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Electric Car Options: Which Is Right for You

An electric car powers up at a public charger.

A pandemic, natural disasters and financial chaos may have marked 2020, but none of these challenges has prevented the always-on-the-move automotive industry from chasing the future of transportation. One key objective is the full electrification of future vehicles, in part or in whole, to reduce our dependency on the internal combustion engine and the fossil fuels required to move them.

Mild, standard and plug-in hybrids are among the electric car options to consider, so it’s worth exploring how each of these vehicle types impacts the market and what you should be looking for as you shop for one.

Electrified VehiclesPhoto is from my personal stock.

Not all kinds of electrified vehicles are available in every market. While standard, mild and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) are widely available, not all EVs are sold nationwide. In addition, another segment of EVs that utilize hydrogen is restricted by the lack of available fueling stations nationwide. Here’s a look at the types you might want to shop for.

Standard Hybrids

The most common electrified vehicles are standard hybrids, models that utilize a gas engine, a battery pack and at least one electric motor to supply propulsion or replenish the battery. In the late 1990s, the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius were the first hybrid vehicles to arrive.

Standard hybrids typically switch between gas and electric power, ensuring excellent fuel economy — usually well above 50 mpg. The price point is typically only about $2,000 more than a conventional gas-only vehicle. Standard hybrids are the most versatile of the hybrid options, as they don’t require plugging in, but they don’t run on electric power alone.

Mild Hybrids

GM was an early pioneer of mild hybrid vehicles, and the Chevrolet Malibu and Buick LaCrosse were among the first models. Much more rudimentary than the systems used by Toyota and Honda, the tiny battery packs in these vehicles did little to improve fuel economy.

Fast forward to 2021, and the term “mild hybrid” has taken on a new meaning. These days, the hybrid system is driven by a more robust 48-volt battery system that replaces or supplements the typical 12-volt system. Not only does a 48-volt system do a better job of handling the accessories and advanced tech that normally tax the engine (e.g., navigation, audio, driver-assist), but they can also supplement power to help acceleration and sharpen throttle response. The Audi Q7 SUV and the Ram 1500 eTorque are two current examples of mild hybrids.

Plug-In Hybrids

When the Chevrolet Volt launched in 2011, it was often mistaken for a pure-electric vehicle. That’s because the now-retired Volt utilized an electric motor and battery system for primary propulsion and a small gas engine for backup power. The advantage of a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) over a standard hybrid is that it drains its electric power first before the gas engine takes over.

A standard 120-volt household outlet replenishes power, but an upgraded 240-volt system will do the job faster, so consider the matter of charging accessibility when you shop for one of these. When a PHEV is fully charged, it can deliver from 15 to over 50 miles of electric-only power — great for errands around town. Current models include the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan and the Hyundai Ioniq PHEV hatchback.

Pure-Electric Vehicles

Surprisingly, pure electric vehicle development traces back to the late 1800s, before the internal combustion engine won out. Today’s EVs are more complex and supply an extended range, with electric motors powered by batteries alone motivating the wheels (sometimes all four) for impressive acceleration with zero emissions.

The Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Bolt and all of Tesla’s models are current examples of pure-electric vehicles. Newcomers like the Rivian R1T pickup will soon challenge the best of them, with electric motors for each wheel and battery packs aiming to deliver ranges of 400 miles or more.

Electric Car Options

With so many choices currently available, your next vehicle may well be electrified in some form or another. If you need an extra push, know that federal and state tax breaks could reduce your final cost. With electric options becoming more popular than ever, it may suit you to adopt this clean tech soon.

Check out all the car parts, tools and accessories available on NAPA Online, or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on electric car options, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photos courtesy of Matthew C. Keegan.

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Matthew C. Keegan View All

Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.

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