most sense because of the need to frequently charge away from home.

For daily driving of under 50 miles, a PHEV is equivalent to an EV. The problem is that GM discontinued the Volt four years ago and there are very few PHEVs that get more than 25 miles on their battery. Among the few are the Toyota RAV4 Prime SUV and the newest model of the Toyota Prius Prime. Each get about 45-50 miles per charge.

Even once there’s a broad and reliable charging network available, you’ll pay a penalty on long trips: For every 3 to 4 hours of driving you’ll need to stop and charge for 30 to 45 minutes. The real solution will be when cars are able to charge in 10-15 minutes. While some of the new EVs have that capability now (Hyundai Ioniq 5, Kia EV 6 and the new Acura ZDZ), it will be another couple of years before the special chargers they use will be widely available.

by Phil Baker