Next-gen batteries could benefit plug-in hybrids like EVs

Plug-in hybrids with twice the range are going to be the hot new thing. You can say thank you California Govt and lobbying efforts by automakers, in part, to delay the all-electric transition.

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.

It is not a chance alignment of goals. This works in line with the latest California rules enacted by CARB – effectively counting PHEVs with a range of 70 miles, the same as EVs, in automakers’ annual ZEV sales requirements.

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

Nissan production of prototype solid-state cells

Next-gen batteries for plug-in hybrids

To get today’s 32 to 38 miles of electric range, plug-in hybrids typically carry 19 to 22-kwh battery packs. Increasing the electric range to 70 miles for a plug-in hybrid would require a jump to a 30- to 40-kwh pack, especially for larger SUVs.

That’s extra space, and the vehicle must carry weight at all times, even when unloaded. That’s why today’s plug-in hybrids don’t have a truly meaningful range, said Ponz Pandicutira, senior vice president and chief planning officer, Nissan North America. “That’s why we couldn’t put it (plug-in hybrids with a meaningful range) out there, because the basic physics argument is that we’re carrying the payload in this vehicle without charging it,” Pandikuthira said.

But with next-generation batteries, automakers can do better. Nissan is already building a factory in Japan to bring more energy-dense technology Production by 2028. Solid-state batteries can be smaller and lighter for the same range, or they can deliver more range given the same size and weight. They can be easier and cheaper to package due to lower cooling requirements.

Chief Executive Officer and Executive Vice President, Kia America, Steven Senter, also noted that next-gen batteries with different chemistry or technology will reduce size and weight. “You’re going to have more power and more range,” he said.

Meanwhile, resource management is top of mind for executives, and the center noted that the plug-in hybrid’s battery size is one-fifth of what can be used in an electric vehicle. In terms of costs, critical minerals and all the things that go into a battery pack that goes into a vehicle.

2025 Kia Sorento Plug-in Hybrid

2025 Kia Sorento Plug-in Hybrid

Aren’t plug-in hybrids a compromise?

Nissan’s Pandikuthira says customers don’t want an electric vehicle for its midsize Frontier pickup truck, but a plug-in hybrid. He noted that the moment you go plug-in hybrid, you don’t compromise traction and lose 20-35% of your range in extreme cold or warm temperatures.

To meet future regulatory requirements for C02, everything must be hybrid. It may include Kia TellurideIt closely matches the Kia EV9 electric SUV in size and shape.

Plug-in hybrids are “a great bridge for people between ICEs, hybrids and EVs,” Kia’s Center said, pointing to the upcoming CARB rules and how they “appealingly” work into EV credits.

2023 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid

2023 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid

With more range, plug-in hybrids are the gateway to EVs

Pandikuthira noted that the 70-mile electric-only figure mandated by California may not be there under some “freak set of circumstances,” but consumers will see it on the low end. In reality, 90% of the demographic that buys a plug-in hybrid should be able to get 80 to 85 miles of range, he said, adding, “There’s no compromise.”

Recent data suggest that again Plug-in hybrid drivers are not plugging in, resulting in higher levels of tailpipe pollution than the regulations predict, essentially allowing automakers to skirt federal tailpipe pollution regulations. Pandikuthira thinks that will change when PHEVs reach 70 miles.

“Without that (higher range) I think the car doesn’t have the functionality that customers need,” Pandikuthira said, adding that Nissan intends to launch its PHEVs at 70 miles.

“Consumers have to get used to plugging in,” Pandikuthira said. “They’re used to identify where the charge points are, so that the next-generation vehicle will be a full EV. The inertia is very low. People are like, I have a hard time filling my car, I’m ready for an EV. It’s a natural transition.”

“You can see that the future is going to be different strokes for different people, but it’s going to be all electrified,” Center said.

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