The 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show was full of plug-in hybrids (PHEV). I investigated details both for this article and because I’m interested in buying a new PHEV, which surprises friends because I have been driving an all-electric Nissan Leaf for close to 4 years.
Range has rarely been an issue with our all-electric, and we have never run out of charge. The Leaf has been great because my wife and I share two cars. Now, living in a the city with good transit, carsharing, Uber, walking and other options, we only need one car.
Yes, a Tesla has enough range and charging stations to meet our needs, but it is way out of our price range. To meet all our needs, and keep the price after tax credits below $40,000, the new car will most likely be a plug-in hybrid. There are several exciting PHEV that fit our needs and probably yours. So here’s a run-down of what I found at the recent LA Auto Show 2014.
Chevrolet Volt Leads
More than 70,000 Chevrolet Volts have been sold. The 20 owners who I’ve interviewed have all been happy with their Volts. Drivers meet most of their needs with low-cost home charging; only filling with gasoline for long trips. The Volt
has a 38-mile electric-charge range and 380-mile total range. It normally operates as a series plug-in, with only the electric motor turning the wheels.
An improved 2016 Volt is expected to be announced in January at the Detroit Auto Show. Speculation abounds about more than one model, giving customers a choice in price, range, and fuel-efficiency. I speculate that it will have a more compact battery pack of LG Chem lithium-polymer cells. With a smaller pack, the new Volt will seat five with more cargo space. I also predict that the new 2016 Volt will boost its electric range to 50 miles. Online ordering is likely on the day of announcement. I expect the Volt to remain the best selling PHEV in next year.
If you buy the current model at the dealer, you can probably negotiate a discount. The 2016 model may involve a long wait.
BMW i3 is Green Car of the Year
The BMW i3 with Range Extender delivers 80 miles of electric range in real world before its gasoline engine engages. Although priced at over $42,000, it is selling well. Unlike other PHEV offerings, it is a true electric car with a small engine and gas tank to extend range another 50 miles as a series PHEV. The i3 is great for city driving, but compromised in long-distance highway driving. Unlike the other choices in this article, the i3 can be ordered with DC Fast Charge.
BMW also offers a hot i8 PHEV for well over $100,000. In future years, BMW does plan to offer an optional PHEV drive system for a growing number of its models, including the popular 3-Series.
BMW, like Daimler (Mercedes), also sees a big future in car sharing, including the ability to drive a car to a destination without returning it to the starting point. BMW owns DriveNow with 350,000 members in 20 cities (mostly in Europe at present). the BMW i3 is being added to Drive Now in several cities.
Ford and Toyota Offer Less Electric Range
Ford will continue to succeed with its two plug-in cars, the C-Max Energi and the Fusion Energi. Both cars are beautiful and fun to drive. Personally, I prefer the C-Max because of the hatchback’s flexibility to lower back seats for added cargo space. In real-world driving of these cars I got 14 miles of electric range, compared to 40 with the Volt. However, Ford offers over 620 miles of total range, a plus for long distance drivers.
Ford, like most auto makers (except GM and BMW), uses a parallel drive system that blends power from both the electric motor and gasoline engine.
The Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid continues to be popular even though only delivering a 12-mile electric range in my test drive. In hybrid mode it delivers 50 miles per gallon, more than 20 percent better than Ford
and 30 percent better than Chevrolet. The Prius and Ford seat five, the Chevy only four.
In many states, solo drivers of these PHEV can use the HOV lane, giving buyers another reason to buy a plug-in car, even with limited electric range.
Volvo Announces New 7-Seat SUV PHEV with AWD
For the first time, there will be a roomy seven-passenger plug-in hybrid SUV – the new Volvo XC90 PHEV. With a garage charge, the first 20 miles can be electric, although real-world EV range is likely be closer to Ford and Toyota. You can order now, but pricing is still to be announced. It’s due to hit the market in the spring.
The Volvo XC 90 PHEV is AWD, providing added safety in snow and ice. It has an electric motor on each axle to manage the AWD. Volvo offers many of advanced safety features such as adaptive cruise control, lane-drift warning and assistance, and automatic braking. It offers a larger display for drivers than other plug-ins.
Dealers will sell you PHEVs from Chevy, Ford and Toyota for around $30,000, before generous federal and state tax credits. Most automakers also offer lease programs. My guess is that the Volvo SUV PHEV will be at least $50,000, yet definitely appeal to SUV drivers with its three rows of seats and large cargo area.
In addition to the best-selling plug-in hybrids I have discussed, there are several others on the market and more in the works: Honda has its Accord available now (as are high-end models from Cadillac and Porsche), while Mitsubishi, Volkswagen, Mercedes Benz, Audi. Hyundai and Kia all are expected to lauch PHEV or at least add details in 2015.
According to a new report from Navigant Research, plug-in EVs (which include plug-in hybrids and battery EVs), are expected to make up 2.4 percent of total worldwide light-duty vehicle sales by 2023. Adoption of plug-in vehicles has occurred at a similar pace to the adoption of hybrids that started 15 years ago.
Electric Cars to Match Your Needs
The best car is the one that best matches your needs and budget. If you live in a household with two or more vehicles, you have great flexibility. One vehicle could be pure electric and the other a larger SUV offering more seating, cargo, and long-distance capability. One could be pure electric and the other a plug-in hybrid. You could have a plug-in car for daily driving of under 60 miles and a fuel-sipping hybrid or diesel for long-distance fuel economy.
For many, the plug-in hybrid is the best choice for meeting all needs, especially if it is to be your only car. The Volt continues to be the best seller because its optimal mix of electric range, flexible cargo, and good styling. For those wanting maximum electric range, the BMW i3 is their first choice. For those who want some electric range and good long-distance fuel economy, Ford and Toyota offer good choices. For those who have needed seven seats and AWD for icy roads, Volvo offers a PHEV SUV.
Test drive several models. Bring your cargo needs, such as two bicycles or suitcases or work items and see if they fit. Try a plug-in for a day through car rental or car sharing. Enjoy the electric drive.
Related stories you might enjoy:
Road Test: 2014 Chevrolet Volt
Road Test: 2014 BMW i3 & i3REX
Road Test: 2014 Ford Fusion Energi
Road Test: 2014 Toyota Prius Plug-In