EV Cars

Next-generation batteries could benefit plug-in hybrids as well as electric vehicles

Plug-in hybrids with twice as much range are on the rise. You can thank the California government and the lobbying efforts of automakers, in part with the aim of delaying the transition to pure electric mobility.

In interviews at the 2024 New York Auto Show Two executives familiar with their brands’ future products independently told Green Car Reports the magic number for plug-in hybrids: 70 miles.

This is not a random alignment of goals. It is exactly in line with CARB’s latest California regulations and effectively counts PHEVs with a range of 70 miles the same as electric vehicles in automakers’ annual ZEV sales requirement.

Here’s how and why, according to these two executives.

Nissan production for solid-state cell prototypes

Nissan production for solid-state cell prototypes

Next generation batteries for plug-in hybrids

To achieve today’s electric range of 32 to 38 miles, plug-in hybrids are typically equipped with 19 to 22 kWh battery packs. Increasing the electric range of a plug-in hybrid to 70 miles requires a switch to a 30 to 40 kWh package, especially for larger SUVs.

This means extra space and weight that a vehicle must constantly carry around, even when unloaded. That’s why today’s plug-in hybrids lack truly meaningful range, according to Ponz Pandikuthira, senior vice president and chief planning officer of Nissan North America. “This is exactly why we couldn’t bring this (significant range plug-in hybrids) to market, because the basic physics argument is that we are carrying ballast in this vehicle that is not being charged,” Pandikuthira said.

But with next-generation batteries, automakers could do better. Nissan is already building a factory in Japan to potentially bring this more energy-dense technology to market Production until 2028. Solid-state batteries could be smaller and lighter with the same range, or offer far greater range with the same size and weight. They may also be easier and cheaper to package due to their lower refrigeration requirements.

Steven Center, chief operating officer and executive vice president of Kia America, also noted that next-generation batteries with different chemistry or technology will reduce size and weight. “They will have more power and more range,” he said.

Meanwhile, managing resources is a growing concern for executives, and Center mentioned that the battery size of a plug-in hybrid is about a fifth of the battery size of an electric vehicle. In terms of cost, critical minerals, and all the things that go into making a battery pack to install in a vehicle.

2025 Kia Sorento Plug-in Hybrid

2025 Kia Sorento Plug-in Hybrid

Plug-in hybrids make no compromises?

Nissan’s Pandikuthira noted that customers don’t want an electric vehicle for its midsize Frontier pickup, but rather a plug-in hybrid. He found that there are no compromises when driving a plug-in hybrid and you don’t lose 20-35% of your range in either extremely cold or warm temperatures.

To meet near-future CO2 regulatory requirements, everything must be a hybrid. That could be part of that Kia Telluridewhich is closely based on the Kia EV9 electric SUV in size and shape.

Plug-in hybrids are a “good bridge for people between internal combustion engines, hybrids and electric vehicles,” Kia Center said, citing the upcoming CARB rules and how they will affect electric vehicle credits as “attractive.”

2023 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid

2023 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid

With their greater range, plug-in hybrids are the gateway to electric vehicles

California’s all-but-mandated 70-mile all-electric range would apply not under any “fancy conditions,” Pandikuthira noted, but at what consumers see at the low end. In reality, most people should be able to get 80 to 85 miles of range with 90% of the demographic buying a plug-in hybrid, he said, calling it “no compromise at all.”

Current data suggests this again Plug-in hybrid drivers do not connect, resulting in much higher levels of exhaust pollution than regulations assume, essentially allowing automakers to pass federal emissions regulations. Pandikuthira believes that will change when PHEVs reach 70 miles.

“Without that (more range), I don’t think the car has the functionality that customers need,” Pandikuthira said, which sounds like a hint that Nissan intends to start its PHEVs at 70 miles.

“The customer has to get used to connecting,” said Pandikuthira. “They get used to recognizing where the charging points are so that the next generation of vehicles is a fully electric vehicle.” The inertia is so much less. People say, ‘I’ve barely filled my car with gas, I’m ready for an electric vehicle.’ It’s a natural transition.”

“You can see that the future is going to hold different punches for different people, but everything is going to be electric,” Center said.

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