Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) are powered by conventional or alternative fuels as well as electric power stored in a battery. Using electricity from the grid to run the vehicle for a portion of the time costs less and reduces petroleum consumption compared with conventional vehicles.

Powered by Electric Motor and Engine
Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles have an internal combustion engine and an electric motor, which uses energy stored in batteries. PHEVs have large battery packs that make it possible to drive using only electricity for some distance (about 10 to 40 miles), commonly referred to as the "all-electric range" of the vehicle.

During urban driving, most of a PHEV's power comes from stored electricity. For example, a light-duty PHEV driver might drive to and from work on all-electric power, plug in the vehicle to charge it at night, and be ready for another all-electric commute the next day. For longer trips or periods of higher acceleration, the internal combustion engine is used. Heavy-duty PHEVs sometimes work just the opposite, using the internal combustion engine for the drive to and from a job site and using electricity to power the vehicle's equipment or to keep the vehicle's cab at a comfortable temperature at a job site.

Fueling and Driving Options
Plug-in hybrid electric vehicle batteries can be charged by an outside electric power source, by the internal combustion engine, or through regenerative braking. During braking, the electric motor acts as a generator, using the energy to charge the battery.

PHEV fuel consumption depends on the distance driven between battery charges. For example, if the vehicle is never plugged in to charge, fuel economy will be about the same as traditional hybrid vehicles. If the vehicle is driven less than its all-electric range and plugged in, it is possible to use only electric power.

Fuel-Efficient System Design
Beyond battery storage and motor power, there are different strategies for combining the power from the electric motor and the engine. The two main designs are parallel and series.

  • Parallel plug-in hybrids connect the engine and the electric motor to the wheels through mechanical coupling. Both the electric motor and the engine can drive the wheels directly.
  • Series plug-in hybrids use only the electric motor to drive the wheels. The internal combustion engine is used to generate electricity for the motor. General Motors (GM) uses a slightly modified version of this design in the Chevy Volt. GM refers to this design as an extended range electric vehicle (EREV). In an EREV, the electric motor drives the wheels almost all of the time, but the vehicle can switch to work like a parallel hybrid at highway speeds when the battery is depleted.

Source: US Department of Energy Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicles Data Center
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