Would an Electric Car Improve Your Efficiency?

Fuel economy and engine performance aren’t the only things to consider when mulling a switch from a gas-powered vehicle. New hybrid models may help you get to and from appointments and showings much quicker.

February 5, 2018

If you’ve seen the latest headlines, you might think every car on the road is going electric. Well, you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. Just about every automaker—General Motors, Toyota, Volkswagen, and even Britain’s Morgan Motor Company—plans to offer an “electrified” option for every product they build by the middle of the next decade. Even exotic manufacturers such as Aston Martin and Ferrari are planning electric options.

Many of those models will be fully battery-electric, but others will be plug-in, conventional, and even “mild” hybrid drivetrains. What that means is the supposed death of the time-tested internal combustion engine has been greatly exaggerated. Even in 2025, when U.S. fuel economy standards are expected to reach an astonishing 54.5 miles per gallon, “we’ll see that most cars will still have an internal combustion engine in it,” says Xavier Mosquet, senior partner and managing director of the automotive sector at The Boston Consulting Group.

However, many of those cars will adopt new hybrid technologies to boost both the mileage, range, and, in many cases, the performance of their gasoline engines. There are now three distinctly different forms of hybrid power:

  • Plug-ins, such as the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid—touted as “America’s first-ever hybrid minivan,” with a 566-mile range and integrated entertainment system, including dual 10-inch touchscreens—and Chevrolet Volt, have onboard battery packs large enough to allow them to run in all-electric mode for 15 to 50 miles. When the batteries run down, these cars can continue running on their gas engines.
  • Conventional hybrids, such as the best-selling Toyota Prius, have small battery packs that typically aren’t used for EV mode—at least not for long. But by recapturing energy normally lost during braking and coasting, they can supplement a smaller gas engine, which boosts power and enhances mileage.
  • Mild hybrids are just coming to market and use simpler, less expensive electric drive systems to assist the primary gas engine. Some systems primarily focus on boosting performance, while others deliver more mileage.

This could have major implications for you as a real estate professional. Gas is among the biggest expenses for practitioners, so the more you can stay away from the pump, the better it is for your pocketbook. But that doesn’t mean electric vehicles are a cure-all. The biggest question is how much time you spend behind the wheel and what sort of electrified vehicle you are considering.

With a conventional hybrid, you’ll still need to gas up regularly. But with some models, such as the familiar Prius, which yields 50 mpg or better, you’ll do that less often. Plug-ins, such as the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid (not included in the REALTOR Benefits® Program partnership with FCA US LLC), can be run entirely on electricity—if you don’t clock too many miles. But when the batteries run down, you’ll still have a back-up gas engine to keep you running. Chevy reports that Volt owners typically go as much as 900 miles between fill-ups if they charge before work every day.

Pure battery-electric vehicles have typically been off the radar for real estate professionals because of limited range. But now that new extended-range models, such as the 200-mile Tesla Model 3, are reaching the market, they make more sense for professionals who rely on their car to do business. Charge them at home overnight using the special plans many utility companies offer, and that could cost you $2 or $3—or less than 20 percent of what it costs to gas up even the best hybrid models.

However, while Mosquet expects many gas-powered cars to adopt some form of hybrid power in the years to come, there are some breakthrough technologies for internal combustion engines that could give electric propulsion a real run for the money. Among the most promising is the new VC-Turbo engine that will debut in mid-2018 on the new Infiniti QX50. This engine achieves a goal automotive engineers have been working on for decades and will become “the next major step in optimizing efficiency and emissions of the internal combustion engine—literally transforming between power and efficiency on demand,” the Nissan luxury brand said in a statement. And Infiniti is promising high-end V-6 performance with near-turbo mileage. 

Mazda is making a similar claim about its new SkyActiv-X engine. The Japanese automaker already offers an array of SkyActiv technologies that are among the most fuel-efficient gas engines on the market. But the “X” engine also aims for new hybrid efficiency. It runs on gasoline but borrows heavily from diesel engine technology, achieving fuel savings of as much as 30 percent when compared to a more traditional gasoline engine.

Mazda will launch a production of the SkyActiv-X in 2019. And other IC engine breakthroughs could be coming to market soon, including variations of what’s known as the OPOC, or “opposed piston/opposed cylinder,” engine. A California startup called Achates Power contends it can do many of the things both the VC-Turbo and SkyActiv-X can—in one engine—and several major manufacturers are giving it a close look.

Will gas technologies like these forestall the anticipated wave of electrified vehicles? “We think it is an imperative and fundamental job for us to pursue the ideal internal combustion engine,” says Kiyoshi Fujiwara, senior managing executive officer at Mazda. “Electrification is necessary, but the internal combustion engine should come first.” Though some of these new engine designs will likely also be “hybridized” to achieve even better mileage and performance, they are likely to keep internal combustion technology on the road for decades to come.

Paul A. Eisenstein is publisher of The Detroit Bureau. He has more than 30 years of experience covering the auto industry for a broad range of print, broadcast, and electronic media.