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When a PHEV beats an EV

While there are more electric vehicles to choose from than ever, the lack of widespread chargers is making adoption more difficult. Many, including myself, expected other brands to significantly cut into Tesla sales by now, but that has not happened for a couple of reasons: First is Tesla’s new low cost of their Model 3 with a new $7500 rebate for US-made cars, bringing the cost down to about $35K. Second is their big advantage with their charger network.

There have been numerous stories about how EV owners are struggling to find a working charging stations while on long trips. Many have complained that their vehicles fail to provide the number of miles they expected, preventing them from accurately anticipating their charging needs. This all leads to anxiety as their remaining miles drop while struggling to find a working charger.

I’m currently driving a 2019 Volt, a plug-in electronic vehicle (PHEV) that gets 55 gas-free miles on a charge, before switching to gas. While I’d really like to go gas-free and buy an EV, after my analysis, it’s hard to justify an EV as a better solution for me than the Volt. With so many of us having different driving patterns, what’s best for one is not best for all.

An EV purchase should be based on how often and how far you drive and accessibility to convenient charging. And if you live in cold weather states, your range will drop significantly during cold months.

For example, an EV is ideal for for frequent trips of 200 miles (or whatever its range is) or less, without requiring refueling. But for longer trips of greater lengths, where you depend on the availability of working chargers, you probably want a Tesla. (That’s why Ford, GM and Volvo have signed agreements with Tesla to use their chargers on future models begining Spring 2024).

But if you rarely drive those long distances, then a PHEV model such as my Volt makes more sense, especially with a daily use of 50 miles or less. In those situations, you can run completely on battery, just like an EV. Or if you have a 50 mile commute to work and your workplace offers charging, the PHEV will get you 100 miles a day without ever using gas.

So here’s a summary, assume an EV car with 200 real miles on a charge, probably equivalent to one rated at 230 to 250 miles.

  • For up to 50 miles per day, a PHEV will suffice, yet also allow long trips on gas.
  • For trips of 55-200 miles, any EV is a good choice. Charging can be done at home. If you can’t charge at home, then a Tesla will make it a lot easier to charge elsewhere.
  • For frequent trips over 200 miles, a Tesla makes the most sense because of the need to frequently charge away from home, which can lengthen your trip by 10 or 20%.
  • A PHEV or a gas powered car is the only way to avoid trip interruptions on long trips.

There are a number of scenarios where the PHEV with enough range is a better choice. The problem is that GM canceled the Volt four years ago and there are very few PHEVs that get more than 25 miles on a charge. Among the few are the Toyota RAV4 and the newest model of the Toyota Prius Prime. Each get about 45 to 50 miles per charge. For many these are a much better choice than an EV.

Until the charging issue is resolved, buying an EV for long trips is still a burden, even if you find a charger. The ideal user for an EV is someone that drives within the range of their car, and can charge their car at home overnight.