The concept still sounds space age. Pull your car up to a fuel tank at home or station, attach an electric cord and fill up. Yet such vehicles in practice carry long historical extensions: The first gasoline-electric hybrid automobile, the Lohner-Porsche Mixed Hybrid, dates to 1899. An all-juiced car brand, the Detroit Electric, lasted from 1907 to 1939.
But it wasn’t until the 21st century that scientists and carmakers got involved in plug-in technology in a big way, driven by rising fuel costs and increasing air pollution.
What’s propelled the plug-in in recent years are advancements in battery design and longevity, the gradual expansion of electric cars among manufacturers and the popularity among car enthusiasts and investors of the all-electric Tesla.
Entrepreneur Elon Musk’s latest effort, the Tesla Model 3 sedan, started deliveries in late July after a long anticipated debut. Considered the first mass-market affordable electric car, auto consumer company Kelley Blue Book notes, the Model 3 starts at $36,000 and claims to travel up to 310 miles on a charge — and can speed from 0 to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds. “Tesla says it expects to be able to ramp up to building 500,000 Model 3s a year,” according to kbb.com.
Vehicles powered by electricity come in two versions. An electric vehicle, or EV, can drive on electricity from a power plug, Plug-in America points out on its website. A plug-in hybrid vehicle, or PHEV, can handle both gas and electricity, the electric power typically kicking in at slower speeds.
There are 38 models on the market (not including the Tesla Model 3) priced as low as $24,550 for the smart for two electric drive ED to $476,090 for the Cadillac CT6 racking up 26 mpg in gas mileage and 62 mpg electric. BMW touts five designs, the i3 and i8 and electric versions of the 3-series, 5-series and X5. The Toyota Prius claims 54 mpg gas mileage and 133 miles for equivalent electric power.
Plug-in America promotes the electrically charged models for affordability, noting that fuel prices are roughly the same as $1 a gallon gas. The electric cars also improve air quality, are convenient, offer environmental stewardship and boost performance — a plug-in model gets full “torque,” or acceleration, from a standstill while gas powered vehicles take at least a shot while to pick up speed.
“Plug-in electric vehicles are now viable for most lifestyles and budgets,” Plug-in America says.