Top Ten Things to Know about Plug-in Hybrids

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Top Ten Things to Know about Plug-in Hybrids

1) Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) are hybrids with high capacity batteries that can be charged by plugging them into an electrical outlet or charging station. PHEVs can store enough electricity from the power grid to significantly reduce their petroleum consumption under typical driving conditions.

2) There are two basic PHEV configurations:

  • Series PHEVs, also called Extended Range Electric Vehicles (EREVs). Only the electric motor turns the wheels; the gasoline engine is only used to generate electricity. Series PHEVs can run solely on electricity until the battery needs to be recharged. The gasoline engine will then generate the electricity needed to power the electric motor. For shorter trips, these vehicles might use no gasoline at all.
  • Parallel or Blended PHEVs. Both the engine and electric motor are mechanically connected to the wheels, and both propel the vehicle under most driving conditions. Electric-only operation usually occurs only at low speeds.

3) PHEVs also have different battery capacities, allowing some to travel farther on electricity than others. PHEV fuel economy, like that of electric vehicles and regular hybrids, can be sensitive to driving style, driving conditions, and accessory use.

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4) PHEVs eliminate the problem of range anxiety associated will all-electric vehicles, because the combustion engine works as a backup when the batteries are depleted, giving PHEVs driving range comparable to other vehicles with gasoline tanks.

5) The environmental benefits of plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles increase if they are powered by electricity from 'green' sources such as solar, wind or small-scale hydroelectricity.

6) PHEVs are expected to use about 40 to 60 percent less petroleum than conventional vehicles.1 Since electricity is produced primarily from domestic resources, PHEVs reduce our dependence on oil.

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7) PHEVs are expected to emit less GHG than conventional vehicles, but the amount generated depends partly on the fuel used at electrical power plants—nuclear and hydroelectric plants are cleaner than coal-fired power plants. Compared to conventional vehicles, PHEVs reduce air pollution locally which is a big plus for cities like Los Angeles, Mexico City, and Beijing. A 2010 study by IBM asserts Beijing and Mexico City have the worst traffic jams in the world which means a lot of engine idling making pollution that much worse by those that drive conventional vehicles.

8) PHEVs will likely cost $1,000 to $7,000 more than comparable non-plug-in hybrids.2 Fuel will cost less since electricity is much cheaper than gasoline, but it is unclear whether fuel savings will offset the vehicle cost when PHEVs are first introduced. Federal tax incentives up to $7,500 are currently available for qualifying PHEVs.

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9) Re-charging the battery typcially takes several hours, but a "quick charge" to 80% capacity may take as little as 30 minutes. However, PHEVs don't have to be plugged in to be driven. They can be fueled solely with gasoline but will not achieve maximum range or fuel economy without charging.

10) Since a plug-in can operate on electricity alone, gasoline alone, or a mixture of the two, EPA provides a fuel economy estimate for gasoline-only operation and an estimate for electric-only or gas and electric operation. These estimates are for combined city-highway driving; separate estimates for city and highway driving are not provided. Click here for more about EPA estimates for PHEVs.