You don’t need a huge battery or fast charging to give up gasoline
I’m not here to moralize or speculate about your driving needs. However, I find myself constantly frustrated by the conversations we have about scale and scope anxiety. That’s not to say they’re not real concerns, spending a lot of money on a car with less utility isn’t the right move. But the insatiable desire for a big-range number obscures the trade-offs and drawbacks that come with making a battery large enough to meet consumers’ supposed range “needs.” Real-world experience proves that range-limited electric cars can be more than enough to keep drivers away from big oil — provided they choose the right vehicle. I recently spent a week with a Toyota Prius Prime, and more than half of my 917 kilometers were driven without fuel. Five of the seven days with the Prius Prime were done using electric power only.
In the real world, people do more with their cars than just complete a straight trip from A to B, and no one wants to be stuck if an errand requires some extra driving. People want batteries that will leave them with a backup range. At 482km, the EV’s 62km range (70km on lower trim models with smaller wheels) may seem embarrassingly small. But think about it, how often do you drive more than 62 kilometers at one time? How much time do you usually spend in the car? I’ll bet my dollar to a donut that the average driver can use a Prius without needing gas. Especially if they stick to the ABCs of plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) driving: “Always be charged.”
Shipping is always simple; Wherever there is an open plug, well, plug the car in. This could take an hour while you’re at the gym, or two hours at a coffee shop. Or it could take 15 minutes or so while you’re at the grocery store. The car does not need to completely replenish its battery, but the energy that is replenished even at the smallest stops is driving time that does not require burning gasoline. All but one of the many coffee shops I frequent as a work space away from home have Level 2 charging. Level 2 charging spaces are also available at many grocery stores, malls, gyms, etc. Sticking to an ABC plan during my week, what some call opportunistic charging, meant I didn’t use a single drop of gasoline for five of the seven. Once upon a time I owned a Prius Prime, despite driving over 402 km.
For now, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) seem to be the red-headed stepchild of the electrification movement. People who use electric cars denounce them as not going any further, some experts see them as a waste of resources, vehicles that do nothing good and restrict precious battery metal that could be used in a full electric car. To the anti-EV crowd, the increased price but limited full electric range seems like a waste of money. The consensus between the two groups is roughly the same: Why pay so much money for a car that can’t even go that far on electric power? Both arguments distract from the crux of the matter: Maybe you don’t drive much. Or let’s look at it as a glass half full – limited scope can take you further than you think. I think the average driver’s perception of both time and distance is skewed.
It can be difficult to determine how much time the average person spends behind the wheel. When I was still a full-time driver, I drove about 1,450 kilometers a week on average. Quick calculations show that I spent about 205 kilometers a day behind the wheel, roughly in 4-8 hour shifts. I wouldn’t wish my worst enemies to live, but the fact of the matter is that spending 4 to 8 hours behind the wheel to travel 321 kilometers makes you a complete stranger among drivers. Spending more than an hour and a half behind the wheel a day on, say, one long task is something most drivers only do on weekends or on infrequent trips.
The Prius Prime’s 62km range, in my experience, equates to about 45 minutes to 1 hour and 15 minutes of driving, non-stop, in varying traffic. I live in Ohio, where traffic is never that bad. Of course, driving 62 kilometers in heavy traffic in a place like Los Angeles would take almost all day, but the Prius’ 62 kilometers of range will likely be enough to meet most people’s driving needs on most days. If you don’t believe me, just ask the US Department of Transportation.
It’s great that I’ve been able to do a lot of driving on electricity alone, but that’s only half the story here. The Prius Prime is able to achieve a lot of opportunistic charging because of its relatively small traction battery. The new PHEV and EV models have mostly been introduced to the market in the form of large SUVs and luxury vehicles. These heavy vehicles will need more power to cover the same distance as a smaller, lighter car. The 2024 Mercedes-Benz GLE 450e is expected to travel about 65 kilometers on electric power, but it needs a 23.3 kilowatt-hour battery to do so. That’s not 10 kWh more than the 13.6 kWh package in the Prius Prime.
This may sound like a “no, duh” type of statement, but a larger pack takes longer to charge – ruining one of the best parts of a good PHEV, which is the ability to recharge in a reasonable amount of time without specialized equipment .
Toyota says 11 hours to recharge the battery from empty to full, but in my experience, the Prius took about 9 and a half hours to recharge from empty to full on a standard NEMA 5-15 120V plug, specified at a maximum of 12 amps. This means adding approximately 1.3 kilowatts to the battery per hour. This means the Prius Prime can recharge its battery from empty to full, overnight, from a standard 120-volt outlet. In the age of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) that can fast-charge DC, the nine-hour number seems long and unimpressive, but let’s reframe the conversation here.
Nine hours is less time than most people spend at home between commutes. Larger battery EV and PHEV competitors will need more time to charge, or will need expensive Level 2 or DC fast charging services to match the Prius’ utility. The Prius’s 62 km range will likely be available for everyday use without any special equipment. In theory, the Prius Prime could travel an impressive 439 kilometers on full electricity on a standard home charge alone if the driver drove 62 kilometers a day. This is higher than the 259 kilometers Americans currently average per week. Over the course of five years, a Prius Prime owner can drive more than 112,654 kilometers, using full electric power alone, just charging it at night from a standard charger. Unlike range-limited electric cars, the Prius can be driven as a regular gasoline-efficient hybrid in cases where the owner’s battery runs out.
During my week with the Prius, I drove 922 kilometres, including shopping, trips to the gym, and a long trip down a winding road for some trick-testing car journalists. I used 5.9 gallons of gasoline, averaging 100.5 mpg. This is impressive.
If I had avoided a weekend trip for once, I probably wouldn’t have used any gas at all that week. It’s true that not every car can be a Prius Prime. I suspect I would have had more difficulty driving on mostly electric power with the RAV4 Prime, given the fact that its larger battery and lower efficiency mean opportunistic charging and 110-volt home charging wouldn’t do much.
The more experience I gain with electric cars, hybrids, and EVs, the more I realize that it’s not really that hard to stop using gasoline, as long as you just plug the damn car in whenever you can. Keeping the Prius Prime charged was as easy as loading the dishwasher before bed, or plugging my iPhone into its charger. During the week I was in the car, gasoline was optional. Given the state of our charging infrastructure, it’s good to have options.
Want more Australian car news? Here’s every electric car we’ve reviewed in the past two years, all the electric cars we can expect to be available soon, and our guide to finding electric car chargers across the country. Check out our dedicated ‘Cars’ tab to learn more.