Hybrid electric vehicles may be the key to accelerating the transition from internal combustion engine (ICE) cars to clean-energy vehicles over the next few decades. Although Tesla introduced the first mass-market electric vehicle more than 15 years ago, electric vehicles still make up a small portion of total vehicle sales more than a decade and a half later.
The idea behind electric cars is noble enough: replace fossil-fuel-hungry internal combustion engines with electric motors to eliminate tailpipe emissions by nearly 100%. However, high prices and range anxiety have consistently hindered EV adoption through the years and forced carmakers to rethink their electrification plans.
Established automakers such as Ford and GM are looking at billions of dollars in losses after electric vehicle demand slowed significantly in 2023. For some automakers, this new challenge presents an opportunity to pivot from purely battery electric vehicles (BEVs) to hybrids.
If electric vehicles and conventional fossil fuel cars exist on two ends of a spectrum, hybrids would fall squarely in the middle. Toyota was the first carmaker to debut a mainstream hybrid vehicle, the Toyota Prius, more than two decades ago, and the model is the most successful hybrid of all time.
Hybrids such as the Prius allow drivers to enjoy some of the benefits associated with driving electric without having to completely change their lifestyles to fit their vehicles. Investing in hybrids will help carmakers tap into markets where drivers would like more efficient cars but still aren’t ready to transition to fully electric cars.
Leading car manufacture Honda says that 50% of its best-selling vehicles are currently hybrids (the CR-V and Honda Accord). According to the company’s U.S. regulatory, legal and technology communications manager, Honda’s hybrid sales have increased by anywhere from 8% to 19% over the past couple of years.
Honda plans on electrifying its entire vehicle line-up by 2040 as part of its efforts to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. As with several other automakers, the company’s electrification strategy now involves providing consumers with more hybrid options to meet growing consumer demand.
Such electric cars will help drivers reduce their transportation emissions in the short-term and slowly get them accustomed to electric-vehicle technology, Honda says. Hybrids can also help alleviate range-anxiety issues because they have superior performance and excellent fuel efficiency. Some models offer drivers up to 600 miles in range without the premiums associated with high-range EVs.
Following Honda’s lead, Kia and Stellantis are also investing in hybrids to help their customers transition to fully electric cars. Kia America spokesperson James Bell says hybrids act as a “bridge to full electrification.” Hybrids could also slow down the transition to BEVs and give countries the time they need to build the infrastructure needed to support a massive EV fleet.
As entities such as Nikola Corporation (NASDAQ: NKLA) commercialize superior battery chemistries, such as solid-state batteries, BEVs could gain traction as range anxiety is addressed.
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