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Plug-In Hybrids May Be The Best Way To Convince Reluctant Shoppers To Consider EVs, Just Ask General Motors

Recently, General Motors backtracked on its stance regarding plug-in hybrid (PHEV) vehicles. Back in 2019 GM ended production of its only PHEV model, the Chevy Volt, claiming that full EVs were its path forward. But oh how things have changed!

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GM is struggling with EVs. Chevy, GM’s most prolific EV brand, is currently without any 2024 model year EVs to sell to the general car buying public. That fact might, on the surface, be why GM is bringing back PHEVs, but I don’t think it is that simple mainly because it will likely be a few years before GM can bring a new PHEV to market. Rather, I think GM is looking at the situation with a little more long term strategy (or at least I hope so). PHEVs often function as a kind of stepping stone for those that are reluctant to consider a full EV for whatever reason. They address some people’s nagging fear of running out of charge, whether or not the fear is justifiable, a fear otherwise known as “range anxiety”. PHEVs can otherwise fill up with gas for long distance drives or whenever needed (for example on a camping trip to a remote area without charging infrastructure). Sadly, perhaps this is also why Toyota hasn’t offered owners of its Rav 4 PHEV any compensation when a recall last year made it unsafe for owners to charge their PHEVs in cold weather: Toyota figures owners can just deal with burning extra gas since PHEVs are meant to run on gas too. But I digress. 

More importantly, PHEVs offer comfort and convenience, a bridge to the EV future that can help the uncertain or anxious to understand what the future holds and the potential it offers. From a cultural change perspective, PHEVs provide the opportunity to get used to plugging a car in, before moving to a fully electric vehicle. PHEVs develop “good habits” and persuade newcomers toward the inherent advantages battery powered vehicles offer (dramatically better efficiency, lower emissions, instantaneous power, quieter ride, etc.). I would suggest that these things are more likely part of GMs revised strategy if we take their stated goals about EVs at face value. But even if that is so, GM has lost 5 years of PHEV development and expertise since it ended production of the Chevy Volt. If PHEVs truly are more of a bridge technology then that implies that at some point they will be left behind (for the all-electric future that awaits us on the other side) and that raises questions: is GM now coming (back) to the PHEV game a little late? Might PHEVs only have a few more years left in the arc of their sales growth before they gradually start disappearing from the market?

I don’t know for certain, but there are not a lot of PHEVs (in terms of total numbers produced) on sale today nor are there likely to be a lot more in the next few years, which is how long I guess it might be before GM might offer new PHEVs. Companies like Kia pegged their “peak” PHEV production year as 2022! The US auto market already trails the other major auto markets (China and Europe specifically) in the adoption of EVs and there is no reason to think the same won’t (continue to) be true for PHEVs. It is entirely possible that, by the time GM gets a new PHEV on the market it will be doomed to a relatively short lifecycle, maybe as short as a few model years, before being phased out again. If it turns out, a few years from now, that enough charging infrastructure gets built and the average price and availability of EVs means that a quarter or more of all new passenger vehicles sold are EVs, it may indeed mean the beginning of a gradual decline in PHEV offerings and sales. That would certainly leave GM with yet more egg on their faces.

I know from experience and from countless hours reading social media accounts from former PHEV owners that once some drivers get a taste of what electric vehicles are like, the electric powertrain becomes all the more seductive. Yet PHEVs also have complex powertrains that may be confusing to drivers, so this bridge approach also carries some risk. But what do you think? Would you be more inclined to purchase a plug-in hybrid before an EV? If so, what are your reasons and which kinds of PHEVs might be of interest to you? 

Please 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.

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