When counting the number of automakers that currently offer plug-in hybrids for sale in the U.S., one could view the glass as half empty or half full.
Half-empty portrayals have said progress has come slower than some anticipated since 2011 when the new powertrain type began with one model – the extended-range Chevrolet Volt. The glass-half-full perspective is that plug-in hybrid models are increasing and many more automakers are anticipated to introduce PHEVs as this decade progresses.
But the short answer is this: There are nine plug-in hybrid models sold by six manufacturers tracked monthly by our U.S. sales Dashboard and this excludes three limited-production exotic models.
Present PHEV sellers are:
• General Motors – Chevy Volt, Cadillac ELR
• Ford – Fusion Energi, C-Max Energi
• Toyota – Prius Plug-in Hybrid
• Porsche – Panamera S E-Hybrid
• Honda – Accord PHEV
• BMW – i3 REx (loosely considered a PHEV), i8.
These six are yet a minority among more than 14 manufacturers selling in the U.S. under at least 26 nameplates, PHEVs’ volume is less than 0.5 percent of all U.S. passenger vehicle sales, but momentum is increasing.
A comprehensive survey of all automakers’ plans to introduce new PHEVs is beyond this article’s scope, but just to put in one place the sizable list of potential names, here you are:
Acura, Audi, BMW, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Ferrari, Ford, GMC, Honda, Infiniti, Jeep, Lexus, Lincoln, McLaren, Mercedes-Benz, MINI, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Porsche, Ram, Smart, Subaru, Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen.
In brief, brands that have said they’ll have PHEVs across their model range include Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, and plans may be mirrored by Porsche’s parent company the VW Group, selling under the Volkswagen and Audi nameplates.
Eventually, General Motors’ brands ought to have more, as will Ford’s though we know of no formal announcements. And Chrysler, which has no hybrids now, but gave the world its first minivan may also give it its first plug-in hybrid minivan.
Mitsubishi is also expected to bring its very successful Outlander PHEV SUV to the U.S. in 2015, and Nissan is reportedly wanting to add PHEVs to its early lead in all-electric proliferation with the Leaf and other Nissan and Renault products sold abroad.
Others have R&D in the works, and generally all are posturing themselves as needed in the face of tightening regulations, and market demand.
PHEVs Now Available
Following we’ll summarize who sells what as tracked by our Dashboard, with links for further research. Not counted here are elites – the McLaren P1, Ferrari LaFerrari, and Porsche 918 Spyder use electric power like a zero-emission turbo and are exorbitant and/or sold out.
Beyond garage-built specials, the Volt is the granddaddy of the type of cars that store grid energy in extra large traction batteries. It was shown in concept form in 2007, and launched December 2010 with a staged roll out. The idea for it actually predates all this to the 1990s and the electric GM EV1 with which GM engineers would tow a generator behind for long trips during road testing.
The Volt relies on a unique powertrain architecture that – unlike other plug-in hybrids on this list – cannot run without its electric motors and is by definition an “extended-range electric vehicle.”
Having two powertrains, by definition it is also a “plug-in hybrid,” but not to get hung up on nomenclature, the Volt is yet the longest e-range PHEV with 38 miles rated range. And, since 2015s began shipping this year, the battery was quietly increased by GM from 16.5 kilowatt-hours to 17.1. This should make it good for two more electric miles but the 2015 model year Volt was never re-certified with the EPA for this and is due for replacement.
The next generation Volt is to be shown January 12, 2015 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit where the first concept and other previews took place in years past. What the new model will offer beyond updated styling has been the subject of many a speculative article, but ignore the ones where someone unequivocally states the Volt “will” have this or that new feature until officially verified by its maker. It is hoped to be updated, but GM is making this a secret and has confirmed nothing.
The ELR shares the Volt’s powertrain and for now still has the 16.5-kwh battery from last year’s Volt as they are on different production cycles.
It costs $76,000 to start, and was launched late in the Volt’s life January 2014. It has been heavily discounted by dealers trying to sell a compact Cadillac car twice the Volt’s price with two doors, cramped back seat, and lots of styling echoing the 2009 show car it was based upon.
Cadillac has said there will be a new ELR in time, and it does have 37 EPA-rated miles e-range making it the second highest range among all plug-in hybrids – more than double the 15-16 miles of competitors by Porsche and BMW.
Prius Plug-in Hybrid
For years Toyota Prius hybrid owners were retrofitting larger batteries either in their own garage or through third-party outfitters to make plug-in hybrids out of them.
Finally with the third generation 2010 Prius, for 2012 Toyota added a 4.4-kwh li-ion battery in place of the 1.3-kwh nickel-metal-hydride in the Prius Liftback and billed the Prius Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle in two trim levels.
Its e-range is now rated according to the EPA test cycle at 11 miles. If you mash the pedal to the floor, its gas instantly kicks on per normal hybrid practice.
Nonetheless, in no small part because the Prius is the acknowledged hybrid sales leader and gets the highest 50 mpg in regular hybrid mode, the plug-in has done surprisingly well selling in only 15 states.
It has been generally said to be a bit too short in the e-range department, and is due for a replacement sometime after 2015 but remains a solid compromise for some peoples’ needs.
The Fusion Energi is the top of the range in the redesigned midsized Fusion family and was launched at February 2013.
Its 20-miles rated e-range from 7.6-kwh battery places it between the range of the compact four-seater Volt and midsized five-seater Prius.
Style wise, it’s sharp and contemporary, and blends in at least as well as the Volt. The Fusion Energi is distinguished mainly by badging, a plug port on the left front fender, and underlying it is a 38 mpg combined hybrid powertrain.
Based on European Ford C-Max models produced in a variety of powertrains, in the U.S. the Energi and regular C-Max Hybrid it’s based upon are hybrid only.
And, the powertrain is the exact same as found in the Fusion with 20 miles e-range. It’s faster and roomier than the Prius, but in hybrid mode does not get as good of mileage.
The Accord PHEV was launched January 2013 as a very limited market car in California and New York prior to the 50-state non-plug-in hybrid Accord but both share the same hybrid system.
As a PHEV, it uses a 6.7-kwh battery which eats some trunk room and e-range is 13 miles.
The system is very advanced however, more so than the Prius’ system, with class-leading efficiency numbers in electric and gas usage.
Panamera S E-Hybrid
Not counting the $845,000 918 Spyder, this large four-door sedan is the first PHEV of what has been reported as a move to hybridize the entire Porsche lineup, and the Cayenne SUV is next in line to receive the same powertrain.
The $99,000-plus Porsche Panamera S-E-Hybrid is capable of 15 miles electric range from its 7.6-kwh battery, and its 5.2-second 0-60 time and 167 mph top speed mean it’s the fastest if not the quickest or most sporting – that would be the BMW i8.
The carbon-fiber reinforced plastic-intensive i3 is actually a battery electric vehicle with an optional 600cc, 2-cylinder scooter derived range extender with small fuel tank, and not a true coast-to-coast PHEV. The engine is there to serve like a virtual spare tank of gas for the battery to get you to your next recharge.
The U.S. UPA lists electric-only range at 72 miles, total range at 150 miles, and combined mpg in gas mode at 39 mpg. In electric mode it is very efficient at 117 MPGe.
The i8 just went on U.S. sale in August with nine units sold. It is a $136,000-plus true PHEV designed from the ground up as such.
Also using extensive carbon-fiber reinforced plastic, aluminum, a light 1.5-liter three-cylinder turbo plus battery and motor, the 362-horsepower all-wheel-drive sports car weighs just around 3,300 pounds – compare this to the larger Porsche four-door sedan weighing upwards of 4,600 pounds, or even Tesla Model S EV weighing around the same as the Porsche depending on configuration.
Top speed is 155, and 0-60 is in the upper 3-second range.
BMW’s i8 is an elite car alternately called expensive for a PHEV or inexpensive for a quasi-supercar. Its 15-mile electric range is quite finite however, and while it is being touted as an “electric” car by publications, its best performance is with the gas engine working with the electric motor.
If looked at as a part time EV, the electric motor is there to allow sedate commutes about five miles shorter than a Ford C-Max Energi can provide. But it is efficient in hybrid mode, which can net fuel economy into the 30s depending on conditions, and officially it’s rated 28 mpg combined.
The rest of the i8’s appeal is its design resume, performance credentials, and brand status as a new type of technological showpiece BMW says is part of a new “sustainable” sub brand with more such creations to follow.