The Jeep plug-in hybrid Wrangler outsold all of Toyota’s plug-ins combined



CNN

It might surprise you to know that the best-selling plug-in hybrid vehicle in America of all is a Jeep Wrangler, the beefy, boxy SUV designed for tough off-road driving.

There are other, seemingly more likely contenders, such as the Toyota Rav4 Prime, a family-friendly crossover, or the Toyota Prius Prime, engineered as an efficiency champion. But the Wrangler 4xe is the plug-in hybrid sales leader by a canyon-sized margin.

In the first half of 2022, the Jeep plug-in outsold the second most popular plug-in hybrid, the Toyota Rav4 Prime, by almost double. Toyota reported selling 10,153 of its plug-in hybrid SUV in the first six months of 2022 compared to 19,207 plug-in hybrids Wranglers. In fact, the Wrangler 4xe alone outsold all Toyota and Lexus (Toyota’s luxury brand) plug-in hybrid models combined. This despite the fact that Toyota, which introduced the hybrid Prius in the US in 2001, is a brand that is almost synonymous with hybrids.

Remember, plug-in hybrids make up a small portion of the US car market. In the final quarter of 2021, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles—or PHEVs—accounted for just 1.4% of all passenger cars sold in America. That’s less than half the market share of all-electric vehicles and about a quarter of the share of non-plug-in hybrids, which represented 6.1% of all vehicles sold here, according to the U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration.

PHEVs are sort of a cross between hybrid cars and all-electric vehicles and can behave like both, depending on the situation. The Toyota Rav4 is available in both hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions. The Rav4 Hybrid has batteries that are charged while the vehicle is driving, both directly from the SUV’s engine and during braking when the rotating wheels are tapped to generate electricity. The relatively small amount of electricity stored in the batteries can be used to drive the SUV when not much power is needed, allowing the gas engine to be turned off from time to time. The Rav4 Hybrid does not have a charging port and cannot be plugged in though.

The Rav4 Prime, a PHEV, works the same way but it can also be plugged into a charger, which allowing its more powerful batteries to take in additional electricity. When fully charged in this way, it can drive 42 miles on electricity alone – just like an all-electric car – before the gas engine kicks in and it starts driving like a hybrid, switching back and forth between the gas engine and electric motor.

The Wrangler 4X’s market dominance may have a lot to do with sheer affordability, said Ivan Drury, automotive analyst at Edmunds.com. Stellantis, Jeep’s parent company, just makes a lot more of them than Toyota is of its plug-in hybrids. One indicator is that the Rav4 Hybrid’s “days-to-turn” — a measure of how long each stays at a dealership before being sold — is just 13 days compared to the Wrangler 4X’s 20 days. Also, as an off-road capable plug-in hybrid, the Wrangler 4Xe has no real direct competitors on the market today, Drury pointed out.

According to EPA estimates, the Rav4 Prime will save about $4,000 more in fuel over 5 years compared to the Rav4 Hybrid. But because of its more powerful batteries, Toyota also boasts its performance. With a maximum 302 horsepower, compared to the hybrid’s 219, it is the second-fastest Toyota model sold in the U.S., behind the Supra sports car, according to Toyota.

Jeep similarly markets the 4xe plug-in hybrid for its off-road performance, not just fuel savings. Electric motors provide strong and immediate traction when the gas pedal is depressed, something that can also be experienced in all-electric off-road vehicles such as Rivian R1S and the GMC Hummer EV. Only about a third of Wrangler 4xe buyers started out looking for “alternative powertrain” technology, said Jim Morrison, president of the Jeep brand in North America. But almost all say they’re looking for off-road capability, he said.

The 4xe can drive an estimated 21 miles on electric power alone before the gas engine needs to go, according to the EPA. When not running on pure electricity, the 4xe is actually slightly less fuel efficient than some other Jeep models that use “mild hybrid” technology to improve fuel economy. Still, when electric-only range is factored in, it’s the most fuel-efficient model in the Jeep lineup, Morrison said. if it’s plugged in every night, some drivers can go a long way without burning gas, he said.

“I’ve talked to a lot of customers who haven’t used any fuel at all so far this summer,” he said. “Because of the way they use their Wranglers, they’ve been able to do everything on electric.”

Executives at both Toyota and Stellantis have expressed skepticism about automakers going all-electric as a way to curb global warming. They have said it makes more sense to give customers a range of options including hybrids and plug-in hybrids, as not all customers can use fully electric vehicles. Both automakers offer – or plan to offer – all-electric models in the future, with some Stellantis brands expected to go all-electric in the next few years. Morrison would not say when Jeep might make that shift.

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