All three cars run on both gas and battery power but there are key distinctions, stemming mostly from the differences between PHEVs and REEVs. Where the Volt and Karma run strictly on electricity until their battery range is depleted, the Prius optimizes use of its electric and gas power even when it's battery is at or close to full charge. In other words, you can floor the accelerator while merging onto a freeway in a Volt or Karma and still operate on electricity alone, but a Prius Plug-in will likely use its gas engine to assist in that process.
What does this mean for drivers in terms of their emissions footprint and daily fuel costs? As Pike Research's John Gartner pointed out this week, that all depends on how far you drive between charges. In comparing the Prius Plug-in to the Chevy Volt, Gartner calculated fuel costs for both vehicles as they relate to trip distance. (The Fisker Karma wasn't included on the study, but it has the same electric range as the Volt and follows the same principals even though its gas-only fuel economy is lower.)
Gartner's results, seen in the graph below, indicate that drivers who travel within their REEV's electric-only range can expect significant fuel savings compared to a Prius Plug-in. Beyond that point the cost comparison begins to narrow:
“Assuming a gas price of $3.50 and electricity at 11 cents per kilowatt-hour, the Volt’s bigger battery makes it cheaper to operate as long as you drive 70 miles or less between charges. At distances of greater than 70 miles, the Prius PHEVs’ greater fuel economy as a hybrid makes it cheaper to operate.”
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