Why Plug-In Hybrids Are Nowhere Near Ready

I own and drive a Prius. I love the thing. I’m constantly defending it from FUD. But there’s a difference between defending something you like based on facts and just becoming a credulous sucker – and that line is crossed with the plug-in hybrid, nurse thumb being pushed disproportionately by a group connected with our local electric utility. The following is a comment I made to a post at my favorite car blog, Cars Cars Cars:

The metric to help people cut through the plug-in hybrid fog is this:
Toyota had to figure out this “keep the charge on the battery between 30 and 70%” strategy to make the thing last longer than the “few years” the anti-hybrid FUDders like to claim it will.
So figure out how much more battery you’re going to need to drive on all electric for a lot longer than the Prius (several times larger than existing Prius battery). Then double it, so you can keep the charge in that band. Then figure out how much that weighs and costs.
Or, wait for a magic new battery which can fully deplete and fully charge while still lasting 15 years.
Either way, it ain’t happening soon.

Nobody ever raises this “charge band” issue specifically when talking about plug-ins, but it’s clearly the biggest obstacle to surmount. Either you need to haul around batteries ten or twenty times the size and weight of the already big Prius battery, or you’re going to be stuck in cell-phone hell where, like the incorrect FUD spewed about the Prius by hybrid haters, the battery really WILL die after just a few years or a few tens of thousands of miles.
The summary is this: without a radical, not merely evolutionary, improvement in battery technology, the plug-in hybrid is a non-starter. Period.
Keep in mind, while digesting these arguments, that the electric utility has a demonstrable incentive to push plug-in cars even when the technology isn’t really ready – the intention is that people will charge these vehicles mainly overnight, when the utility is literally swimming in energy it can’t really sell. It’s a boon to the utility to be able to get any money for that night-time electricity; otherwise they need to run some of their plants in less efficient modes (raising overall costs) or resort to costly energy storage schemes. They’re not idealistic crusaders here; they stand to seriously improve their finances.