Plug-In Hybrids vs Fully Electric Vehicles At Public Charging Stations

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Our brains work in strange ways. We know consciously that climate change is real, yet so many humans continue to go about life as if it is happening somewhere else, like our actions are somehow disconnected from the massive impact humanity is having on the planet. Whether it’s recycling, using reusable shopping bags, or biking to work, creating change in our lives for the greater good is difficult.

Driving an electric car can be the same, even though electric cars do come with their own set of benefits (lower cost of ownership, more fun to drive, quieter ride, convenient home charging if you have that, etc.). As evidenced by historical EV sales, not many are willing to suffer the inconvenience of reduced total range, fewer “fueling” stations, and new technology learning curves to cut their impact on the planet. Tesla has largely turned the EV game around by developing an electric vehicle that is superior to the legacy internal combustion vehicle in every way — faster, WAY more fun to drive, silent ride, far less vibration, loaded with tech, semi-autonomous driving (with fully self-driving capability on the horizon), and a super-fast charging network that already rivals that of its dino-juice counterparts.

Plug-in hybrids play on some interesting parts of the brain in different ways than fully electric vehicles. I did not understand this at all until I drove the 2017 Toyota Prius Prime media loaner for a week. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. In a fully electric car, charging is the only way to fuel up the car. In a PHEV, plugging in is a tangible way of saving cash. In the Prius, I had a 25 mile range, so if I was out of battery and I was able to plug in, it literally meant that I wouldn’t have to buy gas.

The immediate action-reward equation takes priority and our carnal instincts kick into high gear. We are no longer concerned that an EV driver may not be able to get home due to our charging. No longer thinking about the greater good, we are only concerned with taking advantage of the free (or cheap) charging that will save us a buck (or $1.50 in the case of a full charge on the Prius Prime).

We justify the decision by stating the obvious — that, for us, every bit of electric driving we do is a gallon of gas saved — and feel better about our selfish decision without acknowledging the fact that every mile an EV driver drives also saves gasoline … and that they have no other option. They have to charge. With plug-in hybrids, it’s nice to charge.

I understand this is a contentious position, but it is something I have struggled with on all sides of the coin — as a concerned citizen, as an EV driver desperately in need of a charge to get home, as a plug-in hybrid driver looking to save a buck, and as a hybrid driver admiring the landscape of cars at the chargers. I’ve even experienced charging nirvana (aka Supercharging). That changes things quickly and eliminates the infighting we see at chargers that require 5+ hours of charge to top up an EV.

I am not asking for a ban on plug-in hybrids at public chargers — far from it, for every electric mile they drive does offset the burning of dino juice. I’m only asking that plug-in hybrid drivers consider their actions and perhaps leave a phone number or leave an open space, realizing that an EV driver may come along who truly does NEED to charge for a few hours just to get home. It’s a crappy feeling. Spread the love.

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Kyle Field

I'm a tech geek passionately in search of actionable ways to reduce the negative impact my life has on the planet, save money and reduce stress. Live intentionally, make conscious decisions, love more, act responsibly, play. The more you know, the less you need. As an activist investor, Kyle owns long term holdings in Tesla, Lightning eMotors, Arcimoto, and SolarEdge.

Kyle Field has 1649 posts and counting. See all posts by Kyle Field