Skip to main content

Finley: Hybrids make more sense than EVs


Nolan Finley   | The Detroit News

For more than three decades, I've bought a Ford F-150 pickup every five years. I'm on my eighth truck, and if I'm still allowed on the road in a couple of years, I'll be buying my ninth.

I stuck with the model despite my skepticism when it went all aluminum. I appreciate the basic body style has stayed the same for 15 years — it makes it easier to find my truck in a parking lot. 

Boring, perhaps. But I know what I like. And I don't like change. 

So I was eager to read my colleague Henry Payne's review of the 2021 Ford F-150 hybrid, the first gas/electric large pickup on the market. Henry loved it for its toughness and muscle. 

What intrigues me is the hybrid power train. I've long thought hybrids are the most sensible future for automobiles.

For one thing, they are completely viable today. They don't have to wait for a major shift in consumer tastes or production plants because they can be dropped into the vehicles already in showrooms.

While all-electric vehicles offer the (false) promise of zero emissions, they are now and will be for a long time to come limited in their practicality.

The biggest issue is range. There is no limit to how far and long I can drive my current truck, with just quick and periodic stops at a filling station. The same is true of a hybrid.

But at some point, electric vehicle batteries run down and have to be parked for recharging, a process that can take 10 hours or more to get them fully juiced. And though the range is steadily increasing, there will always be a limit on how far they can go before they have to be taken off the road and plugged in. Right now, that's roughly 200-300 miles.

That makes them unsuitable for long road trips or even heavy daily use.

Even if charging becomes faster and range increases dramatically, switching to an all-electric fleet, as envisioned by President-elect Joe Biden and California regulators, would require a new nationwide fueling infrastructure. That will be hugely expensive and demand a massive expansion of the electric grid, which environmentalists are bound to oppose.

Hybrids, in contrast, use the gasoline stations already in place.

And since their batteries are charged off the gasoline engine, the vehicle never has down time. The powertrain switches continuously from gasoline to electric as needed.

Fossil fuels still will be required, but far less so. The greens will have to give up their zero-emission dreams. 

But that was never going to happen anyway. The electricity used to charge an EV has to come from somewhere, and today 63% of power is generated by natural gas and coal. 

We are a long, long way from producing enough electricity from renewables to power an all-electric fleet and meet all our other energy demands as well.

General Motors said last week it is putting all its research and development money into electric vehicles. A better play would be to focus on creating hybrid powertrains that rely on as little gasoline as possible.

It's the fastest route to reduce emissions. And, as Henry Payne writes of the new F-150, it can be done without sacrificing power, range or performance.

Twitter: @NolanFinleyDN

Sign up for the Nolan Out Loud morning report at detroitnews.com/newsletters.

Watch Finley on DPTV’s “One Detroit” at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays.