If we showed you an independent research source that reveals how a $32,500 Chevy Volt earns back the difference and then saves you $6,000 in five years ownership time compared to a $21,400 Chevy Cruze, would you be interested?
Before we get to that, if you’re just beginning to look into alternative energy vehicles, a simple way to conceptualize plug-in hybrids is to think of them as hybrids on steroids.
Like the best full conventional hybrids, the plug-in varieties do save on operational (energy) costs for the life of the vehicle, and, with qualifiers attached, the U.S. EPA promotes this assertion as generally true.
Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) merge the best of both worlds from pure electric vehicle (EVs) and non-plug-in hybrids as their grid-supplied batteries are bigger than those in regular hybrids and allow part-time gas-free operation as well.
Both regular hybrids and PHEVs merge power from an internal combustion engine and blend it with a battery powered electric motor, but bigger batteries mean less gas use, and this can add up.
Reports on car shopper behavior however have shown the higher starting price of PHEVs may mean a snap decision against them as perceptibly too much to pay for what you get, but a closer examination may prove this an unfounded assumption.
Online cost calculators available may reveal the PHEV is still a better choice for your particular needs than a comparably equipped regular hybrid or internal combustion powered near-equivalent.
Real World Results Vary Widely
Operational (energy) costs are typically much less for PHEVs. Where they may vary is what you actually pay for gas, and what you actually pay for electricity. The federal government’s window stickers factor nationally averaged rates, and this is what gets reported often times.
Below we’ll show you where the feds redeem themselves and let you fine tune your actual energy costs on cars that can cost an average $4,000-$8,000 more than conventional equivalents.
Meanwhile, if you pay less or more than the 12 cents per kilowatt-hour or 2.79 per gallon the EPA figures for regular gas ($3.19 for premium) at the moment, your results could be better or worse than boilerplate window sticker assumptions.
On the other hand, anyone with access to renewably sourced energy, such as from a solar array, has a much higher likelihood of benefitting from the electric drive of PHEVs and it’s tantamount to receiving free fuel. Employers or other sources where you can get a free opportunity charge in your daily going to and fro also helps skew things in your favor.
How PHEVs Beat Conventional Cars
If you figure every machine costs money to run, PHEVs are like those which are most frugal with the energy “budget,” as it were.
Hybrid technologies like regenerative brakes capture energy otherwise wasted during stops.
And on those stops, Stop-Start systems ensure the gas engine is not running, idling, and burning fuel while you wait for the light to change.
Smaller than otherwise needed gas engines are right-sized to match their power with the electric drive.
PHEVs get stronger motors than regular hybrids that let them hit highway speeds in all-electric operation – usually up to 62-100 mph, depending on model.
However, plug-in hybrids differ – with the most notable metric to be aware of being battery size and effective all-electric range, as well as efficiency in gas-plus-electric or gas-only operation.
Also affecting the outcome will be your driving habits, particularly how far you drive between recharging.
Not Just About Costs
PHEVs let you bypass gas stations, which is convenient, liberating, even, while letting you “refuel” at home (assuming you have a place to do it).
They are estimated by the EPA to use about 40-60 percent less petroleum than conventional vehicles and this is conservative. Some drivers who stay within their electric range may beat this by much more. The EPA’s plug-in cost calculator which we’ll link below estimates how many gas station visits you’ll need depending on specific cars, and your exact energy costs, drive, and charging opportunities.
Another benefit, of course, is PHEVs typically emit less greenhouse gas than conventional vehicles. True, some of those emissions are upstream at the power generation plant, and this varies by region. Nuclear, hydroelectric, and other renewable sources are cleaner than coal-fired power plants, but even the worst case scenario has seen scientists come out endorsing electrified vehicles over fuel burners.
And yet another reason to go with a PHEV is they can be enjoyable to drive. All-electric operation is quieter, smooth and can spoil you, and stories of people who went on to pure EVs have been told.
When It’s About Costs
Beyond sticker price, a wise buying decision factors all costs of ownership.
To drill down on your specific situation, the EPA’s My Plug-in Hybrid Calculator is a handy tool to determine energy costs. It covers every PHEV on the market, some of which are supercars like the million-dollar McLaren P1 which is sold out, but among more-ordinary vehicles, there are eight sold in the U.S. covered on the HybridCars.com monthly sales Dashboard.
Beyond this, evaluating ownership costs means weighing available federal and potentially state incentives along with other meaningful info needed to make a qualified decision. An unaffiliated site that has a useful tool is Edmunds.com and its proprietary True Cost To Own calculator.
HybridCars.com is not compensated by your car buying choice; this article is purely info to enable you to decide what is best for you. Caveat emptor still applies.