Simanaitis Says

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PLUG-IN HYBRIDS ARE NEAT, BUT NOT CREATED EQUAL

PLUG-IN hybrids, PHEVs, for short, have found more than 13,000 new homes in the U.S. during first six months of 2012; this, according to Edmonds.com. Most of these sales, of course, are Chevrolet Volts and Toyota’s newly introduced Prius Plug-in. Volt sales are surging (a little electrical humor here; very little). The Prius Plug-in is currently (help; I can’t stop myself!) available in east- and west-coast states as well as Hawaii for 2012; the rest of the country gets it in 2013. The only other PHEV at the moment is the $100K Fisker Karma, contributing around 1000 sales.

There’s excellent contrast inherent in these two popular PHEVs, the Chevrolet Volt and Toyota Prius Plug-in. The Volt is a series hybrid, its gasoline engine essentially dedicated to operating a generator supplying electricity to the car’s propulsion motor. The Prius Plug-in is essentially a parallel hybrid, both its gasoline engine and electric motor interacting in propelling the car.

Chevrolet Volt is a series hybrid with comparatively large battery pack. Its long suit is pure EV progress for perhaps 35 miles; its tradeoff, cost and weight.

The “essentially” qualifiers are for technical precision. In fact, the Volt has a parallel mode where its gasoline engine contributes directly to its progress. And, as part of its interaction, the Prius gasoline engine occasionally contributes electricity in series fashion.

The Toyota Prius Plug-in is a parallel hybrid. Its somewhat smaller battery pack offers quicker recharging. Its overall cost is less; its tradeoff, only limited pure EV progress.

Technical distinctions translate into operational ones too. The Volt operates in pure EV mode for as much as 35 miles before its engine fires up to provide more electricity. By contrast, the Prius Plug-in’s pure EV progress is limited to perhaps 15 miles before parallel operation ensues.

To accomplish this extended EV operation, the Volt carries considerably more energy in its lithium-ion battery pack, 16.5 kWh compared with the Prius Plug-in’s 4.4. This larger battery pack in turn adds weight, cost and recharge time, but also offers a larger federal incentive for purchase. The 3781-lb. Volt has a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price of $39,145, with its battery size earning a $7500 credit on next year’s income tax. A Prius Plug-in weighs 3165 lb. and has an MSRP of $32,000, its smaller battery worth $2500 in federal tax credit.

To put these in full perspective, a conventional (non-plug-in) Prius hybrid weighs 3042 lb., has a price range of $24-$30K, 1.3 kWh of energy in its Nickel/Metal Hydride battery pack—and is designed for no more than a mile or so of limited pure EV propulsion.

While in comparison mode, I should note that the Chevrolet Volt is rated an EPA Compact, as identified in one portion of EPA’s 2012 Fuel Economy Guide (this publication’s other Volt citation as a Midsize is in error). The Prius is slightly larger, a genuine EPA Midsize.

On a purely personal note, the Prius accommodates my bigger-than-average-bear physique—and aged back; the Volt, less so, particularly in its ingress/egress and rear seating. Each is chock-filled with information/infotainment displays that’ll take concentrated study to optimize.

Not to confound a comparison, but I’d include a (non-plug-in) Prius V. Its pure EV range is negligible, but this “traditional” hybrid charges itself. And the Prius V’s added size offers enhanced utility.

The Volt’s attraction is in its “range-extended EV” nature: Drive less than that 35 miles between plug-ins, and you’re experiencing pure EV propulsion. The Prius Plug-in’s long suits are in packaging and price. Me? I’d look hard at a non-plug-in Prius, and spend the extra cash on the slightly larger Prius V’s added utility. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2012

 

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This entry was posted on August 19, 2012 by in Driving it Today and tagged , , , , .
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