2018 Volvo XC60 first drive, Barcelona
OK, reporters of the world, it's time for a little chat.
We know—believe me, we know—that you are cranking out a whole lot of copy, with much less support than you used to have, on far tighter deadlines, to feed a voracious, anonymous online audience whose clicks get you paid.
But it's time to discuss the very, very important difference between two similar words that have gotten you in a world of hurt lately.
Those two words are "electrified" and "electric."
You might think they're pretty similar, right? Both something to do with electricity. And in stories you've written this year, those electric cars everyone's talking about. Right?
Yes. But no.
Volvo CMA modular compact car platform in electric configuration
Applied to cars, the difference is absolutely crucial—and worth billions of dollars to the industry at large.
"Electric" cars are vehicles that plug into the electric grid to recharge batteries that provide the energy to run them.
But "electrified" cars simply have an electric motor somewhere in the drivetrain—and they don't necessarily have plugs (although they may).
READ THIS: Ford plans 300-mile electric SUV, hybrid F-150 and Mustang, more U.S. production (Jan 2017)
The first category, electric cars, includes battery-electric cars (e.g. Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model S) and also plug-in hybrid vehicles (e.g. Chevrolet Volt, Toyota Prius Prime).
But the second category, electrified cars, is much bigger.
It includes not only both kinds of electric cars, but also conventional hybrids (which have no plug, and run all-electric for only a mile or so under light power), plus what are called mild hybrids—which are enhanced start-stop systems.
2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid - production model
Every vehicle in that group has one or two electric motors in its drivetrain, somewhere, but they vary a lot in size.
The motors in those mild hybrids can't move the car by itself; it just helps the engine a bit, improving efficiency by feeding recaptured energy back into the wheels that would otherwise have been wasted.
Today, most electrified vehicles are much, much cheaper to build than electric cars with their large battery packs.
Which is why you need to understand the difference between the two words when a car company makes a big announcement about future products and you hear what you think is the word "electric" somewhere in the press release.
Consider the Volvo announcement that got so much traction this week.
Many, many news outlets reported that Volvo will make only electric or hybrid cars from 2019 on, which is not what the company said.
2016 Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine plug-in hybrid
Volvo used the word "electrified," which many reports assumed meant electric. It didn't.
(1) Volvo said new models starting in 2019 would be plug-in hybrid or battery electric vehicles, or have a 48-volt mild-hybrid system (which means without a plug) available.
(2) The latter group will likely be, at least initially, the largest group of the three.
(3) The announcement only affects new models from 2019, so Volvo will keep existing vehicles now using gasoline or diesel engines in production for ... well, several years to come yet.
In other words, Volvo will ensure that all of the cars it launches—starting two years from now—are capable of accepting enhanced start-stop hardware, aka 48-volt mild hybrids.
Bosch 48-volt mild hybrid
It will also likely raise the proportion of plug-in hybrids if buyer demand proves to exist, and launch its first all-electric vehicle, which had been previously reported.
Ford, by the way, got similar positive PR for its supposed plans to release "13 electric cars" by 2020.
In fact, it used the word "electrified": one or perhaps two of those will be all-electric, some will be plug-in hybrid, and the majority will be conventional hybrids of the sort Ford has built since 2004.
It will add a hybrid F-150 as well, but that's hardly an "electric car."
See the difference?