What is a hybrid? What is an electric vehicle? What is a plug-in hybrid? In this video, Dan Edmunds walks you through each type of vehicle — hybrid, EV and PHEV — and goes over the pros and cons of each to help you decide which is the right car for your lifestyle.
[STATIC] DAN EDMUNDS: I'm Dan Edmunds, and I'm an automotive journalist--
Ever wish Jeep made a Wrangler pickup?
--and an automotive engineer. I spent the majority of my career developing and testing cars and trucks behind the scenes. And then I switched to rating and reviewing cars--
--to help consumers like you make informed choices.
As new technologies continually emerge, carmakers sometimes struggle to explain their newest products. Lately, it has become apparent that some consumers are confused about the difference between hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric vehicles. Surveys have shown that some consumers think that they all require a certain amount of gasoline, while others worry that the move towards 100% electrification means the end of the gasoline engine and the freedom of movement that comes with it. On top of that, carmakers don't always market them consistently, which only adds to the confusion. So I'm going to try to untangle all of that for you. We'll start with the basics and build up from there.
What is meant by electrification? Electrification just means some degree of electric drive. Of course, that includes electric vehicles, which have no gasoline engine, but it also means part-time EVs, such as plug-in hybrids, and regular gasoline hybrids that you can't plug-in. Charge points aren't as common as gas stations, so range is important. But it's not the big number that catches your eye on the window sticker.
We're familiar with MPG and what it means to a gasoline vehicle. But the window stickers of electric cars and plug-in hybrids has something called MPGe. But MPGe isn't what you think it is. It's an attempt by engineers to equate the fuel efficiency in terms we can all understand. But I think it also gives some people the false impression that electric cars somehow use gasoline-- a terrible cost yardstick, because the prices of gasoline and electricity are not related in this way.
Ignore it. It's best to focus on kilowatt hours, because that's what you're buying. The rating is right there, on the window sticker-- kilowatt hours per 100 miles. That's the efficiency number you should be looking at when you shop for an electric vehicle.
So what's a kilowatt hour? It's a quantity of electricity. But to understand a kilowatt hour, you first have to understand a kilowatt. And guess what? You already do. Let's have a look at this light bulb. It's rated at 100 watts. It says so, right at the top. That's its brightness, its power output if I were to turn it on. Incidentally, the W in watt is capitalized, because it stands for James Watt, a Scottish inventor.
Now let's imagine we have 10 of these 100 watt bulbs turned on all around the house. 10 times 100 is 1,000 watts. Kilo stands for 1,000. So that's 1 kilowatt. If we leave them on for an hour, we get 1 kilowatt times 1 hour, which is 1 kilowatt hour. And because of the time element, we're now talking about an amount of electricity. And it's not kilowatt per hour. It's kilowatt hour. It's multiplication, not division.
Now, let's take the idea of a kilowatt hour and apply it to cars. It's an amount of electricity that you use, but it's also an amount you can store. The battery size of an electrified car is measured in kilowatt hours. Think of it like gallons in a gas tank, but don't dwell on gallons any more than that. We need to stay focused on kilowatt hours. Why? Because electricity is sold in kilowatt hours. Look, it's right here on my bill. I pay $0.25 per kilowatt hour when I plug-in my electric car.
Now, we all know that if you drive a regular car around like a maniac, we'll use more gasoline, because we're asking the engine to develop more horsepower. Well, the same is true with electrified vehicles, except this time our lead footed behavior is draining more kilowatt hours out of the battery pack. And that reduces range and costs money. All right. So now we know a little bit more about electrified car batteries. And the main bit we know is the amount of energy they can hold is measured in kilowatt hours and what that term means.
So now we can talk about the three main types of electrified vehicles. Hybrids--
--and electric vehicles.
[GASPS AND APPLAUSE]
Electric vehicles are in the spotlight these days, so I'll start with them. When we say electric vehicles, we mean all electric vehicles, or EVs for short. They are technically known as Battery Electric Vehicles, BEV. So you're geekier, EV-owning friends might call them Bevs.
Here, there's no engine, no gas tank. They use zero gasoline and have no tailpipe. EVs have large electric motors, because they are the sole source of propulsion. And their batteries are large-- so big, in fact, that they usually form a layer under the entire floor of the car. Their storage capacity ranges from 32 to over 100 kilowatt hours, depending on the model and how much you're willing to pay.
Like any other vehicle, consumption varies by size and type. The most efficient EVs are rated to use about 25 kilowatt hours per 100 miles, while heavier and sportier models are in the mid to high 40 kilowatt hour per 100 mile range. And contrary to MPG, lower is better here, because this is a consumption rating. Use less, pay less.
Say you drive 12,000 miles a year. That's 1,000 miles a month. If your car is rated to use 26 kilowatt hours every 100 miles, simply multiply by 10 to get 260 kilowatt hours for 1,000 miles. In my case, I'd multiply that by $0.25 per kilowatt hour and get $65 per month for fuel.
Range is overhyped. Few, if any of us, drive 300 miles in a day. And for those who do, well, an EV probably isn't the right solution. If you can plug-in every night, well, it's better to think about how many miles you drive in a day, not a week. In my own experience, 100 miles is fine. And I think that's true, especially if you have a second vehicle to use on longer trips.
OK. Maybe you want 150 or 200 miles, because you like to take weekend trips. I get it. But don't over-buy. Batteries cost more, way more. They take up space. Buying too much could be a barrier to entry that you don't need to really worry about.
So-called DC fast charging can become important if you do opt for more range, and most current EVs can support it. It's mainly only necessary if you'll take the car on long journeys, though. And your route will generally be confined to where the networks go. But honestly, anything with over 100 miles of range is going to be comfortable to all but the most lead butt road warriors.
Daily charging is where it's at. And that's typically done at home, while you're asleep. The car's included cord will have a 120-volt plug that's designed for a household socket. But that's not fast enough if you're going to drive more than 30 miles a day. In that case, a 240-volt home charging station is the way to go, because it's significantly faster. You'll have to have an electrician install one, but it's a worthwhile expense.
EVs are best for people who are homeowners, the household has more than one car, and they have consistent access to a 240-volt home charger if you drive more than 30 miles per day. But maybe you're not sure you can plug-in every day. Maybe you'll only have one car. Perhaps you like to take spontaneous road trips. You should consider a plug-in hybrid, or a PHEV-- a part-time EV that is initially powered by its electric motor and battery but also has a gasoline engine and a gas tank.
You fuel them up two ways. You plug them in, and you gas them up. PHEVs have medium sized plug-in batteries that enable them to operate as electric vehicles for 17 to 53 miles. And when the juice runs out, the gasoline engine comes on automatically and powers the car, like a regular gasoline hybrid. Now, some of them will turn the gasoline engine on-- even if the battery is full-- if you floor it, to give you a little extra acceleration. But that's far from universal.
Their window stickers contain two ratings. On the left, electric range in miles and consumption in kilowatt hours per 100 miles. On the right, the familiar MPG on gasoline. The electric side will also have an MPGe rating. But again, that's a useless number. You're buying kilowatt hours when you're plugged in.
Statistically, you probably drive less than 30 miles in a day. In that case, if you plug-in nightly and have that sort of commute, you might not buy gas for weeks or even months. Longer commute, road trip? No problem. The gasoline engine will keep you moving.
So how much smaller is the battery of a PHEV compared to an EV? Well, it varies along with range. But the biggest ones measure about 16 kilowatt hours. Why 16 kilowatt hours? That's what it takes to qualify for the maximum amount of the $7,500 federal tax credit. PHEVs with smaller batteries qualify for less. Examples with 16 kilowatt hour batteries include the Honda Clarity PHEV, good for 48 miles, the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Minivan-- which is, in fact, a plug-in hybrid that is confusingly marketed-- is good for 32 miles, because it's bigger and heavier.
PHEVs with batteries smaller than 16 kilowatt hours include the plug-in Prius called the Prius Prime, a made up marketing term. But I guess you could say that you're priming the battery by charging it. There's also the Subaru Crosstrek hybrid, which is another example of a badly termed plug-in hybrid. PHEVs are best for people who are homeowners with one car, have consistent access to a charger at home or work but not necessarily 240 volts, want an EV but don't want to be limited by range concerns.
Hybrids have been around the longest. They're known as Hybrid Electric Vehicles, or HEVs for short. And right there, the electric part, is what gets some people confused. Basically, any true hybrid is 100% gasoline fueled. And by that, I mean you can't plug them in.
Their window stickers have regular MPG on them. Yes, sometimes they're driven by electricity. But other times, they're driven by gasoline. And oftentimes, it's both. So they have a gasoline engine, an electric motor, a clever transmission that can combine the two, and a battery.
Where does the electricity for that battery come from, you might ask? From braking, mainly, and to a lesser extent, by siphoning off a little excess power from the engine while it's driving the car. Hybrids are electricity scavengers. The braking bit is called regenerative braking. And that's a key feature that all three types of electrified cars share.
Basically, the electric motor becomes a generator by working in reverse, so to speak, when you press on the brake. The generated power is transferred to a dedicated battery. But that battery doesn't need to be big, because it only has to hold the electricity that comes from a few city stops. So a typical Prius battery is only 1 kilowatt hour big, maybe less. A Prius can achieve over 50 miles per gallon in the city, because the kinetic energy that is normally wasted as heat in the brakes is recovered, saved in the battery, and then used to get the car moving again and delay the ignition of the gasoline engine every time you leave a stoplight.
Now, some hybrids choose to use their stored energy for performance instead of outright fuel economy. The Acura NSX comes to mind, even Formula One race cars and Le Mans Prototypes. Such cars are still hybrids, and they still count as electrified vehicles.
But-- and this is important-- true hybrids have no rating for electric range. If they did, it would be measured in yards, not miles. Don't let them run out of gasoline, in other words. In this respect, they're just like any other normal vehicle. HEVs are best for people who live in apartments, want high gas mileage or a low carbon footprint but don't have consistent access to a charger or don't want the hassle.
So there you have it. Electrification doesn't mean the end of gasoline engines. It simply means a wider range of choices. At the one extreme, we have EVs, which are 100% electric. But at the other, we have pure gasoline fueled hybrids that recycle normally wasted energy to reduce their use of gasoline or, in some cases, to go faster. In the middle, we have plug-in hybrids, which act as EVs around town but can use gasoline for longer trips. Among these three choices, there's an electrified vehicle for everyone. Thanks for watching. And if you have any questions or comments, please, leave them below.
For more on this car and others in our long term fleet, go to Edmunds dot Tom. Dot Tom? Go to Edmunds dot To-- I did it again. What the [BLEEP]? Who's Tom?