Hybrid vehicles have been around for so long now that most people don’t think twice when they see a Prius. In fact most people probably don’t even pay close enough attention to anything driven by someone else whatsoever. When it comes to the use of hybrid technology to save fuel, we all like the idea but don’t care to pay the premium cost of going with something so high-tech for our personal transportation, when the return on the investment is still rather small. A hybrid might be seven or eight thousand more than the equivalent gasoline only model.
This may be slowly changing as the wheels of technological advance keep winding faster and faster each year. A new type of hybrid vehicle has been making its way to market recently. This new way of doing things still uses the power of a gasoline engine to assist an electric motor, but it adds the ability to charge the batteries by plugging it in to the power grid. These hybrids are referred to as plug-in hybrids. Many people have always thought hybrid vehicles could be plugged into the wall but this has not been the case until now. The Chevy Volt and the Toyota Prius Plug-In are two of the most common right now, but more are being released all the time.
Plug-in hybrids represent the next evolution of the hybrid vehicle, and this feature may be the thing that allows hybrids to become a very legitimate alternative. The biggest difference is they can typically run much faster and much farther on electric motors only. The Chevy Volt for example can go about 40 miles at speeds up to 40 or 50 mph on the electric motor only. This means the gasoline engine would never come on during the average commute for many people.
If your daily commute is 20 or 30 miles round trip, you could drive to work and back, maybe run a few errands along the way, and never use any gasoline. When you get home you could plug your car in for the night and in the morning it would be all charged up and ready to go again.
If you want to drive a longer distance, the gasoline engine comes on as needed to generate power for the electric motors and to provide mechanical assist to the electric motors. This means you could drive the car for several days on electric only, and then just use gasoline on the weekends for a road trip. Fuel economy numbers have been difficult to calculate because of the way these things work, but estimates are generally somewhere between 50 and 100 mpg, with some owners claiming as much as 200 miles per gallon.
The problem with hybrids up until now has been they don’t save enough money on fuel per mile to make them cost-effective to purchase. You spend a lot of extra money on a hybrid up front, so to save any money over the long run you had better have a really long run. Some hybrids require that you drive them for 10 years before you start to see savings on fuel.
With a plug-in hybrid you can make up the cost difference much quicker. Once again, it depends on your commute and just exactly how you use your car, but the ability to get 100 or 150 mpg is very appealing compared to the 40 or 45 mpg that you might attain with a regular hybrid. The cost of charging the battery in your garage must also be factored in but the amount of current needed to charge these batteries really doesn’t cost much. Many people who drive a plug-in hybrid every day, who almost never have to use the gasoline engine, report spending about $30 a month on the electricity to take about a 1000 miles a month on the plug-in power.
As battery technology continues to get better, the plug-in hybrid will continue to get better as a daily driver. Right now you may not be able to go very far or very fast on electric only, but this will change quickly. At what point does the electric range and speed become more widely accepted? It’s hard to say. This electric range issue is not the biggest problem slowing the adoption of this technology.
Retail price is probably a bigger issue slowing the sale of plug-in hybrids. A new Chevy Volt has an MSRP of $34185, and a new Toyota Prius Plug-In can be had for $29990. These prices have come down substantially in the last couple of years, but they still have a ways to fall before they can be competitive with regular gasoline only cars. Generally speaking the belief is that these prices really don’t allow for any profit for the manufacturers and so it’s hard to imagine they could ever sell very many of these cars at this price if they are not making money and perhaps are even losing money for each one they sell. The good part of this pricing is that these are the prices you pay without government tax incentives. If these cars are to make it in the market place they must do it on their own, and without government funding. Why should the tax payers fund the whims of those who want to feel warm and fuzzy about their car lining up with their environmental morals, or helping technology nerds nerd out on the way to work.
Toyota has a head start on hybrid technology so they can sell their product at a cheaper price, and possibly not lose any money. The difference between the Toyota Prius and the Prius Plug-in are really minor. The battery and the motors are bigger but beyond that it’s the same technology Toyota has been producing since 1996 in Japan and 2000 here in the U.S. Better technology in the marketplace, along with design and manufacturing experience will help any manufacturer turn out their product in a more profitable manner.
Despite cost issues, plug-in hybrid technology will be (that’s bold) the wave of the future in hybrid vehicles. How can anyone argue with 150 mpg. The thing to wait and see is how quickly the cost of this technology will come down over time.