Mercedes PHEV S 550 Charging
Al Castro's picture

Mercedes PHEV Move Only Prolongs an Inevitable Problem

Mercedes Benz's PHEV move is disappointing, but why do carmakers insist on PHEVs? There are three reasons for it.

Mercedes Benz recently announced it is pulling the plug on its entire present PHEV lineup to replace it with longer range PHEVs. I actually find this disappointing. Here is why.

Beverly Hills is banning them from public charging stations at risk for a fine.
The UK has put them on that list of banned polluting cars by 2040.
They are being banned from HOV lanes, and preferential treatment like special EV parking lots everywhere!
In the end PHEVs will be remembered as the EV that goes back to dirtying, after mile 30ing!

What Mercedes Benz and other car makers need to do is pull the plug on their entire PHEV lineups period, and replace them with a full line of battery electric vehicles called BEVs. But like most car makers they’re hesitant to do this for a variety of reasons which adds not abates the problem. Unfortunately you will soon see the end result of this decision in just a few years when you’re waiting at a charging station with your BEV while someone with a PHEV who doesn’t need to recharge as urgently as you do, is in front of you. Let me explain what I mean.

PHEVs are what we commonly refer to as plugin hybrids. Mercedes creating a longer range PHEV hybrid only prolongs an inevitable problem by kicking the can down the road. With the current progression of battery technology, the only exception I can see for a PHEV now, is for a camper or SUV for off grid living. In fact a PHEV is perfect for that scenario. But a PHEV hybrid system is not needed any longer in an ordinary passenger car for daily road driving. That’s it.

And let me be clear, I’m talking about the PHEV hybrid you plug into a charging station, not any other, like a regenerative HEV. HEVs are a different segment for another post. Remember this rule of thumb with PHEVs: the tinier the battery the more frequent the required trips to the charging station if you want to keep your fuel costs low.

A segment created by GM with the first PHEV, the Chevy #Volt almost 10 years ago, was recently sent to committee for cancellation by them-PHEVs like the Volt are not needed anymore. GM even said so as their reason for possibly cancelling the Volt that’s under review. We are now ready for all out full electric cars called BEVs, battery operated electric vehicles.

The sooner manufacturers get rid of them (PHEVs) the shorter the lines will be at charging stations in the next 3-5 years. PHEVs even with longer ranges cannot still compete with BEVs. Like a tiny bladder at a bathroom, PHEVs require more trips to a charging station. And trust me, you’ll thank the manufacturers for getting rid of them finally in the soon coming future when you pull into a charging station with your BEV to see someone with an old Volt, Prius, or Lincoln Aviator charging their paltry 35-50 mile battery with a long line behind them when they can drive their car on gas. It’s already causing resentment! This experience will intensify nationwide if we don’t get rid of PHEVs (and frankly start building charging stations much faster) ASAP. The sooner the better.

Why are car manufacturers kicking this can down the road by insisting on making some kind of PHEV?

1. They’re afraid: they’re not sure their customers are truly ready for electrification, especially the North American market. Unlike Asia and Europe, we Americans are not building charging stations fast enough because we are continuing to get over our denial about things like climate change, our fear and hesitance about electric cars, and fear or uncertainty about the upcoming EV and AV proliferation.

2. They’re listening to their North American dealers: this is the same reason car dealers are trying to steer you away recently from buying an electric car. I’m reading all kinds of recent car dealer horror stories online. Be prepared: some them shamefully and/or falsely are unfamiliar with their electric products. Also their service department isn’t going to make much money on repairs with electric cars as they do with gas and hybrid cars. A car with 2 propulsion systems means double the money especially out of warranty.

3. Car makers are cheap. They’re waiting for Washington to spend money on charging stations and visa versa for Washington with the car makers. And frankly, we like to give tax breaks but we don’t like to spend money on infrastructure like the Chinese and Europeans do. That’s why our roads are crap. Everyone’s expecting the manufacturers to follow the Tesla model of charging stations to build them on their own, but there’s a reason why a Model S And X cost around $100,000. They include free charging. Not all consumers can afford electric cars like that.

BEVs with longer ranges and more home charging means less cars at public and refueling charging stations! Like the gasoline car whose time will soon come to an end, time has already past for the hybrid. Instead we insist on clinging to both. Let’s start pulling plugs on PHEVs.

Reference: Autocar. Image source: Twitter.

REPORTER’S EDIT 7/10/18: An earlier version of this report indicated that the Chevy Volt was cancelled by GM. That’s not entirely accurate, the car has been put on review to committee for cancellation. And in that regard that it is under review, there’s a good chance it will be cancelled. I’d like to thank my loyal reader Dean for enabling me to correct this fact. Thanks Dean!

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I think that Mercedes is making the right decision for their business now. Designing a clean sheet EV is very costly, and it takes years to do. Just the space and weight required for a battery that takes a car 200 miles is easily 4X the size, weight, and cost of adding a PHEV battery. It probably cost twice as much overall to adapt a gasoline powered car to be a 200 mile range EV as it does to adapt a small gas motor/generator, add an electric motor, and a relatively small battery to the trunk. Most affordable EVs today offer 80 miles range or less. Exceptions being the $30K Leaf (150mi.) $38K Bolt (238mi.) $35K-60K Model 3 (210+ mi.), and for most buyers range anxiety is very real in an EV with under 100 miles of range. Also I do not agree that PHEVs have twice the maintenance requirements. I leased 2 Volts, then bought a Volt, and bought a Cadillac ELR. And with my leased Volts I averaged 161-184MPG over the lease. Meaning that even with 36k and 45K on the car, I only had a few thousand miles on the gas generator motors. I travel 100 miles a day in my commute, and I have rarely used public chargers because the process is too slow, and they are not always available. I just charge at home overnight.
I disagree with much of this article, which smacks of EV elitism. BEV's still aren't ready for prime time in many areas because of the lack of charging stations. There's also the issue of a lack of standard, as CHAdeMO is still competing with CCS and Tesla's supercharger network, which will only further confuse people looking into EV's because it's essentially Betamax vs VHS again. Or HD-DVD vs Bluray to use a modern moniker. Electric vehicles already have an alphabet soup of acronyms to deal with, so having to explain all these things like kWh, 120v vs 240v charging, EVSE, the tax credit which will start to affect certain brands soon, to the average person will likely turn them off. Also, not everyone has a garage or driveway parking, such as apartment dwellers or people with only side street parking. A BEV wouldn't be practical for them because they'd have no way to charge it at home, and not everyone wants to wait hours at a charging station either. Aside from that, the article completely misses the fact that the more plug-ins on the road, the less gas we're using overall. For every one Tesla Model S with a 100 kWh battery, you could easily make 5 and a half Gen 2 Chevy Volt batteries that are around 18 kWh in size. 5 people driving around Volts will cause less emissions in the long run than just 1 Tesla Model S. And there's still the range anxiety to worry about. Yes, the Chevy Bolt can work for most people. But if they have to drive say, 4 hours away, they'll have to plan very carefully and hope there's working charging stations along the way. Or they'll have to borrow/rent/use a 2nd gas car. In the Volt, they can just drive there and burn some gas. Then when just doing their work commute, the Volt is as electric as a Nissan Leaf or Tesla if their commute is within the Volt's EV range. I've done exactly that as seen in my picture below. While many other automakers have pretty terrible EV range in their plug-in hybrids, it's cheaper to make a smaller battery with a gas engine backup for it so it eases people's fears of range anxiety or getting stuck on the road due to a dead battery until longer ranged and cheaper EV's show up,.along with a more spread out charging network to enable long distance driving.
First off can you link to the article where GM has decided to axe the Volt? The last that I read it was slated to be phased out in 2022 and replaced by a new CUV PHEV. Sure PHEVs are a stopgap solution, bridging full gas and regular hybrid cars to full EVs. But Mercedes knows their buyers are not all early adopters, willing to spend a lot of money on new BEV technology with the connected range anxiety that exists today. Granted, much of that fear is irrational considering the new batch of 200+ mile EVs, but it is undeniably out there nevertheless. You might want to start a conversation with a businessman (or woman) who would be a prospective new Mercedes buyer. Most of them have never heard of BEVs, EVs, PHEVs or every really thought about owning a vehicle powered by electricity. Most automakers are very reluctant in educating their customers as to the benefits of electrically power cars, and they are only building the minimum to meet government mandated requirements for improved fuel economy and lower emissions. Currently the sales of PHEVs is a tiny portion of larger vehicle sales, so there is little incentive for them to commit huge resources to such a tiny market. Tesla is really the only automaker who is educating people by simply building competitive electrical cars. And every Tesla sold has been a poke in the side to luxury automakers who have had their luxury market share erode. Gasoline cars have dominated the automobile market for 80 years, and the gas fueling infrastructure is well established as a standard around the world. For me, I applaud new PHEVs, because they are a real step in the right direction. Validating the advantages of EVs. As to the "charger shortage" it is not really an issue with luxury PHEVs because most people who can afford a luxury car will buy a level 2 charger and charge at home. Because PHEVs can function fine without electricity, there is no desperation to need to charge away from home. In fact until faster charging makes it convenient, most luxury PHEV owners will probably skip charging outside of their home.
Al, can you please provide a link that shows the confirmation (not rumor) that Chevy is canceling the Volt. I can find many articles from a year ago that Chevy's plan was to phase the Volt out in 2022 in favor of another PHEV model, but I cannot find any other confirmation. Frankly, I think that you are unrealistically optimistic about the future of BEVs. I like to be optimistic too, but the reality today is that electrical vehicles are a tiny minority of overall vehicle sales, and even though sales growth is strong in states like California, it is small even here, and minimal in many other areas of the country. Hybrids, and PHEVs are a transition technology that bridges the 95% buyers who choose gas only vehicles, to BEVs. I really hope that you are right and that the automakers will ALL move to BEVs in the next couple years, but history has shown us that big changes rarely happen all at once, they usually transition gradually. My greatest concern is that the electrical infrastructure is not changing rapidly enough to support a BEV population of cars. In 2017 electric cars (including hybrids and PHEVs) sold around 200K cars, but that compares with 17 Million cars sold overall! That is less than 1.2% of sales. I think that an ambitious plan is to provide for the electrical needs of BEVs being 10% of overall sales, but from what I can see there are no real plans set in motion for that level of EV infrastructure support. I think that it is great that you imagine that the auto industry is going to leap frog past hybrids and PHEVs and all go directly to BEVs, I just do not see the transition happening that way. Not when the No.1 and No.2 top selling vehicles in the U.S. are currently the Ford F-Series, and Chevy Silverado trucks.
Hi Dean! Pardon me, but you are right and I’m technically wrong. Let me get back to you I’m double checking. My sincere apologies. Thanks for pointing this out! Good points!