I have no doubt that many plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) owners work to max out the EV aspect of their vehicles, and kudos to these PHEV drivers for their efforts. However, it would be incorrect to believe that all PHEV owners do so. Some don’t even plug in their PHEVs.
Is there any evidence of that, you ask? Well, yes, there is evidence…
The UK stopped tax incentives on PHEVs citing: “The evidence was very clear: owners of plug-in hybrids were not plugging them in, negating the environmental benefits and undermining the incentives.”
“Several factors play a role in drivers’ decision to plug-in their PHEV or not, including vehicle characteristics and the availability and cost of charging at various locations,” a study of California PHEV owners states. “Higher home electricity prices, lower electric driving range, lower electric motor power to vehicle weight ratios, lower potential cost savings from charging, and living in an apartment or condo, among other factors are related to not plugging in a PHEV.”
If you were to research this topic, as I did, you may come across a “study,” which was commissioned by one of the auto manufacturers, that states that 95% of PHEV owners plug in. Since the data was 1) so strongly an outlier, and 2) commissioned by a biased party, I disregarded it except to mention it here for full disclosure purposes.
Before you criticize this article because you think it should condemn ICEVs instead of PHEVs as ICEVs do more harm than PHEVs (if plugged in regularly), please consider that virtually all of the CleanTechnica auto articles do that, directly or they indirectly imply it. This one article takes it a step further. In social change writing, many articles are addressed toward the unaware public whiling in their happy complacency, but there is another approach. In Regis DeBray’s 1967 book, Revolution in the Revolution, he discussed matters within a movement to move the envelope further among the movement’s participants. Is it possible to indulge one strident article that is more directed at greens than the public?
100% battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are the future. All owners of BEVs plug in by necessity. There is no cheating. PHEVs are a contraption created by legacy automakers who are still ICE (internal combustion engine) focused, perhaps believing that their customers are children who need training wheels. Tesla has proven otherwise. Drivers are fully capable of going from an ICE vehicle to a BEV without any transition vehicle.
Subsidies and non-financial incentives (such as access to HOV lanes) have accelerated the adoption of EVs. There are of course finite resources for such subsidies. When these valuable subsidies are squandered (here in the US, and perhaps other jurisdictions) on what is effectively an ICE vehicle (as it is used in practice by many PHEV owners), then it begs the question if PHEV subsidies are designed to help with the climate crisis or to financially help the legacy auto manufacturers and big oil with yet another subsidy. Diverting these subsidies to PHEVs, and away from BEVs, is likely to retard the transition to full-electric propulsion vehicles. One thing is sure, Tesla will never benefit from any of the PHEV subsidy money. Perhaps this is by design. The legacy industry teams have extraordinary lobbying resources, and they don’t hesitate to use them.
If we look critically at vehicle propulsion, and we understand how complex it is and how many resources are required to create vehicle propulsion for each vehicle, then we might ask ourselves if it makes any sense to build vehicles with two fully independent propulsion systems in a single vehicle. This duplication, this devotion of resources in a PHEV (which by definition has both fossil fuel and electric propulsion systems), is the opposite of green. Using the fewest resources is the most green. As Elon Musk has stated, “The best part is no part.” Using the most efficient and nonpolluting system, which is to say a fully electric propulsion system, is the most green.
Some will protest the proposed demise of PHEVs by claiming that they can’t afford BEVs, and that they need choice. According to Kelley Blue Book’s 10 Best PHEVs under $40,000, the cheapest is $26,500. According to CarMax, in my area of Las Vegas, 14 out of the 15 used BEVs that are 2017 or newer all cost below $25,000 and as low as $12,000. Your choice can remain intact without PHEVs by buying a recent BEV that saves you money.
Regarding the resources required to propel a vehicle, this fact isn’t discussed much, but is certainly salient when viewing this topic — this is the fact that EVs require about 20 moving parts and fossil fuel vehicles have about 2,000 moving parts.* There is an intrinsic inefficiency in any product that requires two orders of magnitude more parts than its competitor product. More resources are required in sourcing the materials for, designing, building, assembling, and maintaining such ICE vehicles. With PHEVs, it’s even worse in that they include both systems … when only one propulsion system is necessary.
Speaking of training wheels, they are a fine and useful concept in many instances. On bicycles, for example, they can be used for a week or month or however long they are needed, and then they are left behind when they are no longer useful. The PHEV is a form of training wheels, which is to say that these vehicles get users acclimated to using a plug in an environment whereby they can still use gasoline if they wish as a crutch. In theory, PHEV drivers’ next car would be a BEV, with the PHEV being the intermediary car that introduces them to the plugging in experience of EVs.
This concept sounds okay, but if we think it through, these cars last a decade or more, and the planet is on fire. Responding to an existential threat demands urgency. We no longer have time for training wheels when it comes to the climate crisis. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has recommended a 45% cut in CO2 emissions by 2030. We are no longer in the early 2000s looking at halfway transitional measures to improve the situation a little. It is time to go cold turkey and leave behind gasoline altogether, now.
One of the steps that would assist us in our transition to full vehicular electric propulsion quickly and efficiently is to abandon the notion that a PHEV is somehow green or electric. It is in practice not so. With these assembled facts and ideas, there is an opportunity here for rational people to realize that PHEVs (as used by many owners) are just another gasoline vehicle typically with an insupportably short electric range. The effort by legacy auto makers to include an electric drive train is obfuscation, a con. We need rational policy to help with the climate crisis, and this includes a near-term future with no PHEVs.
If we were to need another reason to call for an end to the PHEV era, then there is one, and a very important one. BEVs, not PHEVs, defund big oil. Welcome to the new age of all-electric vehicles.