Electric Vehicle Benefits and Considerations

Hybrid and plug-in electric vehicles can help improve fuel economy, lower fuel costs, and reduce emissions.

Photo of an electric car.

Energy Security

In 2019, the United States imported about 3% of the petroleum it consumed, and the transportation sector accounts for approximately 30% of total U.S. energy needs and 70% of U.S. petroleum consumption. Using more energy efficient vehicles like hybrid and plug-in electric vehicles is an important part of continuing this successful trend of minimizing imported petroleum. This supports the U.S. economy and helps diversify the U.S. transportation fleet. Additionally, using an energy source such as electricity for transportation creates a resiliency benefit. The multiple fuel sources used in the generation of electricity results in a more secure and domestically generated energy source for the electrified portion of the transportation sector. All of this adds to our nation’s energy security.

Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) typically use less fuel than similar conventional vehicles, because they employ electric-drive technologies to boost vehicle efficiency through regenerative braking—recapturing energy otherwise lost during braking. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and all-electric vehicles (EVs), also referred to as battery electric vehicles, are both capable of being powered solely by electricity, which is produced in the United States from natural gas, coal, nuclear energy, wind energy, hydropower, and solar energy.

Costs

Although energy costs for hybrid and plug-in electric vehicles are generally lower than for similar conventional vehicles, purchase prices can be significantly higher. Prices are likely to equalize with conventional vehicles, as production volumes increase and battery technologies continue to mature. Also, initial costs can be offset by fuel cost savings, a federal tax credit, and state and utility incentives. The federal Qualified Plug-In Electric-Drive Motor Vehicle Tax Credit is available for PHEV and EV purchases from manufacturers that have not yet met certain thresholds of vehicle sales. It provides a tax credit of $2,500 to $7,500 for new purchases, with the amount determined by the size of the vehicle and capacity of its battery. Some states and utilities also offer incentives, which can be found in the Laws and Incentives database.

Use the Vehicle Cost Calculator to compare lifetime ownership costs of individual models of HEVs, PHEVs, EVs, and conventional vehicles.

Fuel Economy

HEVs typically achieve better fuel economy and have lower fuel costs than similar conventional vehicles. For example, FuelEconomy.gov lists the 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid at an EPA combined city-and-highway fuel economy estimate of 52 miles per gallon (MPG), while the estimate for the conventional 2020 Corolla (four cylinder, automatic) is 34 MPG. Use the Find A Car tool on FuelEconomy.gov to compare fuel economy ratings of individual hybrid and conventional models.

HEVs, PHEVs, and EVs can reduce fuel costs dramatically because of the high efficiency of electric-drive components. Because PHEVs and EVs rely in whole or part on electric power, their fuel economy is measured differently than that of conventional vehicles. Miles per gallon of gasoline equivalent (MPGe) and kilowatt-hours (kWh) per 100 miles are common metrics. Depending on how they are driven, today's light-duty EVs (or PHEVs in electric mode) can exceed 130 MPGe and can drive 100 miles consuming only 25–40 kWh.

The fuel economy of medium- and heavy-duty PHEVs and EVs is highly dependent on the load carried and the duty cycle, but in the right applications, PEVs maintain a strong fuel-to-cost advantage over their conventional counterparts.

Infrastructure Availability

PHEVs and EVs have the benefit of flexible charging. Since the electric grid is in close proximity to most locations where people park, they can charge overnight at a residence, as well as at a multi-unit dwelling, workplace, or public charging station when available. PHEVs have added flexibility because they can also refuel with gasoline or diesel (or possibly other fuels in the future) when necessary.

Public charging stations, or electric vehicle supply equipment, are not as ubiquitous as gas stations. Charging equipment manufacturers, automakers, utilities, Clean Cities coalitions, municipalities, and government agencies are rapidly establishing a national network of public charging stations. The number of publicly accessible charging stations reached more than 26,000 in 2020, offering more than 80,000 places to charge, according to the Alternative Fueling Station Locator. Search for electric charging stations near you.

Emissions

Hybrid and plug-in electric vehicles can have significant emissions benefits over conventional vehicles. HEV emissions benefits vary by vehicle model and type of hybrid power system. EVs produce zero tailpipe emissions, and PHEVs produce no tailpipe emissions when in all-electric mode.

The life cycle emissions of an EV or PHEV depend on the sources of electricity used to charge it, which vary by region. In geographic areas that use relatively low-polluting energy sources for electricity production, plug-in vehicles typically have a life cycle emissions advantage over similar conventional vehicles running on gasoline or diesel. In regions that depend heavily on conventional electricity generation, PHEVs and EVs may not demonstrate a strong life cycle emissions benefit. Use the Electricity Sources and Emissions tool to compare life cycle emissions of individual vehicle models in a given location.

Batteries

The advanced batteries in plug-in electric vehicles are designed for extended life but will wear out eventually. Several manufacturers of plug-in vehicles are offering 8-year/100,000-mile battery warranties. Predictive modeling by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory indicates that today’s batteries may last 12 to 15 years in moderate climates (8 to 12 years in extreme climates).

Check with your dealer for model-specific information about battery life and warranties. Although manufacturers have not published pricing for replacement batteries, some are offering extended warranty programs with monthly fees. If the batteries need to be replaced outside the warranty, it may be a significant expense. Battery prices are expected to decline as battery technologies improve and production volumes increase.