In late 2010, General Motors sought to seize the high ground from Toyota’s successful Prius hybrid with the Volt plug-in hybrid — a car that could drive short distances on only electricity and fire up a gasoline engine for long trips.
But the Volt and other cars like it struggled to win over drivers as many early adopters opted for fully electric cars like Tesla’s Model S and the Nissan Leaf. G.M. quietly did away with the Volt in 2019 as it trained its sights on all-electric cars.
But a funny thing happened on the way to obsolescence: Plug-in hybrid sales are climbing in the United States, in part because of the recent surge in gasoline prices. Automakers sold a record 176,000 such cars last year, according to Wards Intelligence, up from 69,000 in 2020. This year, sales of plug-in hybrids could reach 180,000, analysts said, even as the overall new-car market drops to 14.4 million from 15.3 million a year earlier, according to Cox Automotive.
All-electric cars have seized around 5 percent of the new-car market, and most analysts and industry executives expect them to eventually surpass hybrids as automakers commit to eliminating tailpipe emissions, a major contributor to climate change. But hybrids — led by a growing selection of plug-ins — still make up about 7 percent of sales, and that number could grow for at least a few years.
Automakers are struggling to ramp up electric-vehicle production because the supply of batteries is not growing fast enough. Partly as a result, the average cost of a new electric car is now a steep $66,000. That provides an opening for plug-in hybrids.
Unlike conventional hybrids, which can be refueled only with gasoline and are dependent on engines, plug-in varieties can operate entirely on battery propulsion. And because these cars have smaller batteries than all-electric vehicles, they can be more affordable. The cars are also appealing because they do not have to be plugged in for many hours to be fully charged. On road…
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