The Broad World of Electrified Vehicles and Which One Is Right for You
You may have come across advertisements about “electrified” cars. While most people perceive them as synonymous with “electric” cars, the term actually encompasses a wider category. An “electrified” vehicle refers to any car that incorporates an electric motor in its powertrain. This category includes hybrids, battery-electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.
Each of these types of vehicles has its own advantages and disadvantages, making them suitable choices for different buyers with varying circumstances. Therefore, the question arises: which one will best meet your needs? Here is our comprehensive guide to help you navigate through the options.
Hybrid-electric vehicles, such as the well-known Toyota Prius, have been on the market for over 20 years. These vehicles feature one or two electric motors alongside a gasoline engine, which supplements its power output. During engine overrun or light braking, the electric motor acts as a generator, recharging the battery with energy that would otherwise go to waste. Additionally, hybrids can run solely on electricity for short periods at low speeds or under light loads.
Under the hood, hybrids involve complex control algorithms that regulate power delivery from the battery to the electric motors, combining power from both the motors and the engine. Compared to previous generations, today’s hybrids are much quieter, with engines seamlessly switching on and off without the driver’s notice. As emission standards become stricter, many automakers will increase their production of hybrid models, which might go unnoticed by some consumers.
Pros: Hybrids are the easiest type of electrified vehicle to use, as drivers don’t have to change their behavior – they can simply fuel up like they would with any other gasoline car, but less frequently. Moreover, hybrid owners enjoy extended brake pad life, as a significant portion of the braking is regenerative through the electric motor. Hybrids are particularly suitable for those who frequently cover long distances and follow unpredictable routes, for urban dwellers without easy access to charging infrastructure, and for individuals who are averse to the idea of plugging in their vehicles.
Cons: Hybrids still carry a higher price tag compared to non-hybrid models, although the difference is narrower than it used to be. Some drivers might find the rising and falling engine noise without a corresponding change in road speed disconcerting, but this can be adapted to over time. Also, hybrid vehicles still rely on burning gasoline, thereby emitting carbon dioxide (CO2) into the environment we all share.
Battery-Electric Vehicles (EVs)
Battery-electric vehicles follow a simple concept: they are powered by a battery located under the car’s floor, which requires recharging. Ideally, this recharging can take place at home, taking advantage of lower electric rates overnight. Currently, around half of the electric vehicles in the United States are sold by Tesla, a company that has constructed a reliable, extensive, and seamless Supercharger fast-charging network. Thanks to this network, Tesla owners can travel almost anywhere within the lower 48 states.
Nearly all major automakers have introduced or will soon unveil various models of EVs, the majority of which are SUVs catering to the prevailing market preferences.
Pros: EVs offer a smoother, calmer, and quieter driving experience compared to internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. Electric motors provide strong acceleration from a standstill, as they deliver maximum torque from zero rpm. Additionally, maintenance for EVs mainly involves routine tasks such as replacing tires, wiper blades, and cabin air filters since they have far fewer moving parts. Charging EVs overnight at home or during the workday is significantly cheaper per mile compared to any gasoline-powered vehicle. Some EVs even allow exporting power through 120-volt electric sockets to run coolers or stereos while parked. A few models can serve as backup power sources for houses during blackouts, although there are certain conditions. Furthermore, driving an EV produces zero tailpipe emissions, contributing to a cleaner environment.
Cons: The initial purchase cost of EVs remains higher than comparable ICE models; however, this gap is gradually narrowing and is expected to disappear in the coming years. The convenience of public charging infrastructure can be uncertain for non-Tesla EVs, as various third-party charging networks have inadequate maintenance and reliability. Recharging an EV should ideally be as easy and pleasant as refueling at a gas station, but the current state of charging networks still needs improvement. Unlike Tesla’s integrated navigation and charging system, other EVs require more meticulous planning for long-distance trips. Additionally, EVs experience greater range reduction at high speeds or in extremely cold weather compared to gasoline vehicles.
Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) may be the least understood type of electrified vehicle. They function as EVs under certain circumstances and switch to conventional gasoline-electric hybrid mode in others. PHEVs boast a battery pack that offers an electric-only range of 20 to 50 miles. Owners who can plug in their vehicles overnight typically conduct the majority of their driving on grid electricity, often not engaging the gasoline engine for days.
When a PHEV surpasses its electric range, it seamlessly transitions into operating as a regular hybrid with the assistance of the gasoline engine. The presence of the gasoline engine eliminates range anxiety for unexpected trips, extended road journeys, or situations where access to charging is limited.
Pros: PHEV owners who comprehend the benefits of these vehicles become avid supporters. Unless you consistently cover more than 40 miles per day, which applies to only 20% of U.S. cars, PHEVs offer similar cost-per-mile advantages as EVs. Most PHEVs can be conveniently recharged overnight using a standard 120-volt wall outlet, meaning there is no need to install a dedicated EV charging station. Moreover, when operating in hybrid mode, PHEVs tend to deliver peppier performance than non-plug-in hybrids due to their more powerful electric motors. Some PHEVs are eligible for federal or state purchase incentives that regular hybrids do not qualify for.
Cons: PHEVs can be challenging to explain to potential buyers, as they fall into a gray area between hybrids and EVs. Buyers may question their purpose, considering their electric-only range is typically around 30 miles. PHEVs tend to have a higher price tag compared to hybrid models without the plug, and availability may vary among states. It is not clear if dealers consistently inform buyers about the nuances of plug-in charging or if some buyers are even made aware of the plug at all. If PHEV owners do not charge their vehicles, they end up with heavier and costlier hybrids.
Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Vehicles
Hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles (HFCVs), also known as FCEVs, do not require plug-in charging. Instead, they rely solely on hydrogen as their fuel source. The hydrogen is combined with air in a fuel cell, producing electricity that powers one or more electric motors. These vehicles emit only water vapor as exhaust. Hydrogen is stored at very high pressure (10,000 psi) in reinforced tanks integrated into the car’s structure.
Hydrogen vehicles represent a highly limited segment of the electrified vehicle market and are exclusively sold in California. The future of hydrogen-powered vehicles in the United States remains uncertain due to the challenges and costs associated with establishing a comprehensive hydrogen fueling infrastructure accessible to consumers.
Pros: Similar to vehicles powered by electric motors, HFCVs provide a smooth, quiet ride with instant torque. They do not require plug-in charging, and fueling is comparable to visiting a gas station – users locate a hydrogen fuel pump, connect the nozzle to the car’s receptacle, and wait for the refueling process to complete, which often takes no more than five minutes.
Cons: The future of hydrogen-powered passenger vehicles in North America is uncertain, as significant development efforts have shifted toward hydrogen fuel for heavy Class 8 commercial trucks. Currently, hydrogen fueling is only available in California, making long-distance trips outside the state challenging. Fueling with hydrogen can be expensive compared to other options, particularly as it is not widely available and subject to open-market rates. Automakers like Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota, which offer hydrogen vehicles, often include a free fuel period or limited mileage with their purchase. When local hydrogen fueling stations are unavailable, a hydrogen vehicle becomes inoperable, rendering it a two-ton doorstop without fuel or power.
In conclusion, the world of electrified vehicles encompasses diverse options, each with its own merits and drawbacks. Assessing your specific needs, budget, and charging infrastructure availability will help determine the most suitable choice for your circumstances. Whether you opt for a hybrid, battery-electric vehicle, plug-in hybrid, or hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle, embracing electrification contributes to reducing emissions and driving toward a cleaner and more sustainable future.