Are plug-in hybrids better than regular hybrids?

Convenience of Plug-ins and Hybrids

This plug-in electric Hummer H3 has a range of about 400 miles, driving its first 40 miles on batteries before turning on its combustion generator.
This plug-in electric Hummer H3 has a range of about 400 miles, driving its first 40 miles on batteries before turning on its combustion generator.
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

Aside from the economical and environmental benefits of plug-in hybrid vehicles, could PHEVs be more convenient than traditional hybrids? One of the most obvious benefits of a plug-in hybrid would be that stops at the gas station would be minimized and possibly even eliminated altogether. For trips around town, back and forth to work and other short distances, drivers may not need to stop at the gas station at all; recharging the battery pack could be done overnight so the car could be ready to go in the morning, or quick charges could be accomplished in just a few hours. The ability to refuel your car at home would be a much greater convenience than having to stop by the gas station on your way to work.

On the flip side, standard hybrids have some convenience factors of their own. Standard hybrids only need to be filled up at the gas station before they can run their full range of mileage on their gasoline-powered engine. And because hybrids use regenerative braking to recharge their battery-assisted electric motor, as long as the car is running (and stopping), the batteries have an opportunity to be recharged. PHEVs can also recharge their batteries while driving, but because they use a smaller engine, a smaller gas tank and rely on the batteries as their main source of power, it's more efficient for the batteries to be plugged in to recharge. So getting the full range of mileage would require a two-step process: charging up the car before a trip and then filling up the gas tank. Once the batteries are depleted, the main source of power is gone, and the batteries will need a recharge from an electrical source. This leaves current-design plug-in hybrids at a slight disadvantage when it comes to longer trips.

Although plugging your car in overnight is more convenient than stopping for gas, if plug-in hybrid vehicles become a mainstream fixture in the automotive world, then recharging stations would need to be added to gas stations, homes and business. This change would require large investments from businesses that standard hybrids simply don't require, and that may be one hurdle that still stands in the way of PHEV development.

For more information about plug-in hybrids, standard hybrids and other related topics, follow the links below.

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