11.28.2012 - by Tom Saxton
The Hybrid Garage

Electric vehicles are awesome for local driving. Driving within the single-charge range of an electric vehicle is more fun, more convenient, and cheaper than driving a gas car. Many people are drawn to the idea that they can abandon gas stations, fuel at home, drive 130 miles for the cost of a gallon of gas and all in a car that has a quiet ride and instant, smooth acceleration that can’t be matched by a gas car.

However, electric cars are not great for driving long distances beyond their single-charge range. Make no mistake, electric road trips can be done. Plenty of EV owners love driving electric so much they are willing to trade off some convenience for the rewards of driving without combustion, but that’s a choice. People who haven’t previously owned an EV aren’t going to sign up for that when they buy their first.

The Plug In Hybrid

The solution to this that first comes to mind for many people is a plug-in hybrid vehicle. The Chevy Volt is an electric vehicle that has a gas engine that can be used to extend the range of the car, both by augmenting the electric motor and charging the battery. Especially for single car households, the Volt can be an excellent solution: drive electric for your daily commute and burn gas for longer trips. The trade off is that the Volt is more expensive than an all-electric Nissan Leaf, has less than half the electric range, and still needs regular maintenance like oil changes.

No Car Does Everything Well

The issue of a diversity of demands from a single vehicle is not a problem that’s unique to electric cars. No car is great for every purpose. You can’t carry more than two people or tow a boat with a Miata. A 15 mpg pickup truck is pretty silly as a single-occupant urban commuter vehicle.

Households that own more than one vehicle have the opportunity to own different types of vehicles which excel at different tasks. A household might own a small, economical sedan for daily driving and a more rugged vehicle for excursions into the wilderness.

The Hybrid Garage

Some 60% of Americans have a garage and multiple cars and 78% drive less than 40 miles per day. The tens of millions of American, and many more worldwide, who are in both groups are perfect candidates for what I call the “hybrid garage.”

The hybrid garage is replacing one of your gas cars with an all-electric car, keeping a gas car that’s good for the things the EV doesn’t do well. There are several potential advantages to the hybrid garage over owning a plug-in hybrid car: you get more electric range for the car’s purchase price, you don’t have to do oil changes on the electric car, and you don’t have to worry about gas going bad because it just sits in the tank for months.

Even a single-car household can adopt the hybrid garage approach. Depending on how often a longer-range vehicle is needed, renting a car occasionally may be a lot cheaper than owning a second car. Swapping cars with a friend or relative can’take care of the occasional road trip, and allow someone else to see first hand how convenient driving electric is.

Who Gets to Drive the EV?

There is a downside to the hybrid garage: once you have an electric car in the garage and people find out how nice it is to drive electric, everyone will want to drive that car. Fortunately there’s an easy solution that Cathy and I developed after we bought our first electric car: whoever is driving farther gets the electric car. This also turns out to be the cure for range anxiety. When you realize how much of your driving can be done with a car that has a “limited range” you’ll stop worrying about running out of juice and wonder how it is that we got so used to tolerating the inconvenience of driving on gasoline.

7 comments on “The Hybrid Garage”
  1. Linda.SF says:

    I am wondering if there is a reference to know what the pricing for a new residential Level II charging station should be. Most of the dealers I find online do not list prices. These dealer http://webosolar.com/store/en/85-ev-charging-stations show prices but IMO they are overpriced. Then you have places like Home Depot where the stations they advertise are not available. I am having a hard time figuring out what is a fair price to pay and where to buy.

    1. Tom says:

      I agree, charging stations are more expensive than it seems like they should be. You should be able to get a Level 2 charging station for less than $1,000. I expect that will drop to under $500 in the next few years as we start to see the benefit of mass production. Check out the Plug In America accessory tracker for a list of possibilities: http://www.pluginamerica.org/accessory-tracker?type=Charge+Station%2C+SAE+J-1772&level=2&nrtl=All

  2. Richard says:

    Great post, Tom.

    People have average driving needs, and peak driving needs. An average day might be 32 miles commuting (actual US average). A peak day might be a road trip (distance), hauling a whole soccer team (seating), or pulling a boat (towing).

    When gas prices were lower, it seemed people were exclusively buying cars that could meet all peak needs. We still have some houses in the neighborhood with three massive SUVs out front.

    This doesn’t seem as prevalent as before. Niche cars are back, in all shapes and sizes. Witness the popularity of the Mini, and now the Fiats. I love this.

    The most efficient combination for a two car family, as Tom mentions, is an efficent car that handles average days, and a peak car that can handle the more challenging trips. The “aha” moment is when you realize that average days make up 90%+ of your annual driving.

    Still have a challenging trip you can’t make with the above? Get creative. Have a larger group drive two cars the one time. Take public transit. Swap cars with a friend. Rent a car.

    You can do it all with only one efficient car as well. You just have to get creative more often. Don’t fear this. It’s been found that people who keep their brain active can reduce their risk of Alzheimers 😉

    Now I have to be Debbie Downer and mention some real dangers to Tom’s suggestions:

    1. Swap your plug-in for a friend’s car.. You may never get your plug-in back 😉

    2. Prefer to drive the plug-in every day and for almost every trip.. You may find your other car’s battery is weak from neglect.

    These downsides are easily overcome by the fact that you will be visiting gas stations rarely, or never. Plug-ins are damn fun, and people are catching on.

  3. jzj says:

    Hi, can you please post or send me a citation for the assertion that “60% of americans have multiple cars and a garage”? I write EV articles and I would like to use this fact, but I can’t locate a source for this assertion. Thanks.

    1. Tom says:

      I got that stat from James Billmaier, author of the excellent book , “JOLT!: The Impending Dominance Of The Electric Car And Why America Must Take Charge.” The book says 50 million of 110 million US households (45%) have multiple cars and a garage, but he’s given the 60% figure in several talks I’ve attended. Even 50 million households represents a lot of potential EV sales!

      Data from the 2011 American Housing Survey says that 83 million of 132 million US households (63%) have a garage or carport. http://www.census.gov/housing/ahs/

      A study by Experian Automotive in 2008 found that Americans average 2.28 cars per household. http://press.experian.com/united-states/Press-Release/new-study-shows-multiple-cars-are-king-in-american-households.aspx

      1. jzj says:


        Thanks very much for excellent citations. Agreed, 50,000,000 is a huge number. I have authority (government transportation statistics) that there are 256,000,000 vehicles in the U.S., and that roughly corresponds with the 110,000,000 – 132,000,000 households each having 2.28 cars. The most useful stat may be that there are 83,000,000 households with garages or carports: that, coupled with the 2.28 cars/household, seems to justify the figure I use, which is the round number of 100,000,000 potential EVs in the U.S. (this would also include commercial vehicles). Whether is it 50,000,000, or 60,000,000, or 100,000,000, there is tremendous opportunity for growth in EV sales in the U.S.

  4. Lance Pickup says:

    Sometimes I feel like we are the proverbial frog in boiling water. We have become numb to high gas prices (and even get excited when the price of gas falls from $3.85 to $3.35). Young people my son’s age who are just now starting to drive have never known gas prices to be less than $3. They probably look at the price of gas and think “it is what it is”. While the price of gas adjusted for inflation has not surpassed the all time high (in 1918 when gas was $3.75 in today’s dollars) at this time, it is and has been on a steep slope for the past decade (except for the aftermath of the 2008 recession when demand significantly dropped). I don’t see it getting better with increased world tensions and more complicated drilling required to get at the remaining oil (e.g. BP Deepwater Horizon). It’s a shame that people don’t realize that they could be spending only a fifth of what they currently spend to fuel their cars. Over the past decade I’ve seen the cost to fill up my car go from $30 to $40 to $50 to $60 and even for a little while over $70! It now costs me less to fuel my EV for a full month than it did to fill up my car once in 2000!

    And speaking of inconvenience…once you’ve experienced the ease of plugging in at night and starting each day with a full “tank” and never have to: use apps to make sure you get the best price on gas; make a special trip to a gas station to fuel up; expose yourself to all the fumes and toxins at your gas pump and sometimes have gas splash out of the filler before the pump shuts down; risk setting off an explosion because you didn’t properly discharge static electricity before starting to pump your gas; feeling like you got ripped off because the day after you filled your tank the price of gas dropped 7 cents. All that and people will still make up reasons to not get an EV and continue to send their hard earned money to the middle east and greedy corporations making record profits off of them.

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