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Musings of an Energy Nerd

What’s Better: An EV or a Plug-In Hybrid?

Policy wonks warn us, once again, not to let the perfect become the enemy of the good

A plug-in hybrid vehicle has an internal combustion engine as well as a battery. Since the battery doesn't have to handle long trips, it can be smaller (and therefore cheaper) than the battery in an all-electric vehicle. [Image courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory]

A typical plug-in hybrid car can travel for 20 to 55 miles on battery power. When its batteries become depleted, the car’s internal combustion engine takes over. As most people realize, a plug-in hybrid car has a significantly lower level of carbon emissions than a conventional gasoline-powered car. Many plug-in hybrid owners find that they can make their daily commute to work on batteries alone, so one tank of gasoline can last for months.

A plug-in hybrid car is much cheaper to purchase than an all-electric vehicle, because it requires a much smaller battery than an all-electric car.

What’s the best path to net zero?

Electric vehicles (EVs) are supposed to be getting cheaper, as manufacturers implement the well-known efficiencies of mass production. In spite of recent price reductions by a few manufacturers, however, electric cars have mostly been getting more expensive lately, due to (1) ever-larger battery sizes and (2) a world-wide shortage of the minerals needed for manufacturing batteries.

We all want to see a reduction in carbon emissions, but the best path to achieve those reductions is a matter of debate. According to some policy wonks, the U.S. government decision to subsize the purchase of EVs may be misguided.  It might make more sense to eliminate subsidies for EVs and instead to offer subsidies for the purchase of plug-in hybrids.

The argument that “hybrids are better than EVs” is often associated with Toyota Motor Corporation, since several prominent Toyota managers have been pushing it.

Battery supplies are limited

A strong argument in favor of hybrids and plug-in hybrids (as opposed to all-electric vehicles) is made by James Gilboy, the author of “Toyota Is Right: We Need More Hybrid Cars and Fewer EVs.” According to Gilboy, “Hybrids have a bigger role to play in decarbonization than EVs will for…

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  1. nickdefabrizio | | #1

    Great article once again! Thanks!

    I have both a PHEV (2018 Honda Clarity) and EV (2023 Hyundai Ioniq6). Which is better for the environment depends a lot on several factors. Let me share my observations:

    Driving Type. One factor is the type of driving you need to do: generally shorter trips favor PHEV's, longer trips favor EV's (assuming they are within the range of the vehicle). I bought the Honda PHEV when I was driving 40-50 miles a day and that is exactly the Honda's electric range so it was perfect. Then my mom got sick and now I need to drive 250 miles round trip every weekend to assist in her care so I gave the Honda to my wife and bought the Ioniq. It is amazing. It is rated at 320 miles range but I get over 400 by driving reasonably in "eco" mode.

    Efficiency. People focus on range but the most important thing about an EV is efficiency (miles per kw of energy consumed). More efficient EV's are better for the environment. The Ioniq battery is smaller than many other EV's but the car is far more efficient and that is why I bought it . My Ioniq is averaging 5 miles per kw (although I have not used the heat yet) which is far above most other EV's including many that are smaller in size. The Ioniq 6 is even more efficient that the Ioniq 5 (which shares the same battery/motors) due to its aerodynamic shape and wheels. I think it is imperative that EV manufacturers focus on efficiency using aerodynamic shapes, weight saving techniques and better wheel and tire combinations. I also think people should drive reasonably to increase efficiency instead of constantly going 90 mph.

    Electricity Source. Another key isssue is where you get your electricity from-the more low carbon sources are used, the more EV's make sense. I have PV panels, and my rural electric cooperative gets most of its power from non fossil fuel sources (nuclear, hydro and some wind/solar). So my electric power is relatively low carbon. I also charge at night to reduce strain on the grid and making it less likely that the co-op needs to buy power in the spot market.

    Longevity. Finally, a lot depends on how much and how long you intend to drive your car and how long they last. The longer an EV is on the road, the more miles it lasts, the more the high up front environmental/carbon burden of EV manufacture can be justified. Although I am 66 years old, I had never purchased a new car before I got my Ioniq. For me, used cars are always best . But I typically drive my cars uover 200k miles so I figured that if I can get that type of milage out of the Ioniq, it would surely amortize the up front environmental and carbon cost from the manufacture of the car and battery. If it does not last that long then it may be less of a good deal environmentally.

    As an aside: I love my Honda Clarity as a PHEV. In 80,000 miles it has had virtually no problems. So far, I also love my Ioniq 6-it is an amazing car that drives beautifully and is highly efficient.

  2. Expert Member
    Joshua Salinger | | #2


    I agree that we need to look at all options and be clear eyed and open about all the myriad issues with the transition to EV's and I think you've given a nice balanced take on the transportation issue.

    Since my expertise is in buildings and we are in a building forum, I found myself wishing that the one passive building vs 7 better buildings graphic and your tendency towards writing off passive building as overbuilding wasn't used as an example. I do think the intent of your example is right on-- it's a great way to show how potentially one large battery in an EV could be used in many smaller EV's. I just don't think that this example works for homes anymore. It is based on an older v1.0 version of passive building, which is really becoming antiquated and potentially slowing down adoption of this type of 'environmental building' or 'passive building 3.0' as Kat Klingenburg put it in her recent talk at summer camp which I know you were at. This is especially true with the Phius standard as they have loosened up the enclosure requirements quite a bit with each iteration and instead are focused primarily on durability, health, resilience and comfort. The energy metric gets revised downward as the U.S. energy grid gets cleaner with each new iteration of the standard. For instance, our team is building a Phius certified home in climate zone 4C that has 2x6 walls and 1.5" of exterior insulation. In fact, if we weren't in a fire prone area our modeling is showing we would meet the Phius certification with just a 2x6 wall with no exterior insulation. This is far from overkill.
    On top of this, the OCEC tool (link below) developed by Skylar Swinford is showing that when one considers the impact of refrigerants and the specific carbon intensity of the grid, even passive buildings made from the worst materials pay themselves off from an upfront carbon perspective relatively quickly. If one was to use a more modern take (as I believe Phius is doing) on passive building AND incorporate low carbon materials (the building I mentioned is using cellulose and cork insulation) it can be a huge win. Yes, we need to take into account how this works for low income folks, but again, I point back to the current home we are building and how it could meet the standard with just a 2x6 wall (admittedly, the main reason for this is a considered and compact surface to volumetric design). It is true that the international standard of passive building isn't as flexible, but it is still a great standard (again, see the OCEC tool assessment).

    I hesitated to yank the conversation in this direction, but I feel like it is an outdated and unfair example to be made on something that is showing real promise for reducing the environmental impacts that our industry imparts. Maybe this could be addressed in a future article.


  3. MartinHolladay | | #3

    In this article, I deliberately avoided any discussion of the passive house standard (although I did include a link to the location of that back-of-the-napkin sketch, which first appeared in an article with "Passivhaus" in its title). My intent here is not to revive a debate from 2011, for the same reasons you mention: the PHUIS standard in the U.S. has moved well beyond the German Passivhaus standard I was talking about in my 2011 article.

    In other words, the graphic I shared was used to illustrate a principle that applies to houses as well as car batteries. The principle is valid, and in the context of this article that principle has nothing to do with either the German Passivhaus standard or the PHIUS program.

    It sounds like you disagree with the premise of the sketch, since you wrote, "I just don't think that this example works for homes anymore." But every builder has to decide whether to put R-38 insulation in the attic, or R-60, or R-100. At some point, a sweet spot is reached. Beyond that sweet spot, the extra insulation may still save energy -- but for the sake of the planet, that extra insulation is best used on a neighboring house, even if the builder of the house with R-100 insulation can afford to pay for the R-100 detail. That's the principle that the back-of-the-napkin sketch illustrates.

    If you are meeting the PHIUS standard with 2x6 walls and no exterior insulation, hats off to you! Keep up the good work.

  4. Expert Member
    Joshua Salinger | | #4


    I completely agree with the principle behind the graphic as applied to EV's. We both agree that the German Passivhaus standard as referenced in your 2011 article is not an efficient use of material resources (I don't advocate for this, but even the German standard pays itself off quickly if the OCEC tool is considered...).

    I suppose I was reacting insofar that the old v1.0 Passivhaus graphic could be conflated with the more optimized modern passive building methodology by a casual reader of the article. I get that it isn't the point of the article, but I felt the need to point it out as to not perpetuate an outdated stereotype of passive building. I am a big advocate for hitting the sweet spot, in fact the Phius project I mentioned has R-60 in the roof. We absolutely need to be clear-eyed and optimize cost/benefits of EV's and buildings if we are to be serious about staring down the climate crisis.

    Thanks for your article, the conversation and the brain food it has provided. I very much appreciate the kind words!

  5. palmerenh | | #5

    My thoughts on this revolve around public charging:
    1) EVs are wonderful, practical and convenient in every way but one – public charging is still a substantial nuisance. This is my personal experience with a Kia Niro EV. I'll admit I haven't thought as much about pickups and such that builders use.
    2) Public charging can't mature faster without more EVs, and its immaturity is the #1 impediment to more EVs (opinion). A mature charging network to me means level 2 near most all motels and apartments, level 3 with a restroom every 20 miles or so on highways, and simpler usage. Assuming that environment, a modest range lithium iron phosphate EV would be perfect. I would not be tempted by a 400 mile nickel&cobalt version.
    3) Hybrids and PHEVs reduce emissions but they contribute little towards growing the charging network. That makes them a partial step for emissions, but not much of a stepping stone toward eliminating emissions.

    For maintenance and complexity reasons, I just can't believe that in the long run we will be driving cars with two full-blown drive trains. Huge batteries are another expensive workaround to avoid public charging and fear of getting stranded somewhere. Better public charging is a better solution than either of those, and buying EVs will buy better public charging.

    So get an EV with a modest range. Get as comfortable as you can with public charging – it can be done. And when you plan trips call hotels, inquire about chargers, and let them know its important to you. If you live in an apartment, chat with your landlord. These might be the people who can tip the change.

    1. Expert Member
      MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #6


      Good points. I did work for a resort near here, and when electric vehicles started showing up they at first made do with a makeshift system extension cords and outside outlets. It was only pressure from guests that eventually forced them to install several charging stations, and it will be more pressure that makes them expand those services.

  6. maine_tyler | | #7

    This seems like a complex subject that deserves more time than I've given it, but a few things immediately stand out to me.

    "A small plug-in hybrid car, with electric driving range of about 25 miles from a 9-kWh battery, is the greenest choice for 68,000 miles before the EV beats it."

    OK so why is sub 68k miles the range we're drawing conclusions from? I dearly hope most people are driving cars more than 68k miles, and certainly the car itself is good for many more miles.

    This argument seems to presume that there is a set amount of materials for battery construction out there and that availability won't expand-- or perhaps, for environmental reasons, should not expand to the extent needed for full EV adoption. This warrants more unpacking because I don't see why we should presume any of this despite current supply chains. I do realize there is harm in increased mining of metals, but it deserves some level of quantitative comparison to alternatives.

    Last issue is that of the ICE. With any hybrid, we have maintained a good bit of complexity by retaining an ICE, but perhaps the argument is that environmentally that is insignificant compared to more battery capacity?

    1. MartinHolladay | | #8

      I think you are drawing the wrong conclusion from the quote ("A small plug-in hybrid car, with electric driving range of about 25 miles from a 9-kWh battery, is the greenest choice for 68,000 miles before the EV beats it.") My conclusion is that, since most cars are driven more than 68,000 miles, the author of the quote (Alan Ohnsman) was arguing that EVs are a "greener" choice than plug-in hybrids.

      I don't think that Ohnsman intended readers to make conclusions based on an expected car lifespan of 68,000 miles or less.

      1. maine_tyler | | #10

        You are right Martin that I was a bit confused, though I was not personally drawing any conclusion but rather assuming someone else's. I'm a bit confused by your lead in to that paragraph though:

        "A similar argument is advanced by Alan Ohnsman"

        Does this not suggest that Ohnsman is arguing in favor of hybrids over EVs like the person in the preceding paragraph?

        I should perhaps rephrase my first question to:
        If Ohnsman is correct about the mileage at which an EV becomes more green than a hybrid, what is the response of the 'policy wonks,' Toyota scientists, and other supporters, who feel hybrids offer the greener option? I suppose they feel we simply don't have the supply of battery materials to shift more towards EVs, which seems to suggest that if we *could* supply enough we *should* (as oppossed to deliberately throttling battery supply chains for environmental reasons).

        1. MartinHolladay | | #12

          Maine Tyler,
          Thanks for your comment. I have rewritten my introductory sentences for the second Ohnsman paragraph to (I hope) reduce confusion.

  7. LukeInClimateZone7 | | #9

    How do we evaluate all of this in the context of bi-directional charging?
    As renewables penetrate, then using EVs as grid storage (even just 10% of total battery capacity) might have some interesting outcomes within utility integrated resource planning.

    1. MartinHolladay | | #11

      Q. "How do we evaluate all of this in the context of bi-directional charging?"

      A. Good question. As I wrote, "We’re forced to make these decisions in a fast-changing environment. ... So how do we balance all these factors? It’s tough."

  8. AdamT | | #13

    The hybrid approach works for us. We own a Chevy Volt that has ~50 miles of battery range before a gasoline engine takes over @ 40MPG highway. We drive 80% of our miles on electric power alone and can still take it on long trips without any worry of getting stranded.

    The Volt works so well, I can't figure out why hybrids weren't adopted. Maybe that time has come?

    1. Tim_O | | #15

      Well, when the Volt first came out, GM lost $49k per sale. I agree, great vehicle, you got a $90k car for $40k. Not all PHEVs operate the same way though. The Volt uses the engine as basically a generator and has a powerful motor. Many PHEVs can't stay in electric mode on the highway, for example, so the return on most daily commutes ends up marginal. My drive is 20 miles and about 95% on the highway. A 20 mile PHEV would be excellent since I can charge at work for free.

      PHEVs mostly died out because it's very expensive to build and fit two complete powertrains.

      1. nickdefabrizio | | #16

        I looked carefully at the Volt but went with the Honda Clarity as it was a bigger car and almost as efficient......with a 40-50 mile plug in range and 40 mpg on gas.

        I am not certain that building a PHEV is always much more expensive than a full on EV given that a 10-15 kw battery is much cheaper than a 70-80 kw battery and the gas engines in most PHEV's can be an off the shelf model that has paid for its engineering a long time ago.

        You are right that the best way to run a PHEV is that drive power always goes through the electric motors

        1. Tim_O | | #19

          It's not nearly as simple as dropping in an off the shelf engine, unfortunately. PHEVs require pretty unique solutions to work, complex transmissions or larger motors and batteries in addition to unique packaging requirements. The cost of batteries is quite a bit less than they used to be. A 70-80kwh battery should cost an auto company ~$10k to make and it's getting cheaper. We built one when I was part of an HEV program in college. 49 Chevy pickup with an Emotor and a 5.3L V8 in front of a 5 speed. Was a fun project, I graduated before it was driving.

    2. mordors_eye | | #47

      I can give my layperson reason. One of the benefits attractive to me with full EV's was the overall lack of many moving parts, less routine and expensive mainteance, and a Frunk.

      By combining ICE & EV in one vehicle, I knew I'd be getting the best and worst of both, and I really wanted to eliminate the detrimental effects of ICE vehicles more than I wanted their benefits, attractive as they are. Right now, I'm still undecided on my upcoming purchase, especially as cars in general are very expebsive.

  9. AndyKosick | | #14

    I appreciate this perspective, but I think we're at the point that we need to aim for the finish line with policy. Driving demand for everything, battery minerals, renewable electricity, heat pumps, is what will makes these things affordable and thus ubiquitous. Like it or not that's the economy we have.

    Also, my experience is that, giving the option, a lot of people just never end up plugging in their hybrids. I'd like to see some data on that actually.

    I think the time frame demands that we see a vision of a functioning future and go straight at it, as much as is possible.

    1. nickdefabrizio | | #17

      A lot depends on relative price of gas versus electricity. I pay 11 cents per kw (when my PV system doesn't give it to me free). Gas at $3.50 per gal is much more expensive ona per mile basis.... My Honda Clarity PHEV gets about 3.5 miles per kwh (a bit under 50 miles on a 13 kw charge) so for $1.43 or so I go about 45 miles with electricity. So we plug in the Clarity every night.

      Meanwhile, my Ioniq 6 EV gets 5 miles per kwh so for the price of a gallon of gas at $3.50 I can go 159 miles. And when my PV system is increased, much more will be free.

    2. LukeInClimateZone7 | | #18

      I think this is the best response yet though I agree with many of the previous ones.
      Martin makes many apt points here about EVs vs. plug in hybrids. And I think it's appropriate for policy makers to heed these perspectives for open-minded policies and incentives.
      If my memory serves correctly, I thought the IRA was fairly open to a wide variety of technology solutions. Indeed, if anything I've heard criticisms that it is too open-minded policies. Specifically, I had thought that plug-in hybrids got the same or similar incentives as full EVs.
      The Social cost/ benefits comparison with passive house insulation seems currently apt as well, but I'm not sure how apt it will be in the future when bidirectional charging is allowed by utilities.

      The final entreaty for open mindedness and compassion is well received. I hope some future articles will further explore some visions of the future energy system (from the perspective of residential buildings as befits this site) as buildings and transportation energy blur together, and their sole role as a 'load' becomes anachronistic.

  10. vpc2 | | #20

    We have a Prius Prime 2017 PHEV as our only car. It gets about 25 miles a charge and 60 to 85 mpg highway. We buy about 2-3 11.8g tanks of gas a year.
    One main issue I find is we don't need a second car. For long trips, we charge and use gas. We tend to drive to remote areas to go camping and hiking with no real access to chargers.
    So how much carbon does a second car for trips produce to produce? The construction of a sedan will emit about 18 tons of carbon dioxide and way more for a "SUV Tank". Our car generates about 1 ton of carbon dioxide a year. Seems currently a PHEV can be very competitive on carbon emissions and easy access.
    Would love to go full electric but not today.
    BTW the vast majority of our trips are on EBikes, medical visits, shopping, entertainment and pleasure. super low CO2 and get great exercise, just watch those SUV Tanks.

  11. tundracycle | | #21

    Good article and I fully agree with PHEV's being the best use of limited battery resources - IF people will actually plug them in to charge them. There was a study a few years ago indicating that many PHEV owners in the U.S. did not actually charge them that often.

    From an individual owner standpoint a BEV is a better option though. A PHEV has a lot of extra mechanical stuff that needs maintenance that a BEV does not. A BEV battery and drivetrain can last 1m miles or more, how about the engine in a PHEV? What happens at 200k when the engine needs to be replaced by the battery and motor are still good for another 400 or 600k?

    Finally, a bigger issue is that we need to get away from the American 'MUST DRIVER CAR' belief. This both for the environment and for our individual health. If you mention bicycling 1 mile to a local café for dinner most Americans look at you like you're nuts. The differences in EV vs PHEV vs Petrol is a tiny rounding error when you compare them against replacing just a few short trips with walking or bicycling

    Or doing 2000" of insulation under one house (petrol) vs 1000" under 2 houses (BEV) vs 500" under 4 houses (PHEV) vs 2" under 1000 houses (Walk/Bike).

  12. bje11 | | #22

    This discussion of resource efficiency is all good and well (and I welcome it), but ignores one critical aspect. We have 20 years for our vehicle fleet to not emit any CO2. Promoting PHEVs (with a 15 year lifespan) for another decade or two pushes us outside that envelope. We need new cars that have no tailpipe emissions. Plug-in hybrids were a great idea 10 years ago when long-range EVs were unavailable. That time has passed.

    1. MartinHolladay | | #23

      You wrote, "This discussion of resource efficiency is all good and well (and I welcome it), but ignores one critical aspect."

      But the "critical aspect" you mention (finding the fastest possible way to eliminate tailpipe emissions) was not ignored by the experts quoted in this article. Some of these experts have concluded that focusing on plug-in hybrid vehicles will reduce tailpipe emissions much faster than your suggested path of promoting all-electric vehicles -- because mineral scarcity and high battery prices will make all-electric vehicles out of reach for most car buyers.

      1. user-6765159 | | #45

        Martin, there's a glaring problem with your statement " focusing on plug-in hybrid vehicles will reduce tailpipe emissions much faster than your suggested path of promoting all-electric vehicles" in that there are already millions more EV's on the road and currently being manufactured than PHEV's. Why wait around for an inferior product? What other OEM even has PHEV's in development? It takes years for a new vehicle to be developed. How many Prius and RAV-4 Primes has Toyota ever produced? A few hundred thousand? My guess is that it's a fraction of what EV's Tesla or VW has has produced this year alone. A Tesla Model 3 and Y, Chevy Bolt, VW ID 4, and many other EV's can be bought for much less than the average $59,000 price quoted in your article. The battery and mineral scarcity problem only seems to be a problem for one manufacturer in particular: Toyota. There's a reason that no other manufacturer is pushing PHEV's, they don't see a future in that "technology." Toyota is just way to late in the game to be competitive and it's time to embrace EV's sooner, rather than later.

    2. Expert Member
      DCcontrarian | | #33

      One of the technologies that some smart people are working pretty hard on is synthetic hydrocarbons. Take CO2 scrubbed out of the air, combine it with hydrogen produced using off-peak electrical capacity and make hydrocarbons that can substitute for gasoline, diesel or jet fuel. Fuel produced in this way would be net-zero carbon.

      It would probably also be expensive, which is a good thing. Our existing machines would continue to work, but there would be pressure to move to electrification.

  13. meboice58 | | #24

    ...couple of quick thoughts...

    I know many folks who will lease a car for three years and then turn it in and lease yet there exists a churn, if you will, that prevents - by choice - a single owner from realizing the benefits of an EV.

    EVs do not currently appeal to lower income folks, as was pointed out in the article...Why have EV manufacturers devoted so much R&D and manufacturing into high end vehicles? Part of me wonders why our government subsidized EVs that are out of reach from so many people.

    I've read sobering articles about cradle to grave comparisons between ICE and EVs and the break-even carbon footprint is much higher than 18,000 miles pointed out in many of those articles. If one lives in Poland where coal is the predominant energy source, it takes upwards of - from memory - 85K miles to break even with an ICE - the Toyota Corolla and Tesla 3 were used in these comparisons.

    ...why not begin to produce personal vehicles? A one-person vehicle designed for commuting. 13 years ago I was driving 65K miles a year for work...for the past 13 years I have reduced my mileage to 11-13K miles...and all of those miles driven over the past 30 years or so have carried just me in the car...with three empty seats. A city bus is efficient when it is full...I don't think that I have ever had more than one additional passenger in my car.

    1. Expert Member
      DCcontrarian | | #31

      You touch on a bigger issue with the stock of automobiles.

      Broadly speaking, there are people who buy new cars, and people who buy used cars. The only cars available to people who buy used cars are the ones that people who buy new cars bought. People who buy used cars tend to be cost-conscious and sensitive to operating costs; people who buy new cars, not so much.

      So we have a situation where new car buyers, who aren't cost-sensitive, are determining which cars are available for everyone. The only solution that is proven to work is minimum government standards.

  14. palmerenh | | #25


    You make the recommendation to consider low income drivers in our policy approach. I'd like to explore the implications.

    I don't have data to cite, but my sense is that low income drivers are not buying PHEVs any more than they are BEVs. Either choice is a sizable up-charge for a distant 20 year savings, which is a tough call on a tight budget. That won't substantially change until a BEV(perhaps with an iron phosphate battery) undercuts the purchase price of an ICE. A PHEV simply can't undercut an ICE on purchase price because it starts with 100% of the components of an ICE and adds everything for an EV. In 20+ years I don't think Toyota's reliable and very helpful hybrids really penetrated the low income market, for that reason. You did touch on this, but battery makers still pass on to buyers the substantial expenses of ramping up rapidly evolving technology. BEVs likely still have quite a bit of room to achieve lower prices relative to ICE. Hybrids don't.

    I would also like to dive into the phrase “limited battery supplies”, repeated a number of times in the article and comments. The article isn't specific about which limits are referred to, making it hard to evaluate, but I assume it is the concerns over cobalt, nickel and lithium, probably in that order of importance. There are also struggles ramping up some manufacturing steps but those may be best be resolved by nurturing demand rather than rationing it.

    As a bit of an aside here, your sentence that starts “According to Coy, the same quantity of rare-earth minerals required to make the battery for one long-range electric vehicle...” stumps me. Coy's article doesn't mention any rare earths and as best I have been able to learn, current EV batteries don't use them. (A good discussion is at Rare earth mineral supply is in fact a concern for EV motors but that fact argues against PHEVs: A motor capable of fully powering a car 25 miles needs the same quantity of rare-earths as if it were paired with a 250 mile battery, but the PHEV has only a fraction of the carbon benefit.

    I also struggled with Coy's article itself. Arguing against BEVs, he follows the exasperating pattern of identifying “range anxiety” and long range batteries as problems and then fails to ask whats needed to expand charging availability, which is...more BEVs. Also, dwelling on battery materials without mentioning the current crime wave triggered by catalytic converter materials is out of balance.

    Getting back to actual battery metals:
    While we are seeing 50% or better year over year growth in EV sales, prices of cobalt, nickel and especially lithium have actually fallen over the past year (I'm reading or misreading At the moment, metals supply appears to be keeping up with EV production growth. I can't predict next year of course. Of those three metals, cobalt is undeniably troublesome on several fronts, but lithium is the only one essential for EV batteries. I'm not a big Elon fan, but recently Tesla was able to flip their standard range US Model 3 production from nickel/cobalt batteries to an iron phosphate version practically on the fly. That's important for this discussion. It undermines the assertion that cobalt or nickel supply puts a ceiling on battery production for affordable EVs. And that undermines the conclusion that buying one BEV somehow deprives 6 people of shaky or finite cobalt supplies they need for a PHEV. With a viable cobalt alternative for modest range EVs, the zero-sum game isn't really there. In a normal growing market, which I think we have, one would expect that buying BEVs should drive improvements in the charging network that will make PHEVs. and huge cobalt batteries unneeded or at least less attractive.

    I don't know about a parallel between PHEVs and pretty good construction, but I don't think the maligned passive house on 14 inches of foam is parallel with current EVs. For one thing the foam monster never saw a fraction of the adoption or promise that EVs have today, by orders of magnitude. I still hold the perspective that a full BEV solution is at hand. Half measures that dodge but don't help overcome the remaining hurdles are not called for.
    -Eric Palmer

  15. MartinHolladay | | #26

    Thanks for your detailed and thoughtful comments.

  16. meboice58 | | #27

    Hello Eric,

    Thank you for your follow-up. In your last paragraph, as my way of better understanding your point, do you feel that Hybrids and Plug-in Hybrids are a waste of thought, investment and use if they - in theory - place more folks in cleaner cars sooner? We do have a grid challenge...and a potential energy redundancy problem should all of our cars and houses be run solely on electricity. I may have range anxiety, which is quite real to me, but I also give the lack of redundancy some serious weight in this conversation. sure, when the power goes out, we cannot pump gas. But if our houses and forms of transportation are a bit more energy resilient, then we can work on a reliable grid...whilst also bringing down the cost of everything electric.

    EDIT: I guess that I am circling around a part of a subject that I am interested in as a novice...the discharge rate for a PHEV is faster than a BEV...because it is relatively smaller. So, since a PHEV must also supply momentum over time - and momentum here is a term that applies more to driver expectation than a chemical analysis - it must contain the same quantity of 'metals' to provide a driving experience similar to a BEV?

    If so, this seems to contradict, if I read well, a few of Toyota's papers that suggest they can build - from memory, don't quote me - 30 PHEV and 60 Hybrid automobiles for every BEV...this assumes that I am using those numbers (30 and 60) as a direct comparison to the quantity of metals - Lithium - required for each type of powertrain type.


    1. palmerenh | | #28

      Hi Michael,
      Your initial question asks for my overall opinion on the role for hybrids, so I'll happily lay that out in full. For around 20 years hybrids were the best you could do to lower your driving impact, other than driving less. They probably enabled today's BEVs by refining regenerative braking and by giving us the actual experience of driving under electric propulsion, if only for a half mile. They did an important job, but their carbon reduction was modest as was their market penetration. I don't see hybrids as a step forward from here. The challenge at hand is to transition to very low emission cars that can take the whole market, especially low-income. With all the baggage of two drive trains, a PHEV fundamentally can't ever approach an ICE on purchase price. (Forgive me for repeating my last post on that point.) BEVs may not have hit a truly compelling price yet but they have a shot and in my opinion a good one.

      Our best opportunities for major emissions reduction in the next decade or two are decarbonizing the grid, heat pumps, and replacing ICE vehicles. If we can't do those, I have to be pessimistic about tackling jets, steel, concrete, beef, and changing the home building industry. Today with a better opportunity at hand, making a 20 year investment in a complex new car with a 20% or even 50% carbon advantage doesn't cut it. There are certainly some drivers whose needs are an apparent fit for a PHEV. That would be someone who (1) has spending money on hand for the extra expense, (2) does quite a lot of short daily commuting, (3) can conveniently charge at home every day, and (4) takes road trips into areas with spotty charging occasionally but not frequently. (If the road trips are frequent a regular hybrid may beat the PHEV.) I wouldn't prevent such a person from buying a PHEV but I would suggest holding the cash, driving a used hybrid for a little longer and seeing if a BEV doesn't fit them better soon.

      So yes, with some caveats, I guess I do feel “Hybrids and Plug-in Hybrids are a waste of thought, investment and use...” now. Martin's post and the cited articles dwell very heavily on battery materials and I don't think that is the main holdup. To misquote Bill Clinton, “its the chargers, stupid!”. I agree with you that range anxiety is real, but it's fixable.

      The 30 to one number you attribute to Toyota, whatever they focused on, is a hopeless exaggeration for buying decisions. Using base model price before rebates as a rough measure of overall “upfront” resource use, the Prius Prime PHEV, Nissan Leaf BEV and Chevy Bolt BEV weigh in today (per Edmunds) at $34K, $29K, and $28K respectively. Toyota certainly isn't selling 30 PHEVs for the price of one BEV. The Leaf is handicapped by a DC fast charging standard that lost out in the US, and the Bolt tripped with a battery recall a couple of years ago, but these are clearly achievable mass market BEV prices.

      I should disclose my personal bias. After 14 years primarily driving a Toyota hybrid (and a bicycle), we switched to a 240+ mile BEV 1.5 years ago. I enjoy it immensely, except when planning charging for a longer trip. It's not really that chargers aren't there – they usually are, but its more about finding them and the very annoying stuff charging networks do apparently trying achieve a captured market for their brand. I would just really like more company creating a competitive charging environment that would clean this up, and PHEVs aren't much help.

      1. user-6765159 | | #52

        Excellent points, Eric.

  17. meboice58 | | #29

    Hello Eric,

    Thank you for another thoughtful reply.

    Regarding Toyota, and I understand that there may be some sales bias at work here...however, I believe that their claim, 1EV, 6 PHEV and 60 Hybrids, was a reference to the materials required to manufacture each system...I don't think that vehicle cost was part of that 'logic'. And getting more folks into cleaner cars is important; from one recent Gov't search, we add 15 million new drivers to our roads each year...I have no idea how many folks stop driving...

    Our charging network does need to improve, as does our grid, which isn't as clean as we might hope. I feel that charging stations/grid are the biggest hurdles to moving to all electric...mining materials for EV cars isn't as clean as we might hope either...and we still have to wrestle with tire and brake dust contamination...

    My personal background is in environmental science and Landscape Architecture...I play with plants. But I also grew up, I'm old, as a car nut and I still hold a fascination for mechanical things. I am a living breathing contradiction; I maintained an auto competition license many years ago, but also raced bicycles. Pedaling - training - my way through beautiful country roads was always a great experience...if we can continue to be aware of our actions, my grandchildren may experience the same feelings. Problem is, as the water rises, we accept the new normal...and then the new normal...until we drown.

  18. dadiy | | #30

    Even in a pretty well defined problem like this, it’s telling that there is so much disagreement about what the facts are. Reminds me of the fights my Anabaptist ancestors had with, well about everyone, about whether infant or adult baptism counted. Human nature continues to be the fatal flaw.

  19. Expert Member
    DCcontrarian | | #32

    "A small plug-in hybrid car, with electric driving range of about 25 miles from a 9-kWh battery, is the greenest choice for 68,000 miles before the EV beats it."

    What's left out of this analysis is the life expectancy of the battery pack. If the battery pack needs to be replaced after five years/65,000 miles, then the EV never catches the plug-in hybrid.

    1. Expert Member
      Michael Maines | | #36

      Your comment implies that the battery will only last five years. Several online sources predict 10-20 years under normal driving, or 100K-200K miles. I'm sure there are outliers that don't recover their embodied carbon but the vast majority do recover their embodied carbon.

  20. Expert Member
    DCcontrarian | | #34

    One of the problems with EV's is that you have to take your big, heavy battery pack on every trip, whether you need all of it or not. As we electrify our fleet I think there's going to be a lot of interest in electrifying the highways as well. Each car would only need enough battery capacity to get on the highway, once they're on an electrified road there's no limit to their range.

    1. Expert Member
      Michael Maines | | #37

      That makes a lot of sense to me. I used to live near Boston where the busses were hybrids, using overhead electric lines in city centers. I don't know if they still exist but it seemed like a good model.

      1. Expert Member
        DCcontrarian | | #39

        I grew up in Cambridge, which was one of the last places to have the electric buses, they phased them out last year. What I remember is that from time to time the overhead connector would slip off and the bus would stop, the driver would get out and use a long, insulated pole that he carried for just such an emergency to hook the wires and put the connector back on.

        One of the advantages of having a small battery pack on an electrified road is your connection wouldn't have to be continuous, if you're connected enough of the time to keep your battery charged that's enough.

        Interestingly in Cambridge the overhead-wire buses were replaced by battery-powered buses.

        1. Expert Member
          Michael Maines | | #40

          Oh that's too bad that they were replaced, but maybe good about the battery-powered option. I remember the long-handled resetting. I was there 1992-2002.

    2. user-6765159 | | #43

      You could also make the same argument about a PHEV, but in reverse. You have to lug around a heavy gas engine and tank of gasoline on every trip, regardless of how short a distance you travel. PHEV's are the worst of both worlds. You still have all the downsides of a ICE car and few of the benefits of the EV (quick, smooth, quiet acceleration, strong regen braking, lower cost of ownership, better handling, more cargo room and interior space, etc). PHEVs and Hybrids are the compact fluorescent lightbulbs of the auto world: A bridge technology to move us forward to EV's, which are vastly superior.

      1. maine_tyler | | #46

        > "and [PHEV's have] few of the benefits of the EV (quick, smooth, quiet acceleration, strong regen braking, lower cost of ownership, better handling, more cargo room and interior space, etc)."

        Wait, PHEV's don't offer the first couple on that list (quick, smooth, quiet acceleration, strong regen braking)? They still use the electric motor for accelerating and for braking, no? Or at least some models? I thought most PHEV's could be used in EV mode?

        I am not very informed on this subject, but 'series' powertrain hybrid PHEV's make sense to me in that you don't have 2 drive trains, etc. You essentially have an EV with a gas generator on board. I'm not saying they necessarily makes more sense than an EV in the long run, but more than a parallel setup if the parallel setup requires the ICE drive train to kick in at higher speeds.

        1. Chris_in_NC | | #48

          There are tradeoffs to both (series and parallel) topologies.
          Series drivetrains have stacked efficiency losses; you have engine losses, alternator/generator losses, inverter/motor drive losses, and electric motor losses all in one series chain.
          The electric drivetrain also has to be generally much larger than a parallel hybrid, as all the motive power comes solely from the electric drivetrain (like you said, an EV with a generator onboard).
          But there's the benefit of generally downsizing the engine to the generator/alternator power demand (instead of motive power demand), and also operating that smaller engine in a limited and optimized load/torque/RPM band for efficiency. That opens up possibilities for engine architectures and combustion cycles that don't lend themselves to mechanically driving a vehicle. An example is the series hybrid Jaguar C-X75, which used 80kRPM micro gas turbines for generator power.

          Parallel hybrids don't necessarily have two discrete drivetrains; often the electric motor and engine share the same transmission with different input reduction gearing.

        2. user-6765159 | | #50

          Prius is a parallel hybrid drive train. Speaking from experience driving my father's Prius Prime while visiting him this summer, the regen braking is very weak compared to both my Leaf and Tesa, the acceleration is smooth if you're in EV only mode, until the CVT and engine kick in once you run out of battery after about 26 miles, but it is not quick, by any stretch. It can only seat 4 passengers and the hatch/trunk is extremely small (could barely fit 2 carryone suitcases).

  21. kevin_hunter | | #35

    We about to purchase an EV, and one of the chief considerations does not appear to be part of this article or conversation: maintenance and repair. The drive train has far fewer parts, and nothing involves controlled explosions, especially thousands per minute. That eliminates a number of issues, including regular replacement of the highly refined chemicals (mostly petroleum) that lubricate the "boom box" and collects the metal shavings. :-) There just seems to be a lot less to go wrong (except for all that computer stuff. That's all pure evil anyway.) Just my two cents.

    1. Tim_O | | #38

      It's not so simple as that. The parts that wear are the bearings, bushings, gears, etc. Those are still there in EVs and subject to lots of new issues... EV drive units are lubricated with the same oil as transmissions and engines. Engines do have catastrophic failures sometimes. So do drive units and batteries. Tesla pre 2016 had (reman'd batteries have the same issue) issues with batteries where the AC condensate line was routed on top of the battery and eventually the condensate made it into the battery causing internal corrosion leading to complete battery failure. Just an example, point being there are new issues with EVs. I wouldn't count on less issues. I would only count on eliminating oil changes and less brake jobs. More weight and torque means tires wear faster on the other hand.

      Don't get me wrong, I'm pro EV and am excited for my chance to get one. The upside to the above is that EVs tend to come with great warranties.

    2. user-6765159 | | #44

      In almost eight years of EV ownership, the only maintenance I have ever done on either my Nissan Leaf or Tesla Model 3 is replace the wiper blades, wiper fluid, cabin filter, and one set of tires. Thats it.

  22. woobagoobaa | | #41

    If I'm going electric, I'm going hybrid. Electric for local driving, no range anxiety for longer trips. Less demand on what will be a monumental mining and materials effort.

    IIRC Toyota says they can build 6 hybrids with the resources required for a single EV.

    1. Expert Member
      MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #42


      There may be good reasons to buy a hybrid, but I wouldn't take advice on energy from the Manhattan Institute, an extremely conservative policy group funded by corporations with vested interests in continuing to use oil and gas.

    2. user-6765159 | | #51

      Toyota says they could build 6 hybrids for 1 EV, but they aren't producing that many and they won't. There's not enough demand for PHEV's to support them doing that. Also the Prius PHEV's are about as efficient as the Ford F150 Lightning in EV only mode. Not something to brag about.

  23. amorley | | #49

    I am surprised to see no one has chimed in this great thread with a common response here on GBA: go with the less expensive option, because financial resources are a resource worth conserving too.

    There are multiple non-luxury EV's on the market that are cheaper upfront (before and especially after federal tax credits) and again on an operating basis than comparable gas or hybrid cars.

    A couple of options on lots in my area:

    - Chevy Bolt EV at $27k MSRP ($20k if you can use the tax credit)

    - Nissan Leaf EV at $26k MSRP

    - Hyundai Kona EV at $31k MSRP

    - VW ID4 EV at $39k ($32k if you can use the tax credit

    - Tesla Model 3 at $40k ($33k if you can use the tax credit)

    Compare those to a Toyota RAV 4 PHEV at $43k, or Toyota Prius Prime PHEV at $33k, or KIA Niro PHEV at $33k, and you can see that now you have to pay an upfront premium for the more frequent maintenance and higher fuel costs that gas cars or hybrids come with.

    1. user-6765159 | | #53

      Yes Amorley, excellent observation. I think a lot of people think that EV's are expensive luxury vehicles. And yes, there are some of those, but there are also several less expensive EV's for sale as you pointed out. A standard range Tesla model 3 can be had for less than $30k in some states with incentives. And the standard range is still a 200+ mile vehicle.

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