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Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles Explained

The Model E plug-in hybrid (PHEV) runs on a combination of gasoline and electric power. Click on the car below to see its features.

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How plug-in hybrid electric vehicles work

The Model E plug-in hybrid (PHEV), like its non-plug-in hybrid (HEV) cousin, runs on a combination of gasoline and electric power. The major difference between the two is that the PHEV uses a larger battery that can be recharged by plugging into the electric grid.

The Model E PHEV combines the larger battery with a larger electric motor in a simple and cost effective series hybrid configuration to allow electric-only operation over significant distances, even at high speeds and hard accelerations.

PHEVs can also use the same sized electric motor as a HEV in the series/parallel configuration of the Model E HEV, avoiding all gasoline use in more moderate driving conditions.

A series-parallel plug-in hybrid has all the features of our Model E PHEV, but the engine can also directly drive the wheels on the highway, when it is more efficient. This adds cost and complexity, but can improve highway efficiency and is more likely to be used for plug-ins with smaller battery packs and lower all-electric range.

PHEVs can use the same battery technology as either conventional HEVs or battery electric vehicles (BEVs), with the choice coming down to cost-effectiveness and desired all-electric range.

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicle range on a full charge and full tank

The Model E PHEV is designed to provide up to 50 all-electric miles on a single charge under most weather conditions—enough to cover 50 to 70 percent of typical daily travel with nightly charging. It is also designed to deliver an additional 350 miles on a single half-sized tank of gasoline, so even without plugging in, range is not compromised. By comparison, the 2013 Chevy Volt PHEV, closest in design to a series plug-in hybrid, gets about 35 miles on electricity alone before operating on gasoline.

Recharging a plug-in hybrid like the Model E PHEV is as simple as plugging it in to a charger on the wall in your garage or at a public charging station. The battery pack fully recharges in 10 hours or less when plugged in to a 120 volt, 20 amp circuit and 4 hours or less when plugged in to a 240 volt outlet—like those used for a clothes dryer—though some home wiring may need to be upgraded to at least 30 amps. Individual driving habits will impact the recharging time.

Environmental impacts of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles

The Model E PHEV can deliver significant reductions in smog-forming and global warming pollution, depending on the makeup of the electric grid where it is charged and how many miles are driven on electricity versus gasoline.

Plugging in every night to electricity from renewable resources can allow the environmental performance of the Model E PHEV to approach that of the BEV recharged from renewables.

Plugging in to a natural-gas fired electricity grid will ensure that the PHEV outperforms the Model E HEV, while relying on coal-fired electricity will guarantee a larger environmental footprint. Learn more about the environmental impacts of electric vehicles here (PDF).

See our FAQ for more information on the regional impact of PHEVs on the environment.

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