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The Merits of Hybrid Vehicles

A Ram plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) being charged. Image: Flickr

Randy Bryan

First, happy new year to everyone. May you stay healthy, and let’s all make 2021 better than 2020. I love seeing the advertisement where a person holds a coffee mug that says 2020 and shows a one-out-of-five satisfaction rating.

So, hybrids? Given the success of Tesla, battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are now the emergent form of transportation. Tesla has the product and direction every car original equipment manufacturer (OEM) is chasing: battery powered, the sensation of driving electric (quiet and power), the fuel cost savings (about half cost), maintenance savings (about half to one-third the cost), the charging infrastructure, and the hype.

Given all these benefits, why would anyone want hybrids or even plug-in hybrids? After all, they are more expensive to make (two propulsion systems), don’t save any money in maintenance, and save less money on fuel (only partly offset with electric driving).

Well, it turns out there are many reasons. New Hampshire especially may be fertile ground for hybrids, since NH has done little to encourage BEV adoption. BEV enthusiasts may not endorse all the reasons, but they are perfectly valid to much of the driving public. I’ll list a few reasons to encourage thought on the best way forward.

I’ll start with legacy technologies’ momentum: the car-fueling infrastructure is far superior in extent and speed to electric recharging, many people love (not just like) the association of noise with power, and the most credible new cars below $40,000 are internal combustion engine (ICE) cars and some hybrids. We’re used to the fuel and maintenance-activities costs, dealerships are dependent on internal combustion engine (ICE) maintenance revenues, the OEMs are dependent on selling big-iron (SUVs and trucks), and many people just won’t accept change in some things.

So, if you are shopping for a car, what are your thoughts? Let’s focus below $40,000 as most people do.

Cost: A really good new or used ICE car cost in the $13,000 to $30,000 range. BEVs options cost more and are viewed as having short range (less than 150 miles), limited and poor charging infrastructure (combined charging stations and CHAdeMo fast charging), and uncertain longevity of the battery in particular.

But hybrids and plug-in hybrids have some merit here. New ones cost in the $20- and $30-thousand range, while used ones can be had down to $10,000. They are generally well built (good for more than 200k miles), and 40 to 50 mpg isn’t bad either, compared to 20 to 30 mpg for ICE. With a plug-in hybrid (PHV), you can also get the enjoyment and benefits of BEV driving for a limited distance. One friend went from 25 mpg to 250 mpg with his plugin hybrid (mostly local driving). Need to go farther? Just fill up with gas. NH is especially notable as having a very scarce charging infrastructure when compared with the surrounding states. Sales of hybrids or PHVs are likely a more attractive option, here, than BEVs. (Pains me to say it!)

For these reasons, even as the global zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) mandates advance, most of the OEMs will favor hybrids and PHVs than BEVs as a transition technology. Some are still hoping hydrogen power will come to the fore, aided by considerable oil industry money and influence. The risk for the OEMs is that, if they misjudge the winning technology or the learning curve, they must license or buy technology (one foot in the grave), or partner or merge with other better-prepared companies (both feet in) to survive. That game isn’t over yet.

If aftermarket service and customizations are your thing, ICE and hybrids have been easier to service and customize. The BEVs are more likely to be engineered as a closed system. Tesla is among the worst offenders in this category. Try to add an aftermarket product to a Tesla or take it to an independent garage, and Tesla may shut your vehicle down or refuse further inhouse service and updates.

So, I predict the market for hybrid and PHVs will have a resurgence as the OEMs churn them out, and the public and dealerships slowly absorb the fun and utility of EVs, especially in NH where there are no ZEV mandates and the CCS (non-Tesla) charging infrastructure is so scarce. I see hybrids and PHVs as a good transition technology and psychology for the mass market. Be kind and encouraging to those who go hybrid, as they absorb the future at their own pace.

Again, enjoy your 2021 experiences and stay safe.

Randy Bryan is one of the co-founders of Drive Electric NH. Bryan has been an advocate for electric cars since 2006. His company, PlugOut Power (formerly ConVerdant Vehicles), has converted vehicles to plug-in hybrids and currently develops and sells inverters that turn electrified cars into emergency generators.

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