This is why Plug-In hybrids still make sense today
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Plug-in hybrids , which provide smooth, clean, nearly silent EV driving. When my 40-50 EV miles are used up my plug-in hybrid keeps driving with the gas engine (which still works as a hybrid and gets me around 40 MPG).
Recently, I have been reading several articles talking about a shortcoming of electric cars, which is that in extreme cold batteries hold less of a charge, combined with the fact that space heating with electricity is not energy efficient, which can result in as much as a 40% reduction in driving range with pure electric (BEV) cars. And it reminded me about the fact that one advantage of an internal combustion engine (ICE) is that it naturally produces heat when burning gasoline. So on cold days I have always driven electrically to the freeway, and then switch over to Hold mode which runs the gas engine. After 10-15 minutes on the freeway I switch back to EV driving (I’ve got a 70-80 mile round trip commute) and I stay toasty warm using less than a gallon of gas for the day.
GM’s EV future?
Both the ELR and now the Volt have been discontinued. GM’s current stance is that they have moved on from PHEVs (their design is called EREV, Extended Range Electric Vehicle) to full BEVs (Battery Electric Vehicles), although they really only offer the Bolt now in the U.S. as their only BEV for sale, and their future BEV cars are not supposed to be available to buy for the near future (2-3 years). They did also recently cancel their full sized sedan Cadillac CT6 Plug In, which also shared the Voltec EREV/plug-in drivetrain. Even though GM says now that they are done building PHEV/EREVs in favor of BEVs, they are still building new PHEV cars right now in China (Volt/Velite 5, Volt+/Velite 6) for their local (huge) market.
The $$$ cost of NOT moving to EVs
Arguably, FCA/Chrysler is the slowest major U.S. manufacturer to move to EVs. And it is costing them dearly. FCA just paid a 77 Million dollar penalty for their corporate MPG not meeting 2016 minimum levels. They have no BEVs, and only one PHEV (Pacifica Hybrid). They just added a mild hybrid option to their RAM pickups, but that is a small band aid in the bigger EV picture.
It would be a relatively easy engineering task to adapt the Pacifica Hybrid's PHEV drivetrain to one of their Ram pickups. But...
Clueless Once Again
Detroit auto execs do not seem to realize that they are missing the boat once again, saying that it is the government’s problem in not recognizing that American buyers wanted to buy big, gas guzzling trucks and SUVs. But that attitude highlights Detroit auto exec’s disconnection with longer market trends. Because they have been making the most profit off of big trucks, they throw millions into advertising marketing more big trucks, and then they use the large truck sales as a justification why they need to stop building small fuel efficient cars. But that attitude only works so long, and then gas prices always go back up, and then truck/SUV owners get tired of spending $100+ a week to fill their gas tanks, and they move to smaller (now foreign) cars, and the resulting loss of business and revenues requires the U.S. government to bail them out of bankruptcy again.
Growing EV Market
Even though GM and VW look like they are planning to jump straight to BEVs for their U.S. market (for some of their cars), most other automakers are just starting to move to adding hybrids, and plug-in hybrids now to their car lineups. Overall, the PHEV competition here is growing with the successful Toyota Prius Prime, and Honda Clarity PHEVs, as well as new plug-ins from BMW, Hyundai/Kia, Volvo, Mitsubishi, Subaru, and others.
98% Gasoline/diesel Vehicles Today
With only 2% of the new cars in the U.S. currently being electrified, which includes mild hybrids, regular hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and BEVs, there is a long, uphill battle to move towards EVs. Still, I am anticipating to see the greatest EV growth in regular hybrids, because they are the easiest to engineer and therefore easier to make profitable. I believe that EV plug ins will grow as well because they are essentially electric cars with a gas engine backup which gives new EV buyers a comfortable backup for long distances (and cold days). And finally the BEV market will grow because electric cars are the future with minimal smog and reduced reliance on oil.
Understanding EVs, Selling EVs
Probably the biggest problem for EVs today is that people who haven’t driven an EV don’t know why they are great cars, and unfortunately the existing dealer network does not educate or promote EVs well. This is mostly because trucks and luxury cars make more profit, so salespeople are going to sell the products that make them the most money. Secondly, dealerships often make more money off of service than new car sales, and EVs have much lower maintenance needs, so dealers again will promote sales of vehicles that make them the most money.
The next step in the evolution of PHEVs is updating them with fast charging and longer range batteries. Most of the PHEVs share the same batteries as their BEV counterparts, so it should not be difficult to add the fast charging connectors to support fast charging, which could potentially support fast charging at home as well. A nice benefit is that fast charging a smaller battery to 80% should give you an additional 50 miles of range in around 15 minutes.
PHEVs are still the best option for many people today
The new BEVs are getting all of the automotive headlines these days. But in the meantime, as we are just starting to see more longer range (150 mile+) BEVs that are affordable hit the market, and while the EV charging infrastructure gets built across the country so that you can get a fast charge just around the corner, the next generation of PHEVs that offer the best of electric cars (quiet, clean, low maintenance) along with the best features of ICE engines (unlimited range, heat on demand) will keep providing a sweet-spot for drivers who want an affordable electric vehicle that meets their individual needs today.