Why I went with a plug-in hybrid car

Not quite ready for an electric vehicle? Consider a plug-in hybrid for your next car — I’m an early adopter! I hope to eventually own a...

Not quite ready for an electric vehicle? Consider a plug-in hybrid for your next car — I’m an early adopter!

I hope to eventually own a fully electric vehicle and don’t want to discourage others from buying one. When faced with the need for a new car, however, I determined I wasn’t ready to give up on the internal combustion engine altogether. Here is what I learned on the way to choosing what for me is the best of both worlds: a hybrid plug-in.

The news is full of reports about the electric cars that are coming down the pike. Ford plans to produce only electric passenger vehicles by 2030; GM has pledged to go fully electric by 2040. This is good news: transitioning to electric vehicles is a crucial part of fighting climate change.

President Biden’s climate plan calls for a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, and transportation accounts for 30% of all greenhouse gases, with road vehicles accounting for as much as 80% of that. Depending on what happens in Congress, more incentives for electric vehicles and a lot more charging stations may be on the way.

Meanwhile, manufacturers are already coming out with more fully electric cars: for example, the Hyundai Kona and Ioniq EV, the Kia Niro EV, and the Ford Mustang have joined the better-known Tesla, Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf. The cost of these cars is mitigated by available tax credits of up to $7,500 (with the exception of cars from Tesla and GM, which have exhausted their credit eligibility). Sticker prices will doubtless come down as more competition arrives.

But, as I said, I wasn’t ready to completely forsake the gas pump for several reasons. For one, fully electric vehicles require fast chargers using 240 volts. I have a regular 120-volt outlet in a garage located some 40 feet from my house (the longest recommended charger cable is 25 feet). To install a fast charger would have required a major electrical upgrade and a long, expensive trench.

In addition, since I still make long trips from time to time to fairly remote areas. I had some concern about finding myself running low on electrons late at night, far from a charging station.

As a conservation/climate minded person in need of a new car, what was I to do?

Solution: a plug-in hybrid. I have long happily driven hybrids — a Prius and a Ford C-Max — and would never go back to the bad old days of less than 40 miles per gallon. It always surprised me that people would ask if I had to plug in my hybrid. No, I didn’t; hybrid batteries get recharged from the energy generated when the car’s brakes are applied. The transition from hybrid battery energy to gasoline-generated energy and back-again is seamless and not noticeable to the driver.

The plug-in hybrid combines the technology of the standard hybrid with the added ability to charge the battery from regular household current like what I have in my garage — or what you may have on a deck or from another outside outlet. Again, I am asked what happens when the electric battery gets depleted — do I come to an abrupt stop? No, the engine switches seamlessly to regular hybrid and gasoline power. (Reassuring point: since hybrid batteries are expensive, they are warrantied for 100,000 miles.)

More and more automakers are coming out with plug-ins, although there have been delays. I would have stuck with Toyota or Ford, but the Rav 4 and Ford Escape plug-in hybrids weren’t yet widely available and were really larger than I needed. There were many choices of sedans like the Honda Clarity, Ford Fusion, Prius Prime, Kia Optima, and Hyundai Ioniq, but I wanted a small crossover with a high seating position.

Subaru has come out with a plug-in hybrid version of its Crosstrek, but since I don’t need all-wheel drive, I opted for the similar body style but lower cost of the Kia Niro. I now have 26 miles of pure electric range — all I need for my day-to-day driving — and an EPA-estimated 46 miles to a gallon in regular hybrid mode, with an overall 560-mile combined range (on a tank of gas and a charge).

The federal government offers tax credits for plug-in hybrids, with the lowest at $4,500 but most coming in above that, with some at the $7,500 ceiling. (The credit amount varies based on the capacity of the battery used to power the vehicle.)

If you owe, say, $6,000 in federal taxes, a credit in that amount could wipe out your whole tax bill (though you don’t get paid any excess credit amount and you can’t carry over any excess to future tax years). If you lease the car, as I did, the dealer takes the credit but usually gives you a corresponding discount on the lease.

On top of that, Massachusetts offers a $1,500 cash rebate for plug-in hybrids even if you lease the car.

I am very pleased to say that I haven’t been to a gas station in over a month despite trips to Boston and Vermont. Now I challenge myself to combine errands and shave mileage off trips, feeling virtuous when I get back to my “plug” still showing a mile or two of electricity “in the tank.”

So, if you care about the environment and want to do something concrete to fight climate change, but aren’t quite ready for a full EV — or are waiting for new ones to come out — look into a plug-in hybrid, and maybe a lease, as an easy and affordable transition.

Eve Endicott lives in Easthampton

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Why I went with a plug-in hybrid car
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