The case for the plug-in hybrid

Electric vehicles are frequently framed as an all-or-nothing replacement of combustion — you’re either with us or against us. But does it really have to be like that? Hybrids have been on the roads for decades now, and plug-in variants are a happy middle ground for many electric converts that aren’t quite ready to choose between the pump and the plug.

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) have been on the scene for a while now. As their name suggests, PHEVs are set apart from standard hybrids and EVs by offering both plug and fuel options. Owners can drive to work and back on an all-electric motor, and rely on combustion fuels when chargers are scarce or extra range is needed.

Out on the range

Modern PHEVs generally include somewhere between 50 & 100 km of pure-electric range, which is more than enough to accommodate the 35 km/day Australian passenger cars averaged in 2018. Their combustion engines provide power exclusively to the electric motor rather than the wheels, much like most plugless hybrids.

With everyday commutes covered by the batteries, PHEV drivers can say goodbye to range anxiety thanks to the combustion fuel option for longer trips. This capacity gives them a distinct advantage while charging infrastructure spreads nationwide. While the Chargefox ultra-rapid network will soon cover most inter-city routes, inland trips will likely require fuel access for at least the next few years.

Rollout

Not only do PHEVs rely far less on fossil fuels than full-combustion vehicles, but their lower battery count significantly reduces the amount of lithium required to build them. This might not seem like a major factor, but let’s not forget that global lithium supply is struggling to keep up with growing demand led by the immense demands of EV battery production. This reduced reliance means that more PHEVs can be built, which is a sizeable advantage over the many full-electric models struggling to keep up with order numbers.

Not only are orders more likely to be fulfilled on-time but the range of PHEVs available in Australia is set to skyrocket in the near future. A number of manufacturers are promising less full-EV variants than PHEVs for many models, so expect a lot more choice in the coming years.

Heavy loads

But as with all things, there are some drawbacks to the plug-in hybrid design. Getting the best of both worlds often means taking some of the worst of both, too, and that becomes painfully obvious when PHEVs are put on the scales.

Since they require both combustion and EV components to function, they often end up being heavier than either combustion or all-electric options. And since they need batteries to secure those crucial kilometres of all-EV range, they tend to pack on a few more kilos than standard hybrids. The Hyundai Ioniq, which is offered in hybrid, PHEV, and EV variants, highlights the difference nicely:

Gross vehicle mass

While 80 kg is hardly an enormous difference, it is representative of the more general problem with PHEVs: performance.

Plug-in hybrids are designed to be versatile, and that versatility comes at the cost of specialisation in any one discipline of driving. They’ll deliver the zippy off-the-mark response of an EV for a while, but don’t expect to get far on their significantly reduced battery capacity. Eventually you’ll be forced to turn to the engine where output will struggle to keep up with dedicated EV or combustion alternatives.

Similarly, while PHEVs generally have superior range to EVs they still can’t match combustion over long distances. They do, however, tend to have considerably better fuel efficiency than their engine-driven counterparts. This may become a major selling point if Labor’s proposed 105g CO2/km emissions standard is implemented in the coming years.

Overall, PHEVs are an excellent solution for Australians who enjoy the cost efficiency and environmental benefits of electricity, but also require the range and versatility of combustion. Their positive attributes already significantly outweigh any negatives for most uses and are expected to grow significantly as the industry matures. Are you tempted by a plug-in hybrid? Let us know and be sure to check back to https://jetcharge.com.au/blog for more EV industry news and updates.