Analysis: Pure EV or Plug-In Hybrid?

by Ernie Hernandez on January 24, 2011

Scale

Which would you prefer?

Let’s be realistic – we live in a world with many realities. Each of our realities is unique, but they exist nonetheless. These realities may include children, families, jobs, commuting, financial werewithal (or lack thereof), time (or lack thereof)… you get the idea. We live in an extremely complex world in which your realities are quite possibly dramatically different from ours. So why are we starting this article with this philosophical point? Because it matters. It might matter dramatically as to which technology makes more sense for you.

As LEAF devotees (we imagine that you are a LEAF devotee if you are reading this), we imagine that you likely fall into the camp of pure battery electric rather than a plug-in hybrid, such as the Chevrolet Volt. You may have many reasons for making your selection, or you may have only one. No matter. You’ve chosen your position based on your needs, and not the needs of another. Now though, let’s change the equation. Let us take a look at a possible future universe that might exist in the not too distant future.

The vehicle that we are proposing here does not exist to our knowledge. We know of no manufacturer that will have a vehicle like this available anytime soon. But we see the potential for a vehicle like this to exist in the not too distant future. So the question then becomes, which would you choose?

We all know the parameters that the LEAF will operate in. Roughly 100 miles of range on a fully charged battery. This range is subject to change based upon a wide variety of factors including temperature, geography, driving style, payload, etc. Studies have shown that this should be a satisfactory range for most Americans, most of the time. But what if it’s not. What about the rest of us? Or what about the rest of the time? What then? Ah, this is when the difficulty arises.

The Volt is $41,000 and seats four. It will not work for our family of five. It will not work for those that can afford a $33,000 car, but not a $41,000 car. But what if the Volt cost $33,000. And what if the Volt seated five? What then? Do you see our point? Would it work for you? Not only would it work for you – would you buy it?

The automotive industry has been fluid and evolving for just over 100 years. The world of computers has changed more in 30 years than the automotive world has changed in a century. Almost 90 years ago, in the 1920′s the Ford Model T averaged 25 to 30 miles per gallon, and could reach speeds of 65 miles per hour. Our first computer’s hard drive was 20 megabytes. Not gigabytes, megabytes. One can’t even buy a flash drive that small these days. We believe it is fair to say that the automotive world, technologically, has not changed nearly as dramatically. Certainly cars are more comfortable, and you can do more things in your car (not that this is neccessarily a good thing), but technologically, from a mechanical standpoint… it is almost frightening how little progress has been made. (We won’t get into the “whys?”). But the question remains. Pure battery electric? Or Plug-In Hybrid?

The question becomes more difficult to answer with slight changes to the formula. Many of us would still be driving within the range of the pure-electric capability of the plug-in hybrid. So if our mandate is zero emissions, the plug-in hybrid would qualify for our needs. Maybe not everyone’s needs- but for ours it might. Maybe our desire is that we dramatically reduce our reliance on foreign oil. If we drive on battery power 90% of the time, and drive on gasoline only ten percent of the time, perhaps we could categorize this as meeting our needs. We all have different ways of measuring the important factors in our lives.

We don’t expect anyone to change their vehicle choice based on this article. But what we do wish to encourage is the analysis of the why. Why are you making the choice that you are making? Why do you feel that this is the right choice for you? If the Volt were $33,000 and seated five, would we consider it? We have to concede that we might. We would also consider it if Nissan offered this vehicle. Or perhaps, several other automakers as well.

Question what is out there. Question what is available. Question what could be available. The more that you know, the easier it is to make your decision. Which, when it comes down to it, is the reason we created this blog.

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