Vacations: When plug-in hybrids beat pure electric vehicles

New Belgium electric vehicle charging photo
CC BY 2.0 Sami Grover

Often when we write about plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) versus pure electric vehicles, a reader will chime in to say that PHEVs are an unnecessarily complicated, inferior solution to their simpler and ultimately greener battery electric counterparts.

That might be true. In theory. But given that longer range electric vehicles are still relatively expensive and few and far between, I think it's important to remember that PHEVs have some unique benefits too.

As a driver of both a used Nissan Leaf and a plug-in hybrid Pacifica, I was reminded of this last week when we took a week-long trip to Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia.

As I've already established, it's possible to take a shorter-range battery electric vehicle on a road trip, but it's not exactly pleasant. By contrast, I was able to make the 110+ mile journey with three adults, two kids, and a trunk load of random lake gear easily—and with 36 of those miles being all electric. And then, once we got there, we were able to plug in at our rental property, and enjoy battery electric motoring for the entire time that we were on vacation. (We also got an additional 10 miles of electric range on the way home, thanks to a charging and shopping stop at Weaver Street Market in Hillsborough.) All in all, between the 220 mile round-trip and a week of rural vacation errands, we barely used a quarter of a tank of gas in a giant, hulking minivan.

In addition to the road tripping possibilities and flexibility that a PHEV provides, some studies actually suggest that drivers of PHEVs and early-model, shorter-range electric cars actually travel a similar distance of all electric miles. So, until electric vehicles get significantly more range and more model options, and until public charging becomes ubiquitous, I think there's a strong case for many families to make one of their vehicles a PHEV. Just make sure it has enough electric range to cover a significant portion of your day-to-day driving.

And then remember to bring your charging cord with you when you go on vacation.

Update: I literally just finished reading this story, and then clicked on this article by Jonathan Biggs over at Green Car Reports on why battery-electrics and plug-in hybrids make the perfect combination for many families. Great minds think alike...

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