Quick Facts about Hybrids and Electric Vehicles
Electric vehicles (EVs) have become a political football. Consequently, initiating any dialog on the benefits versus the consequences of EVs spirals into a polarized political debate. However, although EVs may well be the long-term solution, it seems they could be a short-term disaster. Based on current realities, hybrid vehicles reduce the use of fossil fuels while lowering emissions in the short term.
Is the electric vehicle today’s best answer? Read on.
Is the Electric Car Today’s Best Answer?
Many experts tell us that to make the earth safe for our grandchildren and polar bears, we must somehow eradicate, or at least slow, climate change. They further inform us that a critical target in achieving that goal is eliminating fossil fuels and, by association, the internal combustion engine (ICE). A major component in the solution to fossil fuels forwarded by these climate prophets is the fully electric vehicle. I won’t contest the basic premise for the current war on the internal combustion engine here. However, I am taking issue that, given today’s realities, EVs are the most sensible tool for reducing the use of fossil fuels while paring down harmful emissions. They aren’t. Rushing headlong into force-feeding EVs to the public invites short-term disaster.
Setting the Stage
Tesla sells more electric vehicles (EVs) than any other car company in the United States (65% of all 2022 EV sales). Despite Tesla drastically slashing prices of its new EVs this year, nationally, the overall average price of a new EV in September 2023 (the most recent data at this writing) was still $50,683. The average price of a mainstream (non-luxury) vehicle that same month was $44,626. That’s a difference of $6,057. If you want a more specific example, the Kia Niro (HEV) has a manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of $26,840, while the Niro EV fetches $39,600. Yep, that’s a difference of $12,760.
Then, the question is: Are the arguments for buying a new EV rather than a hybrid compelling enough to justify spending thousands of dollars more for a fully electric vehicle? Ready for my answer? It’s a hard no. In the real world, most of us work with a budget and must restrict spending to the confines of that budget. Furthermore, a ride around the block on the reality bus makes it abundantly clear other reasons beyond price tarnish the EV spit shine, blinding many EV drum beaters. I’ll lay out some of them as you read on.
What Is a Hybrid Car?
A hybrid car combines an internal combustion engine (ICE) and a battery-fed electric motor to propel the vehicle. For our purposes here, a full hybrid is where the electric motor and the ICE can work separately or together to generate propulsion. An HEV recharges the battery by storing the energy created during braking (regenerative braking), as well as siphoning off some of the engine’s energy when cruising. This is the type of HEV system found in the Toyota Prius.
OF NOTE: I don’t lump in plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) with traditional HEVs because although PHEVs share some of the advantages of HEVs, they also share some of the shortcomings of electric vehicles.
What Is an Electric Car?
An electric car or electric vehicle is one in which an electric motor fed by a battery array is the sole source of propulsion. Although regenerative braking supplies a small percentage of the energy to recharge the battery, the sheer size of the EV battery requires plugging into an outside source.
The least efficient method of charging an electric car is using a typical 110-volt household outlet. A Level 2 charger powered by a 240-volt outlet that feeds an electric dryer or stove is more efficient. These first two methods can be used at home. The most efficient and least time-consuming recharging is through a Level 3 fast charger at a public charging station.
Pros and Cons of Electric Vehicles
If you have any knowledge of the debate swirling around battery electric vehicles, you could be familiar with the list of pluses and minuses.
PRO TIP: I will begin here by laying out the popular arguments for and against BEVs. These aren’t necessarily my arguments but those often stated by BEV advocates and detractors. I won’t address each of these bullet points; however, I list the more relevant arguments because it’s the honest approach.
Pros of Electric Vehicles
- Cost less to fuel – The annual cost of filling an ICE vehicle with gas is more than the annual cost of charging a BEV’s battery.
- Lower cost-to-own – Overall, the average BEV costs less to own.
- No emissions – Because an EV produces no tailpipe emissions, it is cleaner than vehicles with an ICE.
- Government tax breaks – Although the laws are complicated and ever-changing, many BEVs built in the United States qualify for a federal tax break or rebate.
- Impressive acceleration – Because an electric motor’s maximum torque is immediately available, BEVs provide quicker acceleration, especially from a standstill.
Cons of Electric Vehicles
- High purchase price – Where direct vehicle comparisons are available, BEVs always cost thousands more to buy than vehicles with an ICE.
- Range limitations – Whether your vehicle is powered by gasoline or stored electricity, it can only travel a finite distance with a full fuel reserve. However, the difference between the range of a BEV and a comparable vehicle with an ICE is often hundreds of miles in favor of the ICE.
- Long charging times – Even if using a Level 3 fast charger, most BEVs require more time to charge than filling a vehicle with an ICE with gasoline. A Level 1 charger often requires more than a day, while a Level 2 charger takes hours. A Level 3 charger can often get the battery up to an 80% charge in under 30 minutes.
- Limited public charging stations – Although more public charging stations go online every day, they are few and far between in many areas. For example, try driving a battery-electric vehicle across Texas, South Dakota, or Montana.
- Overtaxed power grids – As the number of BEVs increases, our current electric infrastructure will be less capable of handling the growing demand for power to charge BEVs.
Comparing Hybrid Cars vs. Electric
Let’s look at several hybrid vs. electric pros and cons listed above in the context of hybrid (HEV) models. In other words, let’s see how HEVs really stack up against BEVs based on the popular arguments for and against BEVs.
1. Do Electric Vehicles Cost Less to Own?
This is one of the biggest misconceptions about fully electric vehicles. No, they don’t cost less to own in the first five years. It costs more to own an EV than a hybrid in that timeframe, even if some or all of an EV’s inflated price difference is negated with a government tax credit or a rebate.
Kelley Blue Book’s 5-Year Cost-to-Own Projections
|2023 Kia Niro Hybrid||2023 Kia Niro EV|
|Total 5-Year Cost-to-Own||$39,308||$54,658|
Yes. That’s a 5-year cost-to-own difference of $15,350. Therefore, even if the Kia Niro electric car qualified for the maximum federal tax credit of $7,500, which it doesn’t because it’s built in South Korea, it would still cost thousands more to own.
The Niro EV depreciation cost is substantial. It reflects an issue across all BEVs: They depreciate at a much higher rate than vehicles powered by gasoline. Depreciation isn’t a monthly budget expense, but you will feel its full weight, all of which will hit you when you try to sell or trade-in an electric car.
Hybrid: Not only does a hybrid have a lower transaction price than a comparable BEV, but over five years, it costs less to own.
PRO TIP: If you are determined to buy an electric car, look for one that’s two or three years old.
2. Are Electric Vehicles Cleaner?
I admit that I have questions about at what level carbon dioxide transitions from beneficial to toxic. But I am willing to forgo that discussion to push on to the issue of what the best way is for vehicles to lower CO2 levels. After all, a primary goal of electrifying the U.S. vehicle fleet is to reduce CO2 levels, right?
Although an electric vehicle allows its owner to boast zero tailpipe emissions, which is true, an EV is far from environmentally neutral. Much goes into making an electric vehicle that could create a greater negative impact on the overall manufacturing than for vehicles with an internal combustion engine. It’s the precious metals, environmental destruction from mining, pollution from manufacturing, fuel required for transportation, and so forth in the construction of the electric car. Moreover, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that about 60% of electricity, like that for charging EVs, comes from fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, petroleum, and other gases. Of that, almost 20% comes from coal plants.
Hybrid: Although hybrids produce tailpipe emissions, they are roughly 35% to 40% of what ICE vehicles emit on average. Furthermore, because you don’t plug them in, they don’t require “dirty” energy to charge their battery. Finally, because hybrid batteries are much smaller than electric car batteries, which, when disposed of, present much less of an environmental threat.
More to the Environmental Story
Let me take this opportunity to present another painful truth: Oil is in plentiful supply. The EIA reports that the top oil-producing countries were the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Canada in 2022. Yet when making lithium-ion batteries, five of the metals required come from a few third-world countries with little in the way of mining regulations or oversight.
You may be happy to hear, though, that, unlike most of the materials needed for lithium-ion batteries, two of the metals they require (lithium and copper) have fairly abundant ore deposits in the U.S. But, don’t break out the confetti just yet. Despite pushing for consumers to drive electric vehicles, environmentalists and the federal government have prevented mining precious metals in the U.S., citing environmental concerns.
Furthermore, China controls most of the world’s cobalt, another rare metal critical to lithium-ion battery production. Chinese companies own the cobalt mines, primarily in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, extract the ore there, and then ship it to China. What could go wrong?
Hybrid: A hybrid battery is much smaller than a battery for an electric vehicle, which means all the precious metals mined in far-off third-world countries stretch further, making several hybrid batteries rather than one big electric car battery. According to Green Car Reports, based on average sizes, one EV battery equals 17 hybrid batteries. The math speaks for itself.
3. Range and Charging: Electric Car Angst
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the annual average mileage by driver is 13,476, or about 37 miles per day. However, on any given day, some people don’t drive at all, while others drive a lot. Daily driving averages have little to do with range anxiety. No one worries about an EV battery going dry during a run to a nearby supermarket.
Bloomberg reported recently that the average estimated range of electric vehicles is approaching 300 miles. The average estimated range grows every year. Increasing range only requires a larger battery array or more efficient power delivery. However, a recent study by SAE International, a global association of engineers and related technical experts, discovered real-world electric car mileage was 12.5% worse than the EPA estimates. Moreover, hilly terrain, extremely cold or hot temperatures, and even wind or air conditioning use can siphon off EV range. For example, extreme cold can drain more than 30% of an EV’s range. (Extreme cold also increases charging times.)
Whether it’s an estimated range of 200 miles or 500 miles, at some point, your EV battery will be depleted. Range limits won’t be an issue if you are only driving that average of 37 miles per day. However, it can be a big deal if you are driving across West Texas. When you realize the battery is getting low, you must find a public charging station. If your electric car is engineered to accept a Level 3 DC fast charge and you can locate an available working charger, the time suck may be minimal: an hour or less. If your EV can’t handle anything above a Level 2 charge, the loss of time can be hours.
Hybrid: There’s no range anxiety with hybrids because they are self-charging via regenerative braking. You don’t need to waste time or money charging them at home or public charging stations. Moreover, the gas motor can fill in. A Kia Niro hybrid delivers a government-estimated 49 mpg in city and highway driving. The Toyota Prius gets 57 mpg, and the Hyundai Elantra Hybrid gets 50 mpg. You can find more hybrid mileage information in Kelley Blue Book car reviews or the EPA’s website.
Some states, like California, are already feeling the pinch of power outage threats and actual power outages caused by an overwhelmed power grid. Roughly 1 million electric cars are registered in California, a state that requires that every new car sold must be a zero-emission vehicle beginning in 2035. Although fuel-cell EVs may be more widely available by then, right now, it looks like EVs must fill that requirement. How will California cope with hundreds of thousands of additional electric vehicles drawing power from an already struggling grid? Mere days after state legislators signed the gas-powered car ban into law, the California government asked EV owners not to charge their cars during the coming heat wave to conserve energy. Nine other states are following California’s lead to ban ICE cars. Apparently, the power grid elves will be busy between now and 2035 because no plan exists to address the infrastructure shortfall reality.
Hybrid: Your hybrid won’t be sidelined for a couple of days because of an overstressed power grid.
Hybrids Are the Best Answer
Hybrids can provide a significant reduction in motor vehicle-caused greenhouse gas emissions cheaply and quickly without stressing today’s already overtaxed charger and power-grid infrastructure. Furthermore, if the government were to throw its weight and subsidies behind hybrids rather than electric cars today, we could have a U.S. vehicle fleet averaging 50 mpg or better while reducing greenhouse gases by another 20% to 30% within a few years rather than decades. This would buy our nation time to grow the power grid and improve EV power delivery technology. Additionally, government-subsidized hybrids would be a much better deal for consumers than subsidized, high-cost-to-own electric cars. Forcing battery electric cars on U.S. consumers through government mandates makes no sense, considering the state of today’s economy and the infrastructure shortfall. Hybrids work best as the smarter short-term answer.
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