The Plug-In Hybrid - A Fad, Or A Legitimate Way To Preserve The Internal Combustion Engine?

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Editors%2 Fimages%2 F1661763003631 Phev Featured
We are all familiar with the parallel hybrid. It is the most established method of electrified propulsion, and with ever tightening emissions regulations around the world, increasingly being adopted even for mainstream cars.

With advancements in battery and electric motor technology, consumer uptake for Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) is also on the up, and as the charging infrastructure continues to mature globally, one can realistically expect greater mass-market acceptance of fully electric cars.Editors%2 Fimages%2 F1661762398145 1661762398145

Featured: An all-electric Mercedes EQA

The humble hybrid has also spawned various other subcategories of electrically-assisted vehicles, such as the mild hybrid, in which the alternator has been replaced with a 48V system that also serves as a generator when the forward momentum is no longer required, as well as the plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV).

But with all the advancements in EV technology, is there really a need for plug-in hybrids? Can they really serve as a way to still preserve the joys of fossil fuels?

Before we begin the article proper, we are aware that the photos are of non-PHEVs. We have not reviewed any PHEVs as of the time of this article. 

What Is A Plug-In Hybrid?

Think of them as a sort of halfway house between your standard ICE car and a full-on EV. You have an engine, all the related ancillaries needed to support internal combustion, as well as a decently powerful electric motor with all of the gubbins required to facilitate propulsion with electrons - think charge controllers and a battery pack.Editors%2 Fimages%2 F1661762511204 1661762511204

Featured: Renault Arkana. Not a PHEV obviously!

Unlike the parallel hybrids, PHEVs can actually be driven for long distances in pure electric mode, with better performing models having range estimates just shy of 100 kilometres. In theory then, if you religiously charge your PHEV, you’d be able to complete your daily commutes without using a drop of fuel.

If you have no intention of plugging your car in, it’d behave much like a standard parallel hybrid. Naturally, that means you will not be able to reap the benefits of the vastly superior fuel economy, which is really the only reason why you’d buy one in the first place.

Do They Actually Have A Place In The World Of New Cars?

With ruthlessly efficient parallel and mild hybrid vehicles on sale today, and with EVs that have big range figures for really not too much cash, it is no wonder that you don’t see very many PHEVs on our roads. They are too complex, and thus expensive, for their own good. There simply isn’t enough of a benefit to justify the vast increase in initial investment over a standard parallel hybrid. They also do not have the raw instantaneous power of a fully electric vehicle, nor the range of one.

And that’s even before we get to the really heavy hitting stuff. See, as mentioned above, a PHEV has two different sources of propulsion. Logically, it’d need the componentry of both a dedicated EV as well as a standard ICE car. On the move, the car’s computers will then work out, in real-time, when and where it should deploy each.

Editors%2 Fimages%2 F1661762631206 1661762631206Featured: Hyundai Tuscon. A solid parallel hybrid, but not a PHEV!

Which sounds brilliant in theory. But more complexity in the drivetrain means more points of failure, which then translates into greater running costs. Also, in order for you to maximise the fuel efficiency of your PHEV, you’ll always have to keep the battery pack topped off, and as the gains may be marginally for those that are more well-to-do (let’s be real - if you can afford a PHEV, chances are that you’ll have the cash to pay for its fuel), it may not always be worth the hassle to get it recharged. 

Or in simpler terms, you may just be lugging a lot of extra weight along with no real world benefit.

So Does That Mean There’s No Place For The Plug-In Hybrid?

There’s a reason why these vehicles exist. But Singapore isn’t really a good place to showcase the true capabilities of these vehicles. If you live in a larger country, the ICE drivetrain is good for long-distance commutes, meaning you do not have to suffer from the dreaded range anxiety à la a pure EV on properly long drives.

Day-to-day intra-town commutes will be taken care of by the electric drivetrain, which means you aren’t burning any fuel - as long as the car is charged. In said larger country with lower land costs, access to your own residential wall socket means you’ll only have to pay an insignificant amount monthly for your commutes.Editors%2 Fimages%2 F1661762255901 1661762255901In the little red dot that we call home though, with a landmass that only spans 50 kilometres from East to West, there’s simply no real advantage in having such a complex drivetrain. If you plug the car in to recharge regularly, your car would simply operate as an EV, lugging around a hefty petrol motor with no real benefit.

Again, as mentioned above, if you opt to not charge your PHEV, you’ll essentially not be able to enjoy the fuel savings. In this context, in our books at least, the choice is clear. If you are after an ecological way to commute to and from work, just purchase a full EV. For another other purpose, a parallel hybrid will do you just fine.

Just remember - the simpler your car is mechanically, the less headaches you’ll have as the car ages!

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