Battery-Electric Vehicles Will Prevail Over Hybrids

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To mitigate US carbon emissions, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finally finalized the rule for multi-pollutant standards for light- and medium-duty vehicles. Yes, it will require US auto sales by 2032 to be battery-electric. However, after rabid lobbying from automakers and unions, manufacturers now have the go-ahead to include plug-in hybrids as part of the overall equation to meet the standards.

But are plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) really “compromise cars,” as is being touted? The International Council on Clean Cars disagrees, as do we at CleanTechnica.

How about you? Do you think that PHEVs are a good thing?

Battery-electric vehicles will clearly triumph over PHEVs by the end of the decade. Why?

PHEVs Are Transitional Vehicles for Consumers & Automakers

As energy saving vehicles, PHEVs have attracted a lot of attention lately due to their longer combined electric-gas range compared to battery-electric vehicles. Hybrids cost at most a few thousand dollars more than traditional models, while full EVs can be priced ten thousand dollars or more higher. The combination makes a hybrid an appealing option for many drivers.

However, once the battery is drained, PHEVs operate like your clunker Prius and switch over to gas from electric operation. Analysis of extensive real-world data collected from PHEVs driving millions of miles in the US found PHEVs consume 42%–67% more gasoline than what’s advertised to consumers.

And that’s the rub: most drivers don’t plug in their PHEVs enough to take advantage of the benefits of the electric powertrain. Drivers do get exposure to what it’s like to drive and charge an EV. They come to realize what it means to have electric personal transportation, that it’s not scary, and why they might imagine themselves transitioning to a fully battery-electric vehicle.

PHEVs tick off a few profitability boxes as the auto industry remakes itself into battery-electric manufacturers. too. The finalized EPA rules gives automakers a bit of a breather to finalize their full electric portfolio. And they have lots of decisions to make — how and where to produce these battery-electric vehicles, where to source their battery materials, how much money to devote to the battery-electric transition, and what the trajectory will be for full transition to battery-electric vehicles will look like.

Meanwhile, automakers are doing what they can to retrofit PHEVs into existing gas-powered cars. For the long term, though, PHEVs are more complex to build than a vehicle that only uses one powertrain, which is why automakers like GM have vacillated about including them in their catalogs. (Now GM says it will bring more PHEV models to market.)

Hybrids Are Not as Safe as EVs

All light duty cars and trucks sold in the US must meet the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. Separately, EV battery packs must meet their own testing standards. Moreover, EVs are designed with additional safety features that shut down the electrical system when they detect a collision or short circuit.

As we described in our 2024 report, The EV Safety Advantage, hybrid vehicles have been determined to be at the highest risk of catching fire. In 2021, there were around 174,000 highway vehicle fires reported in the US. Battery-powered vehicles had the least risk of catching fire — only .03% are likely to ignite, compared to 1.5% for gas-powered vehicles and 3.4% for hybrid vehicles.

Then again, it’s true that EVs are generally heavier than gasoline-powered ones, but claims that the extra weight damages roads more than ICE vehicles have proven unfounded, even with hybrids, which are 10% heavier on average than their non-hybrid counterparts.

The IPCC Says We Need Zero Emissions — Period

The problem with PHEVs is simple — they still run on fossil fuels. Battery-electric vehicles are the best choice for anyone hoping to reduce their carbon emissions quickly. EV critics and anti-EV trolls never mention methane and nitrous oxide emissions associated with and created by gas- and diesel-powered vehicles and the gas and oil industry in the context of climate pollution. Emissions from burning fossil fuels warm the atmosphere, and they also contaminate the air with small particles that can seriously damage human health. Addressing sources like traffic would ameliorate the most toxic climate pollution.

EPA’s modeling points out that the least-cost compliance pathway for automakers to reach the standards includes a 13% PHEV sales share in 2032. Research from the ZEV Transition Council shows that the US and other leading markets cannot meet climate goals by relying on PHEVs.

The future must be that all new cars on the road will be zero emissions vehicles powered by a greener electric grid.

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EVs Are Simpler, Quieter, Easier to Maintain, & More Powerful than Hybrids

All the added complexity in hybrids is stripped away in EVs, which are quite simple. A lithium-ion battery rapidly turns a crank in a process called “induction,” and the crank then turns a few gears, the last of which are connected to a long rod (the axles). The rod turns the wheels, and the battery gets a periodic boost from regenerative braking. That means an EV has no ignition, no pistons, no cylinders. There are hundreds of moving parts in an average internal combustion engine, which a PHEV must have by definition. EVs have two.

Without gas engines, EVs don’t need oil changes, and overall maintenance costs are less than a hybrid. According to Kelley Blue Book data, an oil change at a dealership service center costs $115 or more.

Electric and PHEVs running on their small batteries emit very low sounds at low speeds because they don’t have internal combustion engines (ICEs) producing noise and vibrations — but PHEV owners have a tendency not to charge, so their sound quality is often that of an ICE vehicle.

In 2022 and 2023, there were more than 4 battery-electric vehicles sold for every one PHEV. Battery prices continue to fall, to the point where battery-electric vehicles are likely to be the most economical vehicles to purchase overall sometime between 2025 and 2030. PHEVs need gasoline, so that calculated their average cost per mile above battery-electric vehicles.

Car and Driver says EV sales in the US in 2023 were the highest ever, both in sheer numbers and as a percentage of the overall new car market. They predict that 2024 will be even better for battery-electric vehicles. It’s time to stop focusing on PHEVs.

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