Environmental Cents – Know Your Hybrids, PHEVs, and EVs

New-car sales of electric vehicles are surging. Just 2% about 5 years ago, today they make up 13% of new-car sales, and that number is going to grow. Considering buying one? Read on.

by Bruce Saller
WRITER

According to the EPA, Transportation is the largest contributor to U.S greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 28%. Passenger cars and pickup trucks are responsible for 58% of this amount. Electrified vehicles can significantly reduce these emissions.

There are four types of electrified vehicles:

  • Hybrid – A hybrid model has an electric motor and battery in addition to the gasoline engine. It runs on the electric motor at low speeds, and it uses the gasoline engine when more power is required or the battery needs charging.
  • Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) – A PHEV has a gas engine, as well as a larger electric motor and battery than you’ll find in a hybrid, that allows the car to run in electric only mode for 20-65 miles, then switches to hybrid mode. PHEVs plug into an EV charger to charge the battery. Charge time is about 2 hours. You can manually switch between electric and hybrid mode if the battery has more than about 4 KWH remaining (needed for Hybrid mode). 
  • Electric Vehicle (EV) – Electric vehicles have a large battery and an electric motor. They contain no gasoline engine.

The distance you can drive on the PHEV/EV battery depends upon the temperature, speed, and type of vehicle. EVs get their best mileage in warm temperatures at low speed or in stop-and-go traffic. 

Electric motors have a lot of torque at low speeds and return power to the battery when braking through a process known as “regenerative braking.” EVs get worse mileage at high speeds and in colder temperatures.  

My mid-size SUV has an EPA mileage estimate of 3 miles/KWH. In the summer, it gets 4 miles/KWH in the city, 3.5 miles/KWH at 60 MPH, and 3 miles/KWH at 75 MPH. In the winter, the values are 3.5, 3 and 2.5. Since electricity costs about $.10/KWH, this equates to 2.5 cents to 4 cents per mile when charging at home, or about 10 cents to 16 cents per mile if using a commercial charger.

Electric Vehicle Pros and Cons

Electric vehicles are no panacea. They have their advantages and disadvantages. Here are some of the pros and cons you should consider when shopping for a PHEV or EV.

Pros

  • Reduced (PHEV) or no (EV) engine maintenance (oil change, tune-ups, belt replacement). If half of your driving time in a PHEV is in electric mode, the miles between scheduled engine maintenance will double.
  • Extended brake life.  Since PHEVs, EVs (and some Hybrids) use dynamic braking to do most of their braking, brake drum/pad life is greatly extended.
  • PHEVs and EVs do not require state emissions testing.
  • Some larger EVs can be wired to power your house in case you lose power (up to 5 days if fully charged.) 

Cons

  • Batteries are heavy.  PHEVs are a few hundred pounds heavier and EVs can be up to a couple thousand pounds heavier. This causes tires to wear faster.
  • Battery capacity degrades over time. They degrade faster in cold weather and when they are often fully charged/depleted. Keeping the battery charge between 20% and 80% maximizes battery life. Tesla’s Impact Report 2022 says that its batteries degrade about 12 percent over 200,000 miles. 
  • Limited range.  The published range value for my car is 265 miles, which is calculated by the EPA based on a combined city/highway trip. With an 82 KWH battery, the maximum range from my usage data is between 205 and 328 miles.  Since you only want to use 90% of your battery, the usable range is between 185 and 300 miles. So make sure you understand your car’s miles/KWH under various conditions before heading off on a long trip.
  • There are many areas of the country that don’t have an adequate number of charging stations. Plugshare.com lists every charger in the continental USA.
  • PHEVs and EVs can be eligible for federal tax credits. (Up to $7500 for new, and 30% up to $4000 for used.)  The rules for leased PHEVs/EVs are much less restrictive, so consider a lease if the new car purchase credit is not available.

So, which electrified vehicle might be right for you?

If you do a lot of long-distance driving or don’t have access to a charger, consider a Hybrid. According to Consumer Reports, the average Hybrid costs $1700 more than the regular car, but delivers about 40% better gas mileage. CR calculates you’ll regain that additional sales cost in about four years.

If you do a lot of local driving, but regularly take long trips and have access to a charger, consider a PHEV. 

If you regularly drive less than 100 miles per day, don’t take a lot of long trips, and have access to a charger consider an EV. 

PHEVs and EVs cost thousands more than the Hybrid versions, but this can be offset by the tax credit and reduced operating costs.

The next Environmental Cents article will be on EV charging.