By Nathan Erb
You already plug in your cell phone to re-charge it each night, so why not your car too? In the coming months, the first mass-produced plug-in hybrid and fully electric vehicles will be quietly rolling onto city streets. Learn the differences between them, the cars available and if one of these cars may be right for you.
Hybrid Electric Vehicles
You’ve seen them on the roads since the beginning of the decade when the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius were introduced as the first hybrid cars. They’ve been the most fuel efficient and popular gasoline-electric hybrid cars in the U.S. ever since. Today, many car manufacturers offer some type of hybrid vehicle in their lineup.
How does it work?
Without going into a lengthy science lesson, it basically uses a combination of a gas-powered internal combustion engine and an electric motor. The car can use kinetic energy to recharge the battery (such as during braking). Hybrid electric vehicles do not need to be plugged in, and have fuel ranges that can surpass regular cars. The 2011 Toyota Prius, for example, has an estimated MPG of 51/48 city/highway.
Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs)
Plug-in hybrids are vehicles that have a limited all-electric range before switching over to the conventional gas engine. The EPA rated the 2011 Chevy Volt's range when powered by the 400-pound lithium-ion battery pack at 35 miles. After that, the car can switch to the conventional gas engine to increase the range to 379 miles.
For driving around town or a short commute, you could use virtually no fuel, and charge the car at night.
Toyota, Ford, Volvo and several other car manufacturers have either been testing PHEVs or have plans to release similar vehicles within the next few years.
Full Electric Vehicles
Want to get yourself completely away from the gas pump? Electric vehicles (EVs) are powered solely by an electric motor using rechargeable battery packs. An EV is the most environmentally friendly car, and doesn’t require much of the routine maintenance that a traditional car does (like oil changes).
The downside is that the range of the vehicle is typically under 100 miles, and charging stations are not readily available. Fueleconomy.gov lists all of the pros and cons of EVs.
Is an EV right for you? Where can you get one?
Recognized as the cleanest mid-size car available, the 2011 Nissan LEAF is the first mass-produced, fully-electric vehicle on the market. Have a little extra money to throw around? The Tesla Roadster offers a sporty, 2 door EV. Check out new and upcoming electric vehicles on fueleconomy.gov.