Plug-in vehicles are on a roll. That’s not to say that battery electric or plug-in hybrids will eclipse internal combustion or hybrid vehicles in the market anytime soon. But the fact that there are 40 plug-in models available in the U.S. during calendar year 2017 speaks volumes on how seriously automakers are taking electrification.
In the market for a plug-in vehicle? Here are your options this calendar year. Prices do not take into account an available federal tax credit up to $7,500 that may apply, or state incentives that can range up to $5,000 or more. Happy hunting!
AUDI: Audi has big plans for plug-in vehicles in its lineup, although the A3 e-tron represents the solitary choice at present. That said, it’s a good one since the A3 has long been a popular and approachable model in the U.S. and represents the right starting point for Audi. Offered at a base price of $39,500, this plug-in hybrid provides 16 miles of battery electric range and an overall driving range of 380 miles. The automaker plans to have three e-tron models within the next three years and others coming after that.
BMW: This automaker is a prolific marketer of plug-in vehicles. Its sole all-electric model is presently the innovative i3, which features a base price of $42,400. It emerged with a larger battery pack in the 2017 model year. The i3 BEV is powered by a 60 AH battery that delivers an EPA rated 81 mile range, with the 94 AH battery variant providing 114 miles of all-electric driving. The i3 REx comes with an engine-generator range extender that enables 97 miles on battery power and an overall range of 180 miles with electricity generated on board. Five additional plug-in hybrids are in BMW’s stable including the sporty i8 ($143,400), 330e $44,100), 530e ($52,950), 740e ($90,700), and X5 xDrive40e ($56,600).
CADILLAC: The short-lived Cadillac ELR extended range electric car, an upscale version of the Chevrolet Volt, was a flash-in-the-pan that illustrated you couldn’t market a high-end – and high priced – plug-in hybrid based on a lower-price Chevy model and get buyers to step up. Cadillac’s answer is its all-new CT6 Plug-In, a luxury model based on its flagship CT6 sedan offering great tech and style. The CT6 plug-in hybrid delivers a 31 mile all-electric range and a 440 miles driving range overall, at a base price of $76,095.
CHEVROLET: GM has the technical prowess to create exceptional electric vehicles, as shown by the acclaimed Chevrolet Volt extended range electric sedan that’s beloved by its owners. The $34,095 Volt provides a 53 mile battery electric range before reverting to electricity created by its on-board engine-generator, for a total range of 420 miles. Chevrolet’s new Bolt EV raises the bar for battery electric cars with an all-electric range of 238 miles before requiring a charge. This all-electric compact crossover is replete with the latest on-board tech and comes in at an MSRP of $37,495.
CHRYSLER: Chrysler was serious about electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles years ago with many concepts and demonstration vehicles, but that faded away as the company focused on getting its finances and mojo back. As part of FCA Group, Chrysler is once again showing its chops with the field’s first-ever plug-in hybrid minivan, the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, much to the delight of families and others who have been waiting for such a breakthrough in this vehicle class. The Pacifica Hybrid drives 33 miles on battery power and 570 miles overall, offering a base price of $41,995.
FIAT: The Fiat 500 is a pint-sized, fun vehicle as a gas-powered model. It’s even more fun in our opinion as an electric. The Fiat 500e is cute, nimble, and delivers 84 all-electric miles of driving. No matter that Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s CEO Sergio Marchionne once said the automaker loses $15,000 on every Fiat 500e sold and wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about that. This automaker is still in the game and 500e fans are a happy bunch because of it. The Fiat 500e features a base price of $32,995.
FORD: Ford is offering the Ford Focus Electric as its sole all-electric vehicle along with two plug-in hybrids. The $29,120 Ford Focus Electric has a range of 115 miles before a recharge is needed. Ford is using its Energi PHEV technology in the CMAX, a five-door, compact multipurpose vehicle and Fusion mid-sized sedan. Energi technology includes a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, 118 horsepower electric motor, and 7.6 kWh lithium-ion battery. The $24,120 CMAX Energi delivers 22 electric miles and an overall driving range of 570 miles, while the $31,120 Fusion Energi drives 22 miles on battery power with a total range of 610 miles.
HONDA: The 2017 Honda Clarity was launched first as a hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle in California and is being joined by battery electric and plug-in hybrid variants this year. The Clarity Electric will drive 80 miles on batter power and initially be available in California and Oregon only, while the Clarity Plug-In Hybrid is expected to be available in all 50 states. These electrified sedans seat five, are quite spacious, and loaded with connected tech and an array of driver-assist systems. The Electric will be leased at $269 per month for 36 months, with $1,730 down (this folds the federal tax credit into the lease terms). The Clarity Plug-In is expected to deliver an electric-only range of 42 miles with an overall driving range of 330 miles. Honda has not yet announced a price for the Plug-In.
HYUNDAI: Hyundai’s all-new Ioniq comes in hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and battery electric choices. At an MSRP of $29,500, the battery electric version features a 124 mile range and an EPA estimated 136 MPGe. It will be available exclusively in California. The plug-in hybrid coming this fall is expected to provide an estimated all-electric range of about 25 miles and hybrid power will take it hundreds of miles past that, although overall range specifics and pricing have not yet been announced. Hyundai’s $34,600 Sonata Plug-in Hybrid, which delivers 27 miles of range on battery power and 590 miles overall, is sold at Hyundai dealerships in 10 states and can be custom ordered elsewhere.
KARMA: Karma Automotive, a new company owned by China’s Wanxiang Group, has revived the defunct Fisker Karma extended range electric car of five years ago and is now manufacturing it in Southern California. Now called the Karma Revero, this grand touring car retains the original’s breathtaking design with some tweaks and benefits from significant technology upgrades and luxury appointments. It’s built on a lightweight aluminum spaceframe and powered by two high-power electric motors energized by lithium-ion batteries, delivering a 0-60 mph sprint in 5.4 seconds. The car drives 50 miles on batteries alone and about 300 miles on electricity generated on board by its 2.0-liter engine-generator. The Revero’s price of entry is $130,000.
KIA: Kia’s plug-in offerings include the boxy, battery-powered Soul Electric that’s been around for a number of years and the more mainstream Optima Plug-In Hybrid sedan. The plug-in Optima variant was missing from the new-generation Optima launch in 2016 but happily arrived with new technology for 2017, at a base price of $35,210. It offers 29 electric miles of driving and 610 miles overall range. The Soul Electric features a 93 mile battery electric range. Coming is the Kia Niro plug-in hybrid, a compact SUV that will join the new Niro lineup in 2018.
MERCEDES-BENZ: Mercedes-Benz is serious about high-efficiency electrics. The automaker is planning at least 10 new plug-in hybrid models with the aim of electrifying nearly all vehicles in its model lineup. Presently available plug-ins in the U.S. market include the B250e electric five-door hatchback, which features a driving range of 87 miles and a base price of $39,900. Plug-in hybrids this year include the $46,415 C350e and $96,600 S550e sedans, plus the $66,300 GLE550e SUV. Each of these delivers 12 to 14 miles of battery electric driving and a 400 to 460 mile overall range.
MINI: For the first time ever there will be a plug-in hybrid from MINI, the MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4. All of the new Countryman variants feature a 1.5-liter 3-cylinder engine. The $36,800 plug-in Countryman adds an 87 horsepower electric motor and 7.6 kWh lithium-ion battery, providing an EPA estimated all-electric range of 12 miles and an overall driving range of 270 miles. The engine drives its front wheels while the electric motor delivers power to the rear axle.
MITSUBISHI: The eggplant-shaped, four-passenger Mitsubishi iMIEV that’s been knocking around since its introduction seven years ago boasts the lowest cost of entry for a mainstream battery electric car in the U.S., at $22,995. It also has the shortest electric driving range at 59 miles, which may fit the needs of some folks but certainly not all. A 66 horsepower motor provides very modest performance. On the plus side, this battery electric model achieves 112 MPGe efficiency.
NISSAN: Nissan’s LEAF is not only the best-selling electric car in the country, but also in the world with some 250,000 examples on the road. Featuring a unique and highly-recognizable design, it delivers a 107 mile driving range and is EPA rated at 112 MPGe. Power is provided by a 107 horsepower electric motor and 30 kWh battery pack located beneath the floor. An ‘eco route’ feature analyzes available battery power and displays charging stations within range.
PORSCHE: When Porsche offers a plug-in hybrid, you know it’s going to be fast. So it is with the automaker’s new Panamera 4 E-Hybrid, which boasts a total system output of 680 horsepower that brings 0 to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds and a top speed of 192 mph. All-electric range is 11 miles with an overall range of 480 miles. Porsche also offers the Cayenne S E-Hybrid that's powered by a 333 horsepower V-6 and 95 horsepower electric motor, a combination that delivers 14 miles of electric driving and an overall 480 mile range.
SMART: The Smart fortwo Electric Drive is an interesting proposition. In general, the Smart has not flourished in the U.S. because the big deal about the Smart is its diminutive physical footprint, a plus in space-impacted European cities but not so much in the wide-open USA. That said, electric drive gives the Smart an environmental edge. It’s powered by a 74 horsepower motor and updated lithium-ion battery pack that reportedly increases electric driving range to 80 miles, up from the previous generation’s 68 mile range. The Smart fortwo Electric Drive comes at a base price of $24,550 with a convertible variant priced at $28,750.
TESLA: Tesla’s Model S luxury sedan, which starts at a base of $69,500 and goes up to $140,000 depending on powertrain and battery, is the longest range battery electric vehicle around. Its base powerplant delivers an electric driving range of 249 miles. The all-wheel drive Tesla Model X SUV starts at $82,500 and delivers 237 electric miles, topping out at $145,000. Powertrain options bring additional range. Tesla’s Model 3, which begins production this month and will be on sale shortly, aims to be the automaker’s first affordable electric at a base cost of $35,000. However, with the Model 3’s large number of preorders it’s expected that Tesla will first deliver highly optioned – and more expensive – Model 3 orders well above the $35,000 base cost.
TOYOTA: The Toyota Prius Prime plug-in hybrid can run on its gas engine or motor alone, or a combination of both. This $27,100 plug-in hybrid features a dual-mode generator drive system enabling both the primary drive motor and motor-generator to provide power when maximum acceleration is demanded. An 8.8 kWh lithium-ion battery pack provides 25 miles of all-electric range, while overall range on electric and hybrid power is 640 miles. It achieves an EPA estimated 54 mpg and 133 MPGe while running on battery power. Prius Prime automatically relies more on electric capability in situations where it is more efficient than running the engine.
VOLKSWAGEN: VW has updated its e-Golf electric hatchback with an improved battery, greater range, and additional on-board electronics. It also benefits from styling updates to give it a crisper look. The latest electrified version of VW’s popular hatch offers a more powerful motor that delivers greater horsepower and torque, plus 50 percent greater electric range at 125 miles per charge. That’s a significant improvement in a world where electric range has become an increasingly important market differentiator. Additional updates include VW’s digital and interactive Digital Cockpit with information presented on a 12.3- inch color screen. The e-Golf has a base price of $29,815.
VOLVO: Volvo’s seven passenger, $67,800 XC90 T8 luxury SUV uses a twin engine plug-in hybrid powertrain for power and increased efficiency. It features the automaker’s 316 horsepower, turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder Drive-E engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The T8 uses an 82 horsepower electric motor on the rear axle and a lithium-ion battery pack that delivers 14 electric miles, with a total hybrid range of 350 miles. Volvo has other plug-in models in the works including its new S90 luxury sedan.
Among owners and fans, it’s a foregone conclusion that Tesla will remain the dominant producer of electric vehicles (EVs) as the automotive world increasingly adopts this technology. And why shouldn’t it? Tesla produces the best EVs, and perhaps the best cars made, has developed an incredible brand, and fills waitlists years before a new car is delivered. This all seems to indicate that Tesla has developed a world-beating business model, but is it actually a signal of future trouble?
Tesla’s strategy has always been to build EVs that are better than their internal combustion competitors and sell them for premium prices. In the language of innovation theory, strategies that offer existing consumers better products at higher prices are called sustaining innovations. Sustaining strategies tempt entrepreneurs because they appear so logical: build a better product and customers will come. But research shows that it is a losing strategy for new businesses. In sustaining competition, the industry incumbents nearly always win.
Incumbents are favored because sustaining strategies build on capabilities that they have developed over the course of their rise to dominance. Worse still, a sustaining strategy presents the entrant as a clear and direct threat to the incumbents. The combination of these two factors creates a response that often proves overwhelming for the entrant. Incumbents respond ferociously and deploy so many resources to the battle that the entrant is overcome.
Consider the situation for Tesla: It would be difficult enough for a company that sells 50,000 units per year to fight even one major automaker head-on. But Tesla has attacked not just the automakers but also every incumbent in the value network that produces automobiles, including the entire base of suppliers and dealers. The resources that these aligned interests can bring to bear are vast. Collectively, these firms spend more on R&D every year than Tesla has invested in its lifetime.
Many have argued that the move away from internal combustion is simply too technologically painful for automakers, but the technology underpinning EVs is largely a modular combination of standard components purchased from independent suppliers. The technology simply isn’t a constraining factor, and with every new auto show the automakers demonstrate this with new concept cars, such as the Porsche Mission E, squarely targeting Tesla. With its fantastic design and beloved product, Tesla might have written the playbook that the incumbent automakers will follow to dethrone it.
If better products and technological barriers aren’t enough to defeat incumbents, is there any hope for entrepreneurs? We’re believers in disruptive innovation strategy, which allows entrants to beat even the most-powerful incumbents. Disruptive innovation begins at the bottom of existing markets or by creating new markets where people don’t currently consume. They target the least-attractive customers and produce worse products for less money with lower-cost business models than conventional offerings. In doing so, they create the phenomenon of asymmetric motivation, which causes incumbents to ignore or flee them. But disruptive strategies don’t remain at the bottom of the market – they possess a technological core that allows them to improve their performance over time, capturing more of the market and pushing incumbents into ever-smaller segments at the high-end.
Many observers say this approach could never work in EVs, but we’re seeing it happen today. It takes the form of low-speed EVs driven by security guards on college campuses, retirees in the Sunbelt, and middle class families in China. The manufacturers are largely unknown and that’s the point. Each year they grow bigger and improve their products without any resistance from incumbents. Soon they will be good enough to lure the least-demanding customers away from traditional automakers and the disruption will have begun. While these companies improve their performance to capture more customers, Tesla’s only option is to reduce its performance. Which position would you rather be in?
Thomas Bartman is a Senior Research Fellow at the Forum for Growth and Innovation at Harvard Business School
Toyota has added ‘Prime’ to the branding of its second generation plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) to emphasize it’s the most technologically advanced, best-equipped Prius ever. Prime is the first Toyota hybrid to feature a dual-mode generator drive system that enables the Hybrid Synergy Drive’s electric motor and generator to both provide power for maximum acceleration. A new 8.8 kWh lithium-ion battery pack delivers up to 22 miles of all-electric driving, double that of the first-generation plug-in Prius. Toyota estimates 120 MPGe or greater or the model, which is expected to be the highest MPGe rating of any PHEV.
Prime features an array of connected and advanced electronics systems including an available 11.6-inch HD multimedia screen. Prius Prime will start appearing in U.S. showrooms in late fall and will be available in all 50 states.