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Two In One Advantages Of Plug-in Hybrids Over Electric Vehicles

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Special to The Auto Channel
From Top Speed

Opinion/Story By
By Ghazi Tiwana

There is no denying that all-electric vehicles are the future of the automotive market. Tax credits, environmental regulations, and the rapid development of EV technology and infrastructure have all contributed to the ongoing widespread adoption of all-electric vehicles. The fact that a Tesla Model 3 is now cheaper to buy than a Toyota Camry in the state of California thanks to new tax benefits is an ominous sign of things to come, and the EV revolution is just getting started.

While all-electric vehicles have their strong points, it's not all rainbows and sunshine. The transition to EVs poses several big challenges, and it has to be tackled gradually. Switching the whole world to all-electric vehicles at this point is simply impractical, and that is where plug-in hybrid vehicles come in. These vehicles provide a middle ground of sorts to people who want to embark upon the transition to electric vehicles but are uncertain about the current state of EV infrastructure. By combining an internal combustion engine with a battery-electric powertrain, plug-in hybrid vehicles provide the best of both worlds, giving them an edge over all-electric vehicles in many ways. Here are 10 advantages that plug-in hybrid vehicles have over electric vehicles.

Related: 10 Things To Know About The Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid

PHEVs Provide More Driving Range

They Offer Faster Refueling Times

Unless you have access to a fast charger network, charging an electric vehicle's battery can take a lot of time. While charging at home, this can take up to 40 hours with a Level 1 charger. With a Level 2 charger, most EVs can be charged overnight. Public Level 3 chargers can top up an empty battery in around 30 minutes. This is a stark contrast from plug-in hybrid vehicles since they have much smaller batteries and the ICE part of the powertrain can be refueled at a gas station in a matter of minutes. The battery of the Prius Prime, for example, can be charged up in about four hours using a Level 2 charger and 11 hours with a 120-volt Level 1 charging cord. Most plug-in hybrids aren't compatible with DC fast chargers, but the engine usually takes charge of longer journeys,

Related: Kia Sportage vs Hyundai Tucson: Which Plug-in Hybrid SUV Should You Buy?

PHEVs Are More Widely-Available

EVs are getting adopted quickly, but availability is still a big issue. To use an EV as a daily driver, you need to be in an area with a robust charging network, or you'll just be sitting around charging your car all day at home. This is not true for PHEVs, since gas stations exist literally everywhere, and they aren't going away any time soon. Even though both EVs and PHEVs are now available in a wide range of segments including sedans, SUVs, luxury cars, and even supercars, PHEVs are available in more markets since EV infrastructure is still in its infancy. Until that changes, PHEVs will continue to have this advantage over EVs.

Drive Either In The EV Mode Or The ICE Mode

Since they have both an engine and an electric motor, PHEVs provide much more flexibility than EVs. Have to go to the grocery store or run an errand? Use the motor and battery. Have to drive out of the city or go on a long journey? The engine is your best friend. In fact, many PHEVs offer enough electric range that owners can use the battery for their daily commute and just use the engine when they have to travel longer distances. With a PHEV, you can go anywhere without having to worry about whether you will find a charger on the way. The EV charging network is expanding every day, but until the fast charger network becomes as widespread as the gas station one, range anxiety will continue to haunt EV owners.

Related: ​​​​​​​Toyota RAV4 Prime vs Hyundai Tucson Plug-in Hybrid

They Have A Lower Upfront Cost

EVs are getting more and more affordable, but PHEVs generally have a lower upfront cost than all-electric vehicles. Hybrids were introduced to the market much earlier than all-electric vehicles, reducing their manufacturing cost and, in turn, their consumer price. Even though federal tax credits can bring their actual cost down a bit, there are very limited all-electric options under $35,000. For the sake of comparison, the Toyota Prius Prime starts at around $33,000. PHEVs aren't exactly cheap either since they employ an electric powertrain too, but they are still more affordable than all-electric vehicles at the moment. This affordability allows people to dip their toes into the world of electrification and get a taste of the benefits it brings without having to break the bank.

PHEVs Ensure Better Reliability

This might come as a surprise since you can be forgiven for assuming that two different types of powertrain means double the problems for PHEV owners. However, that is exactly where the strength lies in terms of reliability. Since batteries and electric motors for cars were introduced much more recently than internal combustion engines, they are more prone to breaking down. The dual-powertrain design of PHEVs ensures that there is always a backup for this in the form of the engine. Internal combustion engine technology has been refined over many years, adding an extra layer of reliability. In fact, according to Consumer Reports, EVs as a group are the worst for reliability at the moment, while hybrids and PHEVs get the best reliability ratings.

Related: ​​​​​​​5 Plug-in Hybrid SUVs You Should Buy (And, 5 You Should Avoid)

They Give You Access To Better Refueling Infrastructure

This is a no-brainer at the moment. While the number of charging stations has been increasing rapidly and will soon surpass the number of gas stations in the United States, the refueling infrastructure for ICE-powered vehicles is still a lot more robust, and you can take advantage of that using a PHEV. Rural and remote areas are still without charging stations, but you can find gas almost everywhere. This can be particularly challenging if you plan to take your EV on long journeys or road trips. If you have a PHEV, though, you can take advantage of the electric range while it lasts and then switch over to the internal combustion engine and refuel at any gas station, ensuring a reliable fueling option wherever you go. Given the current trajectory, though, it's plausible that the dynamics could rapidly shift in favor of EVs

They Allow For An Easier Transition To Electrification

The transition to EVs has to be gradual, and all-electric vehicles have more than their fair share of skeptics and doubters. PHEVs provide a middle ground in this case, easing concerns while still giving everyone a taste of electrification. For starters, they still have an engine and all the familiarity that comes with it in terms of refueling and range anxiety. At the same time, they have an electric motor, giving drivers a first-hand experience of the quiet efficiency that comes with driving an electric car. Any big change comes with a lot of anxiety, and PHEVs offer people the opportunity to transition to electrification at their own preferred pace. They combine the advantages of electric driving with the convenience and flexibility of a traditional internal combustion engine.

Related: 10 Best Plug-in Hybrid SUVs Under $50,000, Ranked

Not As Harmful To The Environment In Terms Of Manufacturing

One of the biggest points of contention when it comes to EVs is the manufacturing cost and impact. Batteries are expensive, and disposing of them is even more so. Manufacturing them requires a lot of raw materials, the extraction and processing of which can have environmental and, in some cases, social implications. PHEVs also have electric batteries, but they are much smaller. The smaller the battery, the fewer resources are required for its production, reducing the overall impact. PHEVs can be considered a 'transitional' technology between internal combustion engine vehicles and fully electric vehicles, meaning they can leverage existing manufacturing infrastructure and supply chains from conventional vehicles, optimizing the manufacturing process a bit.

They Provide The Best Of Both Worlds

EVs may have their advantages, but nothing can beat the growl of an engine getting louder as you put your foot down. Due to this one factor, PHEVs are just more fun to drive than EVs. It is so important that some manufacturers, like BMW with its IconicSounds, simulate the sound of an engine with speakers while you are driving your EV. These features demonstrate the effort to bridge the gap between the thrilling sound of an engine and the sustainability of electric cars, but it just doesn't hit the same way. With a PHEV, you can go about your day quietly with your electric motor, or you can let your hair down and unleash the sound of your engine, something EVs just can't emulate.