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Hardcore electric vehicles (EVs) seem to make headlines more and more often these days. And nobody can argue against the ungodly stats made possible by instantaneous torque—now that the Rimac Nevera and Lucid Air Sapphire can go from zero to 60 miles per hour in under two seconds. But the price tag for super EVs might snap your neck even faster than a hard launch off the line, even while standing head and shoulders above seven-figure hyper-cars in terms of straight-line acceleration.
For EVs attainable by the common man, though, official range estimates keep rising and prices keep falling. Welcome to the future long promised, where society can leave internal combustion behind and evolve into a cleaner, quieter interconnected utopia. Or so the dream goes. But here in the real world, the sad truth remains that for most car buyers, plug-in hybrids still make a lot more sense than full EVs.
EV Infrastructure Is Hard to Implement
Now that many electric vehicles can go the same distance on a full charge that a gas car can travel on a full tank, it may be time for urban dwellers to leave range anxiety behind. Lucid broke that news in 2021, announcing the Air’s 520-mile range. Sure, that Air cost an absurd $169,000, but more “affordable” variants—not to mention Teslas—can now manage over 400 miles too. Meanwhile, Toyota and Subaru released the jointly developed BZ4X and Solterra twins this year, which have less range than the Model S offered when it debuted a full decade ago.
Tesla’s Supercharger network helps Elon Musk continue to attract customers despite the nonstop onslaught of Twitter feuds and questionable interviews. And a big question about whether government regulations will eventually force Tesla to open Superchargers to the general public may help to boost EV appeal in the near future. Right now, Ford and GM have plans in motion to allow their vehicles to use Tesla chargers with an adapter in 2024.
Further muddying the waters, California’s decision to ban the sale of all internal-combustion cars by 2035 raised an uproar. California’s grid already struggles to handle electricity demand on hot days—it was only a few days after announcing the time horizon that Governor Gavin Newsom asked EV owners not to charge their vehicles during a heat wave.
And in comparison to the number of functioning charging stations available today, conservative estimates of how many California still requires to support the EV revolution sounds laughable. The real key to EV adoption is home charging for all. But how?
Incentives to install home chargers can help. But don’t even ask about nuclear power and fusion to support the resulting electricity spike. The former always causes controversy and the latter is still a pipe dream hawked by the supposed saviors of civilization (rest assured, someone will certainly find a way to capitalize on the prospect of unlimited, sustainable, free power).
And then, we run into the last bastion of gasoline and diesel fanatics who simply hate electric cars and everything they signify. Maybe the prospect of performance hybrids, which supplement gasoline and diesel engines with a bit of electric torque, can help nudge these stubborn minds in the right direction.
After all, we’re not talking about your mom’s Prius anymore—Chevrolet announced the quickest Corvette ever built this year uses an electric motor to power the front wheels, and Mercedes teamed up with AMG to build the most powerful S-Class of all time using gasoline and electric power simultaneously.
Hybrid Vehicles Are Rapidly Improving
Even a base Prius now looks kind of cool, since Toyota decided to revamp the design in light of a newfound rebelliousness. In an era of electric adoption, is a Prius purchase now the counterculture move? The 2023 Prius Prime can manage a zero to 60 mph time of only 6.4 seconds, almost four full seconds faster than its predecessor. Not bad, even if it's a ways off the AMG S-Class E Performance with 791 horsepower and 1,055 lb-ft of torque, good for a zero to 60 mph time of 3.2 seconds despite a curb weight almost matching a Ford F-150 Raptor R.
Those figures pale in comparison to the Rimac Nevera’s 1,741 lb-ft of torque and 1.79-second sprint to 60. A Lucid Air Sapphire can clock in about a tenth of a second behind the Nevera at about a tenth of the price, with ample luxurious seating for five. Whether cars this fast should even be allowed in the hands of consumers is a serious question, but the pep of even commuter EVs during daily driving makes gas cars seem absolutely prehistoric in comparison.
Then there’s the lithium question, which also applies to other rare minerals required to produce lithium-ion batteries. The Air Dream Edition uses a 118 kWh battery pack, while GMC’s behemoth Hummer EV rides on a massive 246 kWh skateboard. With full lithium recycling also on a seemingly retreating time horizon, hugely powerful EVs with the range to challenge gasoline cars use too much of the environmentally arduous minerals.
Enter hybrids, which typically combine efficient turbocharged gasoline engines with a small electric motor (or motors) and a petite battery pack. The new Prius Prime, for example, only needs 13.6 kWh of battery to allow up to 44 miles of all-electric range before the little four-cylinder gas engine kicks in. For most people, 44 miles of range will cover daily driving without question. And that’s when the worst emissions happen anyway, during cold starts and bumper-to-bumper traffic.
For road trips, you ask, how much total range does the Prius Prime manage while using both gas and electric power? How about 600 miles on a gas tank that only holds 10.6 gallons—all while using about a tenth of the lithium used for a Lucid Air Dream Edition, which can “only” do 520 miles. Now think about topping off that gas tank quickly, without having to worry about charge times, broken chargers, and weather quite so much. Range anxiety goes straight out the window. Talk about having your cake and eating it too.
Hybrids Might Be the Better Short-Term Solution
More and more automakers clearly view hybrids, and specifically plug-in hybrids, as the happy middle ground (that they are, in reality). Audi nailed the Q5 TFSI e with just enough all-electric range at 23 miles in the most popular segment, mid-sized SUVs. Somehow, the Mitsubishi Outlander is the world’s best-selling PHEV, but that should change as better options hit the market. And the 1,000 horsepower Lamborghini Revuelto—which they dubbed a "HPEV (High Performance Electrified Vehicle) hybrid super sports car"—is about to hit the streets, and tracks, with a combo of screaming V12 and three humming electric motors.
Looking at the bigger picture of going eco-friendly as quickly as possible to save a dying planet, staunch environmental advocates simply can’t force EVs onto consumers fast enough, no matter how pure the ethos behind such regulations may be.
Rural buyers will still hold out, alongside automotive enthusiasts and the inevitable sticks in the mud. And that’s just here in the United States—forget about less industrialized nations where the sheer cost and complexity of widespread EV adoption still presents an insurmountable number of logistical and governmental challenges.
Right now, the planet needs better solutions than the slow crawl towards electrification. Improved catalytic converters can be installed to improve the emissions of aging cars already on the road. Alternative fuels under development can further reduce the production of greenhouse gases, while slashing the petroleum industry’s massive carbon footprint caused by the drilling and fracking required to get those dinosaur guts out of the ground in the first place. (Cleaning up the process of actually building vehicles helps a bit, too, even if capitalists will never support efforts to slow down the churn rate of lease-own-crush consumption).
Eventually, the environmental impact of each individual car on the road will improve. The many benefits of hybrids in contrast to undeniable shortcomings of current EVs may well continue to widen, as well. After all, hybrid systems should improve just as quickly as full-electrics, since the same technology goes into both.
Though some Tesla simps are fighting against that possible future—including former Head Twit Elon Musk—by poo-pooing the bona fides of PHEVs to help the environment (and also sidestepping the lithium issue). A YouTuber sent an open letter to Congress last year complaining that PHEVs shouldn't get the same $7,500 rebate that EVs do since their smaller batteries, some as little as 7 kilowatt-hours, are much less expensive than the 50 to 100 kWh packs that power full EVs. He's missing the forest for the trees, avoiding the whole point of incentives for the consumers, versus the capitalists who build the cars. Elon huffed in response to the pushback to incentives for wider PHEV adoption by posting on Twitter—which is now tragically known as X—"Good point. Time to move on from hybrid cars. That was a phase.”
It's clearly not a phase (see the aforementioned hypercars and supercars and SUVs and pickups that are flourishing under the new designs) and as the finished products improve, increased market demand will therefore further influence manufacturer decision-making. And even if manufacturers won’t go on the official record quite yet to admit that the pivot away from EVs is already underway, the increasing number of hybrid options does reveal that most diehard EV buyers may well have already taken the plunge. For the rest of us, a plug-in hybrid should almost definitely be our next new car.