The Complete Guide to Hybrid Electric Vehicles for Fleets

April 29, 2020

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From tax incentives to lower fuel costs, learn more about the benefits of hybrid electric vehicles in this complete guide.

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With more and more EPA pressure to switch to greener alternatives, many organizations who are interested in investing in electric cars are adding hybrid electric vehicles to their fleets as the first step to lowering operating costs and curbing carbon emissions. Though there’s more interest in electrifying fleets because of cost saving opportunities, some fleets are left wondering what the added benefits are from switching their traditional cars to hybrid electric vehicles. 

Whether you’re deciding which type of hybrid electric vehicles to invest in or learning about hybrid vehicles for the first time, this comprehensive guide can help you learn about the benefits of hybrid vehicles to inform your electrification strategy. Keep reading to learn what hybrid vehicles are, how they work, what their main benefits are, and more. 

What are hybrid electric vehicles and how do they differ from all-electric vehicles? 

Hybrid electric vehicles—or hybrid vehicles—are vehicles that combine a conventional internal combustion engine (ICE) with an electric powertrain system to achieve a better fuel economy than traditional cars. Because hybrid electric vehicles run on both electric power and traditional fuel, they emit fewer tailpipe emissions and contribute less to air pollution. 

But how do hybrid electric vehicles differ from all-electric vehicles? Unlike all-electric vehicles, hybrid vehicles derive some of their power from gasoline engines. Because of this, hybrid electric vehicles do produce some tailpipe emissions and cannot be classified as zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs). 

3 different types of hybrid electric vehicles 

Before you start evaluating the benefits of hybrid electric vehicles for your fleet, it’s important to first recognize the differences between the two types: plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and regular hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs). 

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs)

Description

Automakers who make this type of hybrid electric vehicle

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs)

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) can recharge their batteries in one of two ways: with regenerative braking, and by plugging in to an external power source. Also, plug-in hybrids won’t tap into your gas tank until the battery runs out of electric power.

Chevy Volt, Chrysler Pacifica, Ford C-Max Energi, Ford Fusion Energi, Mercedes C350e, Audi A3 E-Tron, BMW 330e, Fiat 500e, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Porsche Panamera S E-hybrid, Toyota Prius, Volvo XC90 T-8, Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model S

Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs)

Hybrid electric vehicles are powered through both electricity and gasoline, and derive electric power solely from regenerative braking.

Toyota Prius Hybrid, Honda Civic Hybrid, Toyota Camry Hybrid, Honda Accord, Honda Insight

Mild hybrid electric vehicles

Different from full hybrid vehicles, mild hybrids are not capable of using the electric motor to power the car by itself, even for a short distance. But similar to full hybrids, the electric motor in a mild hybrid is there to assist the gasoline engine in order to improve fuel economy and increase vehicle performance.

Ram 1500, Mercedes-Benz E-class, Audi A6, A7, and A8

What can you use hybrid electric vehicles for? 

In the past few years, hybrid electric vehicles have become popular for consumers and organizations alike. Consumers increasingly use hybrid electric cars and SUVs for their commutes and short range trips because of their exceptional fuel efficiency and impressive MPG. 

Similarly, organizations and local governments, such as the City of Boston’s public works department, use plug-in hybrid electric vehicles to provide essential citizen services and reduce their environmental impact. 

In addition, public sector fleets have begun introducing hybrid vehicles into their fleets to save on operating costs and are beginning to fully transition their older internal combustion engine vehicles to hybrid vehicles. With a driving range between 200 and 350 miles, local government fleets and organizations with light-duty vehicles should consider evaluating electric vehicles to replace their current vehicles for shorter trips.  

What is regenerative braking? 

Each time a driver brakes in a traditional internal combustion engine vehicle, energy is produced, turned into heat, and then essentially wasted. In order to minimize energy waste and recapture the energy emitted from braking, hybrid electric vehicles use a system called regenerative braking. 

When a driver operates a vehicle with regenerative braking, the brakes put the vehicle’s engine into reverse mode, causing it to move backwards and slow the car’s wheels. This allows the motor to act as an electric generator which produces energy that is used to power the car’s battery packs. 

Not only does regenerative braking improve the fuel economy of a vehicle but it also extends the charge of a hybrid vehicle’s battery and energy source by creating electric energy that otherwise would not have existed. 

What’s the difference between battery and fuel cell cars? 

In order to run, electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles use either rechargeable batteries or fuel cells that convert hydrogen into electricity. Both have zero tailpipe emissions, but battery-powered vehicles are much more common because of more advanced charging infrastructure. Below is a chart that describes the differences and automakers for each type:

Type of power source

Description

Automakers who make this type of hybrid electric vehicle

Battery-powered vehicles

Battery-electric hybrid vehicles are more common and require charging stations to maintain electric power. Because charging station infrastructure is more developed and widespread, battery-electric vehicles are typically preferred over fuel cell vehicles today.

Chevy Volt, Chrysler Pacifica, Ford C-Max Energi, Ford Fusion Energi, Mercedes C350e, Audi A3 E-Tron, BMW 330e, Fiat 500e, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Porsche Panamera S E-hybrid, Toyota Prius, Volvo XC90 T-8, Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model S

Fuel-cell-powered vehicles

A fuel cell uses the chemical energy of hydrogen or another fuel to cleanly and efficiently produce electricity. In electric vehicles, fuel cells are used as primary and backup energy sources. Despite the benefit of a quicker charge time, fuel cell charging infrastructure lags far behind that of battery chargers, which makes it difficult to scale.

Mercedes-Benz

What are hybrid electric vehicle chargers?

Electric vehicle charging stations—also known as chargers—provide electric power for the recharging of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. 

Although all charging stations serve the same purpose—to make sure your electric cars stay powered—there are three distinct types of public charging stations that are important to be aware of:

  • Level 1: These chargers are the most standard and derive power from a standard wall outlet of 120 volts. These chargers take the longest to charge—usually about 10 hours to fully charge an all-electric vehicle and a few hours for a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.  

  • Level 2: These chargers use the typical EV plug found in homes and garages and make up the largest percentage of public chargers. 

  • Level 3: These charging stations, commonly known as DCFC, or DC fast charging stations, are the least common but charge vehicles at the fastest rate. Tesla’s Superchargers, for example, can fully charge an electric car within 75 minutes. 

The 5 main benefits of hybrid electric vehicles 

Despite the challenges and occasional drawbacks of owning electric vehicles such as limited range and charging infrastructure, there are several benefits that can have a big impact on your fleet’s bottom line. By investing in hybrid electric vehicles, your fleet can: 

  • Lower operational costs: By relying less on your vehicle’s gasoline engine, you can save on operational costs such as fuel and engine upkeep. According to the US Department of Energy, all-electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles have a typical energy cost of $50-80/month, compared to the ICE gasoline cost of $160-200/month. This means you could save up to $200 per month on fueling alone by switching from a gas-powered car to a hybrid car.

  • Fewer maintenance issues: With fewer moving parts to maintain, electric vehicle owners save thousands of dollars per year on maintenance costs. In fact, electric car owners report spending one third of the cost to maintain their EVs than traditional ICE vehicles. 

  • Environmental benefits: With fewer tailpipe emissions and greater fuel efficiency, hybrid electric vehicles are better for the environment and can help improve air quality in cities and municipalities.  

  • Greater driving range: One of the biggest setbacks of all-electric vehicles is their limited range. With hybrid electric vehicles you can improve your MPGe and fall back on the gasoline engine which can extend your driving range significantly. 

  • Vehicle safety: Hybrid electric vehicles have shown to be safer than internal combustion engine vehicles for a few reasons: lithium-ion batteries are less flammable than gasoline, and hybrid vehicles are less likely to roll over in a collision due to their heavier weight. Hybrid car automakers have begun to strategically place the vehicles’ batteries further away from the vehicles’ “crumple zones”—or areas that are susceptible to getting smashed in a crash— in order to mitigate risk of fire in the case of a collision. 

What to evaluate when deciding to invest in hybrid vehicles 

There are several factors that go into the decision to invest in hybrid electric vehicles. When evaluating your electric car options, take the following criteria into consideration: 

  • Vehicle price and total cost of ownership (TCO): Currently, 19 of 40 electric vehicle options on the market have an MSRP lower than $37,000, which is the average cost of a new car in the United States. Despite misconceptions that electric cars and hybrid vehicles have high sticker prices, the reality is that the total cost of ownership of electric cars is increasingly on-par with traditional internal combustion engine vehicles. 

  • Charging station infrastructure: If you’re evaluating PHEVs, one of the biggest barriers to entry for PHEV ownership is ensuring that you have the proper charger infrastructure to keep your hybrid vehicles running. Without ample charging station access, drivers can be left with “bricked” vehicles—or vehicles that run out of charge before reaching a charger. 

  • Battery costs: Despite the cost savings electric cars provide, a lesser known cost is battery replacement. With a typical battery replacement cost hovering around $5,000, this is a cost that you should keep in mind when evaluating hybrid electric vehicles. 

  • Battery life: Hybrid vehicle battery life is another thing to watch out for when deciding if electric vehicles are right for you. Most electric car automakers claim a battery life of up to 500,000 miles, but battery degradation can sometimes happen starting at 30,000 miles—making it more difficult for batteries to hold a charge. Without a battery replacement, PHEV owners can begin to see a 3- to- 5% decline in driving range.

  • Driving range: Most hybrid vehicles today have a driving range of more than 200 miles, with the best long range vehicles clocking in around 370 miles. Although 200 miles is typically a long enough range for short trips, if you need a vehicle for longer trips, you may want to consider hybrid electric vehicles over PHEVs. 

What tax credits are available for hybrid electric vehicles? 

For over ten years, the federal government provided tax credits to incentivize consumers to purchase electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. In the United States, all-electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles purchased in or after 2010 were eligible for a federal tax credit of up to $7,500, depending on the capacity of the vehicle’s battery. But starting January 1, 2020, Congress suspended the incentive program. 

Despite losing the federal incentive program, automakers like Tesla and Toyota are optimistic that state incentives will not dampen sales. States like California and Colorado offer electric car tax credit programs, allowing electric vehicle owners to claim tax credits of $5,000 per PHEV. Learn more about tax credit programs in your state here

Why fleets should use telematics to track hybrid electric vehicles

For fleets looking to make the most of their hybrid vehicle investment, implementing a telematics system is the next critical step. 

For many fleets with electric cars, not having sufficient battery to complete a round-trip or not being able to find a charging station in time is a major concern. Since hybrid vehicles can take over eight hours to fully charge, hybrid electric vehicle fleets require a major shift in driver behavior. Those unaccustomed to electric cars might forget to stop and charge in time, putting themselves at risk of being unable to complete their job. 

Because of this, planning is even more essential for a hybrid vehicle fleet. Access to data points such as state of charge, nearby chargers, or driver HOS status are essential to ensure every hybrid vehicle in your fleet can make it to a charging station.

4 reasons to choose Samsara to monitor your hybrid electric vehicle fleet 

  1. Remote visibility into your hybrid vehicles’ real-time state of charge: With State of Charge Reports you can view current and historical vehicle state of charge to help inform fleet dispatching and operational decisions. You can also easily monitor charging status to determine if your hybrid vehicles are plugged in and charging. 

  1. Get the most from your investment by viewing fuel and energy usage: Use the Samsara Fuel and Energy Use Report to see the percentage of time vehicles use electric power versus gasoline to make the most of your investment. 

  1. Find nearby charging stations fast: With the Samsara EV Charge Stations Map Overlay, you can see nearby charging station information including open hours, available charging types, and more so you can find the closest station available and plan routes accordingly. 

  1. One unified platform for all of your vehicles: Electric or not, Samsara allows fleet managers to monitor all of their vehicles in one, easy to view dashboard. With features to assess the suitability of electrifying your fleet, Samsara provides customers with the tools they need to reach their sustainability goals and reduce costs. 

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