What to expect if you’re expecting a plug-in hybrid

This article is from The Spark, MIT Technology Review’s weekly climate newsletter. To receive it in your inbox every Wednesday, sign up here. If you’ve ever eaten at a fusion restaurant or seen an episode of Glee, you know a mashup can be a wonderful thing.  Plug-in hybrid vehicles should be the mashup that the…
What to expect if you’re expecting a plug-in hybrid

EV drivers who don’t live in single-family homes with attached garages can get creative with charging. Some New York City drivers I’ve spoken with rely entirely on public fast chargers, stopping for half an hour or so to juice up their vehicles as needed.

But plug-in hybrids generally aren’t equipped to handle fast charging speeds, so forget about plugging in at a Supercharger. The vehicles are probably best for people who have access to a charger at home, in a parking garage, or at work. Depending on battery capacity, charging a plug-in hybrid can take about eight hours on a level 1 charger, and two to three hours on a level 2 charger. 

Most drivers with plug-in hybrids wind up charging them less than what official estimates suggest. That means on average, drivers are producing more emissions than they might expect and probably spending more on fuel, too. For more on setting expectations around plug-in hybrids, read more in my latest story here.

We could see better plug-in models soon (in some places, at least)

For US drivers, state regulations could mean that plug-in offerings could expand soon.  

California recently adopted rules that require manufacturers to sell a higher proportion of low-emissions vehicles. Beginning in 2026, automakers will need clean vehicles to represent 35% of sales, ramping up to 100% in 2035. Several other states have hopped on board with the regulations, including New York, Massachusetts, and Washington.

Plug-in hybrids can qualify under the California rules, but only if they have at least 50 miles (80 km) of electric driving range. That means that we could be seeing more long-range plug-in options very soon, says Aaron Isenstadt, a senior researcher at the International Council on Clean Transportation.

Some other governments aren’t supporting plug-in hybrids, or are actively pushing drivers away from the vehicles and toward fully electric options. The European Union will end sales of gas-powered cars in 2035, including all types of hybrids.

Ultimately, plug-in hybrid vehicles can help reduce emissions from road transportation in the near term, especially for drivers who aren’t ready or willing to make the jump to fully electric cars just yet. But eventually, we’ll need to move on from compromises to fully zero-emissions options.