New plug-in hybrids could be bridge to EVs

Toyota has had success with the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime, but it’s only been available in limited quantities. PHEVs that have been on sale for years, such as the Toyota Prius Prime or the Hyundai Ioniq PHEV, have enjoyed only moderate success. The caveat: Those are cars, not crossovers.

The plug-in hybrid market today includes not just compact crossovers, but also the Jeep Wrangler 4xe, the Subaru Crosstrek and a slew of luxury vehicles from BMW, Volvo and even Ferrari.

There has long been a debate in the auto community about the value of plug-ins relative to EVs or standard hybrids. PHEVs are heavier because of the larger battery pack and other mechanicals. They also are more expensive and use up an automaker tax credit that could go to a full-electric vehicle.

Potentially, PHEV buyers can get a big tax break and access to the commuter lane for solo drivers in some states — without regularly plugging in. That would make them more wasteful than a lighter, more inexpensive standard hybrid or a modern EV such as the Tesla Model Y.

Advocates for plug-in hybrids say buyers are likely to understand the technology and use it correctly.

But the opportunity for plug-in hybrids is complicated, as many automakers prefer to invest in full EVs.

“Since many consumers cite range anxiety being a barrier to buying an EV, a PHEV would seem to be a natural stepping stone to get to full battery-electric. But if the product isn’t there, then it’s hard for the technology to be successful,” Caldwell said.

There are many fans of PHEVs as the perfect combination of the do-it-all vehicle and a stepping stone to full electrics.

“It’s exciting to see more plug-in hybrid crossovers enter the field, especially models with three rows,” said Robby DeGraff, industry analyst at AutoPacific. PHEVs come without the common concerns about EVs: limited range, limited public charging and poor cold-weather performance.

“Plug-in hybrids are a great way to introduce consumers to the benefits of EVs like pure zero-emissions driving while at the same time allowing for that comfortable flexibility of having a gas engine,” DeGraff said.

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