Plug-In Hybrid or Hybrid?
September 29, 2018 7:41 AM   Subscribe

I"m considering switching from an all-gasoline Mazda3 hatchback to either a plug-in hybrid or a hybrid. If I can't charge it at home, is a plug-in hybrid a dumb idea?

I do have a garage but I don't use it for car storage and have always parked on the street, almost always right in front of my house. Theoretically, I could convert the garage to car storage but I'd rather not. There is ample EV infrastructure in my city (San Francisco), including many charging stations at the garage where I park all day at work and my total commute is usually <20 miles per day. I'm considering the Kia Niro - it isn't the most fuel efficient hybrid or plug-in hybrid but I like the crossover style and the higher clearance would definitely make getting into my weirdly sloped garage easier, if it came to that.

But is relying on non-home charging a viable option for plug-in owners?

I hate buying and using gasoline so for that reason alone, a PHEV is appealing but I'm not sure the extra cost is worth it.
posted by otherwordlyglow to Technology (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It really depends on the particulars. Is the charge station at work typically available? Or do you have to get in crazy early to score one? And what's your commute like?

I have a short (either 4 miles per day or 14), surface-streets commute and can charge at home, and I use almost no gas in my everyday life. I don't need to charge at work. But it really does depend on your individual circumstances. I think you could probably try to do an extended test drive, maybe even overnight, to see how well it works for you.
posted by potrzebie at 8:31 AM on September 29, 2018

Best answer: My wife and I own both a full BEV and a PHEV, and lived for many years with a full BEV in San Francisco.

The charging infrastructure in San Francisco is deeply flawed and insufficient. By the end of our time in San Francisco last year, my wife and I stopped using public or workplace charging completely, and would exclusively charge at home. Based on my own experience, I would not buy a PHEV if I did not have a dedicated space to charge at home.

There are several reasons why the charging infrastructure does not work well in SF:

* The free charging spaces are almost always in use due to the influx of EVs. As the owner of a full BEV - which may need a charge just to get home, as opposed to a PHEV which can always rely on gas in a pinch - it is more than frustrating to see all of the spaces filled with PHEVs that do not rely on the charge, especially when many of those cars have stopped charging and have not been moved out of the space to allow others to charge. At the end of the day, it's just not possible to rely on the free spots being available.

* Similar issues take place with free workplace charging. At my wife's workplace, which had a very large number of EV chargers, there was a tremendous amount of anger on the EV mailing lists and among EV owners, as charging spots were often not available due to the number of employees with EVs being greater than the number of spaces. Some BEV owners, especially during the colder months, did not have adequate range to get home and back, and so when PHEVs and longer-range BEVs (ie, Teslas) were at spaces, and lower-range BEVs (Leafs) were parked out, there was a great deal of animosity. Annoying but necessary workplace requirements to move your car immediately after it was done charging (even during meetings) were created. Since we owned a BEV with adequate range to get to work and back, my wife ended up stopping using workplace charging and just charging at home to stay out of the fray.

* The pay charging stations may be available, but are often expensive. While driving on a home charge is generally cheaper than driving on gas, it is possible at many pay charging stations to pay more for electricity than the equivalent amount of gas. In addition, there are many different charging "networks", where the EV owner needs to create a baffling number of accounts and have a number of keytags and/or phone apps in order to charge at any given pay station. When you add malfunctioning stations into the mix, it gets even worse.

I hate buying and using gasoline as well - the vast majority of our driving is electric, and I wouldn't have it any other way. But the public charging infrastructure in SF is not good, and is unlikely to be convenient or economical. Even if there are free spaces in the garage you frequent, there is the question of how long those spaces will still be free as other people who use that garage buy EVs, or the charging stations are converted to being pay stations. Even as a huge proponent of EVs, in your shoes I'd keep driving the hatchback until you convert the garage back to a parking space or there's a major change in the technology or availability of charging stations.
posted by eschatfische at 8:35 AM on September 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

A hybrid or plug-in hybrid (PHEV) doesn't need to plug in. You can run it off gasoline and charge the battery that way. Plugging in is a bonus (and money saver). This is very different from a BEV (battery electric vehicle) like the Chevy Bolt. BEV's don't use gasoline at all and require plugging in to go.

So, I think you'd be fine getting a hybrid or plug-in hybrid without having a charging station at home.

All of that said, I would encourage you to bite the bullet and get a battery EV. Our world has run out of time to move away from fossil fuels. We need to transition to battery powered vehicles as quickly as possible.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 9:09 AM on September 29, 2018

Response by poster: My normal drive is mostly surface streets with a short stint on the freeway and there are often charging stations available at my workplace garage - I've been scouting it out every day. However, I totally appreciate eschatfische's point above.

And I understand that a PHEV doesn't need to plug in - I'm just looking to minimize gas consumption.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:24 AM on September 29, 2018

Can you put the charging station on the exterior wall of your garage?
posted by JayRwv at 9:45 AM on September 29, 2018

Response by poster: I suppose I could but I’m not sure about running a cord over a public sidewalk.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:48 AM on September 29, 2018

FYI, the Niro only lets you go into all-electric driving mode on the plug-in model. So if you want to be able to tell it to use the battery rather than the engine at certain times, get the plug-in.
posted by metasarah at 11:46 AM on September 29, 2018

Best answer: Yeah, I would unfortunately say that unless you can charge at home, it's not worth it. A PHEV doesn't need to be charged, but if you're not charging it regularly you're not really getting any more benefit than you'd get from a regular HEV.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:31 PM on September 29, 2018

Best answer: Depending on the state you live in and your tax situation you may actually be able to buy a plug in for LESS than a regular hybrid. For instance, in CA I can buy a Prius Prime for net less money than I could buy a Prius. It is a better vehicle and offers optionality for charging even if you can not do it right now. Ultimately will have better resale value. In addition you get Commute lane pass with a plug in which for some people is a gigantic benefit.

I was going to buy a Prime but I decided to get a Volt instead. Bigger rebate means I can actually buy a Volt for net less than either Prius. And 50 miles per day of electric driving if I can just find a darn plug.
posted by jcworth at 6:16 PM on September 29, 2018

I'm facing a similar situation. Even if you have plenty of access to free charging now, that will certainly change over the next decade or more that you will be owning the car. So, it would give serious consideration to which option will make sense in the long run, including the possibility of limited access to plug in electricity.
posted by metahawk at 6:25 PM on September 29, 2018

Response by poster: Update: I got the PHEV and I’ve been doing a combination of work and home charging. Getting into my garage is a bit of a challenge due to some wonky grading and a steep slope but I’m getting better at it. Work charging has been fine - there are always available chargers but it’s annoyto have to move my car after it’s finished charging. Anyway, I’ve been pleased with the car!
posted by otherwordlyglow at 7:11 AM on December 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

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