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We spend a lot of time here at dot.la talking and writing about the future of batteries in cars, but one area we haven’t spent much time on is the curious case of the plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. But just because we don’t talk about PHEVs doesn’t mean they’re not a potentially important part of our brave new electric future.
First, what are plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs)? As the name suggests, these are electric vehicles that can run on battery alone, but also have traditional gas-powered engines. Unlike full electrics (battery electric vehicles or BEVs in the parlance of our time) these vehicles have small batteries, typically good for only 20 to 40 miles. Once the battery runs out, the car switches to gasoline. Toyota, which has been notably late to the EV space, has championed the tech as a sensible bridge to full electrification. But that decision has proven controversial since some argue PHEVs could impede electric vehicle adoption in the future.
One particular statistic I’ve often cited on the hallowed web pages of dot.LA, is this: Ninety percent of all car trips can be accomplished with a range of 120 miles and 75% or more of all trips require 50 miles of range or less. Not to mention, the average car commute in the United States is 11.5 miles. In other words, there is a huge opportunity to drastically reduce vehicle emissions with just a little bit of battery range. PHEVs offer a way to accomplish that while removing some of the headaches–like cost and supply chain constraints–that come along with fully electric cars.
For one the batteries are smaller. Smaller is good. Lithium is absurdly expensive right now. As of this spring, prices were up 500% year over year and have only continued to climb with little chance of coming back to Earth anytime soon. Using less lithium per car can dramatically reduce costs and equates to less carbon emissions and pollution in the manufacturing process. As it stands now, there’s not even close to enough lithium mining to convert 50% of car production to electric, so any battery that uses less lithium at the moment is worth talking about.
To put this in perspective, cars like the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV are using batteries with sizes around 20 kWh, while the extended range Rivian R1T clocks in at a massive 135 kWh, meaning you could make almost seven Outlander batteries instead of one R1T. Even if the PHEV still used its gas engine for 50% of driving, the environmental impact of replacing seven internal combustion engines with PHEVs is drastically higher than replacing one gas car with a BEV.
But is good the enemy of great? PHEVs still run on gas some of the time, and the average car lasts around 12 years, meaning every PHEV that’s sold is going to add emissions to the carbon budget for a decade plus. They’re also the most complicated cars on the road since they combine two different fuel sources. They still require all the oil, maintenance and annoyances that BEVs are blessedly freed from but now you also have to worry about the battery too. And as hurricane Ian has shown, lithium-ion batteries do pose significant fire risks, which in combination with a full tank of gasoline, make these cars…potentially concerning.
Nonetheless, the Inflation Reduction Act treats PHEVs as electric vehicles in terms of providing financial incentives to buyers looking to switch to electric. Basically, Washington believes in the tech enough, for now and doesn’t want to add unnecessary impediments to electrification of any kind. But critics have framed PHEVs as a way of kicking the electrification can down the road and some research shows they might not be as environmentally friendly as advertised. If we have the tech for true BEVs with zero tailpipe emissions, the argument goes, why are we wasting incentives on a half solution?
Post-pandemic, customers are putting a premium on convenience and safety. These three fashion tech startups focus on changing how we buy clothes with virtual shopping experiences.
United Talent Agency is partnering with former stakeholder Investcorp to create UTA.VC, a strategic partnership that will invest in startups focused on Web3 and the creator economy.
YouTube Shorts is giving TikTok a run for its content-for-money with a new revenue-sharing model that gives creators 45% of the revenue they earn from ad deals.
Experts warn Monday's Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks at LAX and other U.S. airports by Killnet--a hacker group with ties to Russia--may be an early sign of escalation in cyber warfare.
Join us at the dot.LA Summit coming up on October 20th & 21st at the iconic Petersen Museum!
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What We’re Reading...
- Beverage startup Pulp Culture teams up with The Every Company for their new protein-boosted alcohol, Build.
- Warner Bros. faces another brutal round of layoffs, cutting 19% of staff and worsening the studio's diversity divide.
- Jeffrey Katezenberg, burned out on media after the epic fail of Quibi, looks to cybersecurity and VPNs.
- NASA tests a robot balloon that one day could land on Venus.