What kind of electric vehicle is right for you?

3 min read
Deciding on your next car is a big choice. If you’re thinking about an electric vehicle, there are a few things to consider. This guide breaks down electric vehicle types to help you make a choice.
What's the difference between all-electric and plug-in hybrid?

There are two main categories of electric vehicles: all-electric vehicles (AEVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). The main difference is that PHEVs still have a gas tank. When the electricity stored in the battery runs out, the car switches automatically to gasoline and operates like a normal hybrid vehicle. Popular models of PHEVs include the Chevy Volt and Toyota Prius Prime. AEVs are only powered by electricity stored in the car’s battery – no gas required. Perhaps the best known AEV manufacturer is Tesla, but many other models are available, including the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Bolt. The Drive Electric Vermont vehicle comparison tool includes many more PHEV and AEV options available to Vermonters.

Here's how to think about the differences when you're considering your next vehicle:

All-electric vehicles (AEVs):
  • Are more impactful in terms of greenhouse gas emissions (because they never use gasoline)
  • Will save more money in the long run on both maintenance and fuel costs
Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs):
  • Easier to travel long distances when needed
  • Still require routine maintenance of a gas car
  • Less efficient overall
Understanding your vehicle's carbon footprint

If you’re buying an EV for environmental reasons, comparing the emissions of different vehicles can help make your choice. The Union of Concerned Scientists has a handy tool to help compare the emissions impact of different electric vehicles. They compare vehicles using equivalent miles per gallon (or MPGe), where a higher number is a more efficient, less emitting vehicle.

Emissions estimates are based on the regional electricity source where you’d be charging the vehicle. If you’re charging your EV entirely from a home solar system, its equivalent MPGe would reduce emissions further.

The EPA reports that an average passenger vehicle gets about 22 miles per gallon. The estimated efficiency of gasoline and electric vehicles in the table below is from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fuel Economy resource.

EVs come in many shapes and sizes

The choice between all electric and plug-in hybrid isn’t the only one you’ll be making. The size and style of a car also impacts its efficiency. A plug-in hybrid SUV is often less efficient than a gasoline hybrid. A plug-in hybrid sedan or hatchback is in the middle – better than a gas hybrid but not as efficient as an all-electric sedan. But on Vermont roads, some drivers prefer a vehicle with all-wheel drive or more clearance. There are EV options with all-wheel drive and many more are coming to market in the next few years. The best way to figure out what you prefer is to test drive some vehicles. You can visit a local dealership to test drive their cars or attend an electric vehicle demonstration event in your community.

Quick takeaways: which vehicle is for you?

An All-Electric Vehicle (AEV) might be for you if:

  • You never want to put gas in your car again
  • You want the biggest bang for your buck in terms of maintenance and fuel savings
  • You want to see the biggest impact on your greenhouse gas emissions
  • Most of your driving happens within 125 miles of your home or business
  • You have more than one car in your household

A Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) might be for you if:

  • You don’t mind the occasional trip to the gas station
  • You want a vehicle that’s more efficient than a standard gasoline vehicle
  • You want to be able to take long (125+ miles) trips without charging
  • Your EV is your only car