Skip to main content

Plug-In Hybrids Are Necessary To Reduce Fossil Fuel Dependency, But They Are A Bridge, Not The Destination

I am a big fan of plug-in hybrids (PHEVs). They are critical to our effort to end dependence on fossil fuels for personal transportation. However, they’re a bridge to get us to the point when batteries can completely replace gasoline, not the end point.

Perhaps I should be more specific, by PHEV I am referring to plug-in hybrid vehicles that use gasoline powered engines in addition to batteries and electric motors. Since there is now at least one hydrogen powered plug-in hybrid soon to be on the market, in the 2025 Honda CRV e:FCEV, it is worth making the distinction (and potentially the topic of a future article). With that cleared up, let’s talk about the notion in the media recently about how hybrids, which include standard hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) and PHEVs, “make more sense” than EVs.

As I’ve written previously, traditional automakers like Ford and GM have struggled a lot recently with EV sales and instead begun shifting focus to hybrid and PHEV production. Electric vehicles from these two companies for example, as good and appealing as they are, aren’t delivering on the sales expectations their leadership laid out in previous years, in major part due to their lack of focus on the user experience of EVs. Put simply, so far, Ford and GM haven’t really invested adequately in the overall customer experience for their electric vehicles. This is nowhere more obvious in their refusal, up until recently, to seriously invest in charging infrastructure and in design choices that support the ease of charging. Both are necessary for widespread consumer adoption of electric vehicles. It almost seems like Ford and GM didn’t get it, or refused to take EVs seriously, until recently, when they both switched to Tesla’s North American Charging Standard (NACS) standard and started investing more money in charging station partners and deployments. GM may still be struggling to “get it” as evidenced by the fact they just shot themselves in the foot trying to design their own software for their newest breadwinner EV, the Chevy Blazer EV, which is right now on a full sales hiatus until GM can fix issues that made their newest EV undriveable.

So yes, PHEVs and HEVs are the solution, for now. These are vehicles the traditional automakers better understand how to make, given their combustion engines and familiar requirements. Are they falling back on these just because they aren’t good at making EV’s? Maybe. Or might they be falling back on these because of external pressures (from consumers, from “the powers that be”, etc.)? To avoid delving into any conspiracy theories, I think change is just hard for many reasons and if automakers don’t make a better product, in their EVs, many consumers are going to be inclined to stick with what they know rather than try something new and hybrids, especially the ones that don’t plug in, are very much like what many consumers know. Tesla and other startup automakers, along with a few examples from established automakers, have made vehicles that are in one or more ways, clearly superior to passenger vehicles with combustion engines (not necessarily in every way). But by and large, the traditional automakers still haven’t done this.

How do I know that PHEVs (and HEVs) are a bridge and not the destination? may have said it perfectly: The purported advantage of going PHEV over EV is not worrying about charging. But when you own a PHEV in everyday life, all you worry about is charging. Getting the most from that small battery requires meticulous calculation every time you use the car. Plus, you must remember to plug in every time you arrive home… and that’s a reason why many PHEV owners are not that good about plugging their hybrids in (as ridiculous as that may sound to anyone that is a fan of PHEVs). The same is more or less true of HEVs too, not in the mechanics of plugging in, but rather in “getting the most” from the hybrid battery. HEVs can induce a similar kind of neurosis or stress about efficiency, the primary performance criteria of an HEV, which is to use less gas and to blissfully cover some small number of miles without that gas engine even running. Whenever the driver is not gliding along with the motor off, they’re missing out on all that bliss.

What do you think, reader? Do you find the idea of hybrids to be much more appealing than EVs? Is it even worth your time to fret about this for a moment? Leave your questions and comments below.

Images courtesy of Justin Hart.

Justin Hart has owned and driven electric vehicles for over 15 years, including a first generation Nissan LEAF, second generation Chevy Volt, Tesla Model 3, an electric bicycle and most recently a Kia Sorento PHEV. He is also an avid SUP rider, poet, photographer and wine lover. He enjoys taking long EV and PHEV road trips to beautiful and serene places with the people he loves. Follow Justin on Torque News Kia or X for regular electric and hybrid news coverage.


Al D (not verified)    March 6, 2024 - 7:53PM

Who says PHEVs are just a bridge? Future PHEVs will be running on cleaner fuels like hydrogen and e-fuels. Some FCEVs will have larger batteries and plugs. There won't be enough Li-ion batteries to make all the transportation and personal EVs government tyrants want manufacturers to make. Other vehicle types will have to fill the gap.

JustinHart (not verified)    March 22, 2024 - 2:58AM

In reply to by Al D (not verified)

Most people working in the industry have called PHEVs a "bridge" technology because they represent transitional approaches to fueling vehicles. They "bridge" the familiar gasoline powered technology and infrastructure with new, electric powertrains and infrastructure. There is plenty of lithium (at least) for all the Li-Ion batteries we will need for decades to come (it's literally one of the most abundant elements on earth). But you are right that we'll not be able to switch over to only EVs overnight. It has been 13 years now that the modern EV era and production lines have been spooling up. I'd say we have about that long still to go before we see the widespread ending of gas-only new models (i.e. when they are no longer made or are a small fraction of the market... niches basically).