According to a report by Emissions Analytics, plug-in hybrid cars are worse for the environment than drivers are being led to believe, with some spewing out up to 12 times their claimed carbon dioxide emissions.
Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (i.e. PHEVs) have been hugely popular of late, as they enable drivers to dip their toe in the water with EV but avoid problems with range anxiety that pure EV’s provide.
In fact, in many cases, PHEV vehicles claim MPG rates higher than petrol or diesel vehicles because they combine EV fuel efficiency at low speed with petrol and diesel efficiency at higher speeds.
However, the report found that even when vehicles have their batteries fully charged and used in the optimum conditions, they can emit up to 89 per cent more CO2 than claimed.
A few weeks ago, Boris Johnson unveiled his Green Industrial Revolution plan, headlined by a sales ban for new petrol and diesel cars from 2030. However, PHEVs are likely to not be banned until 2035 according to the latest guidance.
British firm Emissions Analytics ran the PHEV tests on behalf of campaign group, Transport & Environment (T&E).
They reviewed the BMW X5 45e, which costs from £66,451, the £50,695 Volvo X60 Recharge and the extremely popular £35,815 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV.
When driven under normal road conditions with a full EV battery, the PHEVs emitted between 28 and 89 per cent more CO2 than they car makers claim. And when driven with an empty battery and therefore reliant on their petrol engines, they emitted three to eight times more than official values.
And in battery-charging mode, with the combustion engine and regenerative braking system helping to replenish the batteries, the PHEVs emitted three to 12 times more CO2 than officially stated.
[Source: Shutterstock, November 2020]
PHEV and EVs as company cars
Plug-in hybrids have become very popular among businesses and company car drivers because they provide significant tax breaks compared to a conventional petrol or diesel car.
Over 50,000 PHEVs have been registered in the UK so far in 2020, with sales up to the end of October showing a year-on-year increase in demand of 91.5 per cent.
However, user studies found that many drivers are not using them in the most efficient way.
Owners are failing to plug the vehicles into the mains or dedicated electric vehicle chargers to replenish the batteries and are instead relying on the combustion engine for most journeys and when they so this make them bigger polluters than normal petrol vehicles.
This also makes plug-in hybrids less economical as the combustion engine has the added burden of shifting heavy battery packs, which in turn burns more fuel than conventional cars.
However, this study highlights that governments should not only end the availability of PHEVs sooner than planned but also remove generous tax breaks for plug-in hybrids that, it says, are ‘fuelling another emissions scandal’.
Julia Poliscanova, senior director for clean vehicles at T&E, said: ‘Plug-in hybrids are fake electric cars, built for lab tests and tax breaks, not real driving.
‘Our tests show that even in optimal conditions, with a full battery, the cars pollute more than advertised.
‘Unless you drive them softly, carbon emissions can go off the charts. Governments should stop subsidising these cars with billions in taxpayers’ money. Plug-in hybrids are fake electric cars, built for lab tests and tax breaks, not real driving.’
In the study, Emissions Analytics found that once the battery is flat, the three plug-in hybrids can only drive between 7 and 14 miles using the petrol engine before they overshoot their official CO2 emissions.
‘This is contrary to the misleading carmaker narrative that PHEVs on sale today are suited for long journeys,’ says T&E.
‘In fact, they have to be charged much more frequently than battery electric cars, which can cover around 186 miles on a single charge,’ it adds.
While carmakers blame customers for using the engine too much, the PHEV models on sale today often lack the necessary EV power, range or charging speed, the report highlighted.
The investigation found that two of the three cars analysed – the BMW X5 and Volvo XC60 – cannot fast charge.
The Mitsubishi Outlander’s manual also states that the petrol engine may start if the PHEV system is too hot or too cold, if quick acceleration is applied, or if the air conditioning is operating – all of which are very likely scenarios.
Julia Poliscanova concluded: ‘Car makers blame drivers for plug-in hybrids’ high emissions.
But the truth is that most PHEVs are just not well made. They have weak electric motors, big, polluting engines, and usually can’t fast charge.
Selling plug-in hybrids makes it easier for carmakers to meet their EU car CO2 targets as PHEVs are currently given additional credits.
T&E said the EU should end this weakening of the regulation when it reviews the targets for 2025 and 2030 next year.
Industry and Car Makers Respond
Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: ‘There will always be a difference between lab tests and real-world use, but the internationally regulated WLTP and RDE tests prove that plug-in hybrids deliver substantial emission reductions compared to pure petrol or diesel equivalents.
‘PHEVs provide flexibility, with the ability to drive in zero emission mode for typically 25 to 40 miles – more than ample given that 94 per cent of UK car journeys are less than 25 miles.
‘This makes PHEVs perfect for urban commutes while avoiding “range anxiety” over longer journeys, reducing emissions and improving air quality.
‘We can’t comment on unverified, unregulated tests by commercial entities, but even these have found that PHEVs emit at least 25 to 45 per cent less CO2 than their pure ICE [Internal Combustion Engine] counterparts, and of course, they emit 100 per cent less when driven in battery mode.’
Volvo, BMW and Mitsubishi were asked to comment on the report and all doubted the reliability and accuracy of the tests and stated that their labs tests were ‘independently verified and confirmed by leading industry experts’, and questioned the accuracy and veracity of T&E’s claims.
Are you surprised that hybrid vehicles are not only less fuel efficient, but also bigger polluters than normal petrol and diesel vehicles? Do you trust the study by T&E or the car makers?
Let us know in the comments below.
Yes very surprised, bought my Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV thinking that I’ve gone for economy and lower emissions.
Next year trading in for full electric (finance ends and waiting for a better vehicle range).
I am unhappy with the content of this article. I own a Lexus GS300h which is a hybrid. For much of the time when in town
this vehicle drives electrically. I rarely accelerate hard and often achieve over 60 mpg. The vehicles mentioned are new to
the game whereas Lexus has many years’ experience. My garage was surprised at my last MOT at the low CO2 output.
I think this article is presented by people with other motives.
NO agenda Mike, we want to stimulate debate and find out what you think. I am pro hybrid, but its worth highlighting there are bad ones that damage the reputation of hybrids overall.
Well I guess without debate and opinions there’s no fabric to an issue ( actually this page let’s everyone have a say, agenda’s are a one way voice without reply ) – interesting ! all points put forward !!
The reason PHEV’s get bad press is because they have an engine, almost without exception one that runs on petrol and, with the best will in the world, they are not as efficient as diesel But diesel is the bad boy now, isn’t it? Well, the latest diesel engines conforming to Euro 6 emission regulations with particulate filters and utilising AdBlue as necessary are at least as clean, if not more so, as the equivalent petrol engine (My 2016 Land Rover Discovery is allowed into London’s ULEZ but my 2005 Honda Fireblade motorcycle is not). Why can’t we have a diesel PHEV?
Anyone with a PHEV or EV can charge their vehicle using domestic electricity which, like other forms of domestic energy, is charged at 8% VAT – Those people with solar panels get some of that free. Now, here comes the grey area – to increase the range of your EV why not tow a trailer-generator running on red diesel (taxed similarly to central heating oil) with the EV plugged into it, would ghat be legal? I may have overstepped the mark here but am cynical about the government’s new target of 2030 for the banning of ICE powered new cars. What about commercial vehicles ? How long will they take to charge up ? How much heavier will their batteries be than a tank of DERV + engine ?
Personally, I intend to run my Discovery on a renewably sourced fuel – vegetable oil either new or reclaimed😃 Even better, it will smell of Castrol R 😆
Sorry Jason but your report is too narrow and too vague. I am disappointed because while making these scaremongering claims, you only offer a range of discrepancies to cover all 3 and there is no effort to say which is the worst offender. All are big heavy cars whichever propulsion system they have, so for the report to be taken seriously it should have included smaller cars too. I drive an Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid and am very happy with performance, economy and comfort. They also make a PHEV, so to produce a serious report a car of that size should have been include to add more control to your tests. Saying these cars exceed Internationally recognised standards is a very bold statement with no accurate details for each vehicle.
Next you will be telling us the Earth is round!
Yes, but phevs are not a true hybrid are they? They cannot self charge…
The headline is misleading because it doesn’t say that the article only relates to plug-in hybrids.
I have a Dacia Logan. To get less than 60mpg I need lights and wipers to be on as well as the heater or air con.
I had understood that hybrids did not have an emission test as part of an Mot test as the engine does not idle. CO2 measured by an exhaust gas analyser is a percentage of the exhaust gases. I believe your Lexus engine is not a small capacity engine, therefore the absolute amount of CO2 is more than you currently believe. The Catalytic Converter is fitted to convert, amongst other functions, carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide. To me this apparent ‘low CO2’ suggests a defect in your emission control systems.
I am contemplating a Hybrid for my next car. I do not cover many miles p.a.I need a car that is high in seating, because of my disabilities.Anyone any recommendations as this has got me thinking that I should stay with Diesel or Petrol.
T&E test is flawed, real world RAV4 Hybrid is superior to previous ICE vehicle. I know, I own one. Mike Lockey has hit the nail on the head. See comments.
I bought a used Mitsubishi Outlander phev before covid 19 and the lockdowns, because I was expecting to travel further than would be practical in my 60 mile range Nissan leaf, and for towing. When I use the Outlander I drive it like I would the leaf (gently) and plug in whenever I can, so on local journeys 100% electric and in 11 months it has only used the petrol engine when the electric range was down to zero. Before I owned it it had done 170,000 miles average 31,000 per year by a business driver during which it probably was not plugged in often enough to be efficient, but it would have attracted tax benefits. My own view is that new phev’s that have realistic electric range of less than 60 miles should not be allowed or subsidised. “Self charging” hybrids are just a con perhaps with the exception of the Toyota Prius.
So it isn’t the vehicles which are inherently bad polluters, it’s just their owners who are too dim or lazy to use them properly.
I have a Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. Reason I went for a hybrid was that the infrastructure to charge a full electric car is absolutely invisible. I just couldn’t take the chance of driving somewhere unable to find a charging point. I’ve downloaded apps and found many listed are ‘out of order’. The price of additional charging cabling is extortionate. I drive my PHEV in Eco mode all the time. I do under 10K a year. I charge it regularly at home. In fact, today I topped it up with fuel and it registered 304 miles in the tank. By the time I got home 8 miles away, the mileage had increased to 309! I don’t accelerate or brake excessively, as one person said below. But yes, I do feel guilty if I can’t get to recharge, in terms of climate and emissions. But until there are improvements in vehicles and infrastructure, I’m happy with my PHEV and won’t change. On service, emissions were better than my last car, a diesel Skoda Yeti.
Yet again we read these fatuous excuses for claims and counter-claims over which type of vehicle is more environmentally friendly than another when the bottom line is the motor car is more frequently than not – for those who are in the fortunate situation of being able to afford frequent changes – a fashion accessory aspired for and acquired as an object to boast about and to, they hope, impress others into that often erroneous perception, he/she is doing really well because they’ve got that nice big, shiny, new, tin box with four wheels and some means or other to propel the devise along the road.
When society and politicians were first jerked into the realisation that we needed to address the issues of environmental and ecological degradation, the bottom line was that of ‘the polluter must pay’. That has been nothing but mere political spin and we are still paying lip service to that principle, even to the extent that a rich business can buy carbon credits to offset its reluctance to address the pollution it creates.
The reality is that the motor vehicle is a grossly inefficient polluting device irrespective of the type of motive power system installed.. How can that be one may demand? Simply because the device has to use naturals resources and energy to both build and to eventually scrap, the latter often under dubious conditions. We change our cars too often. Cars are now at a higher level of sophistication than is ever needed. We have cars that are designed and equipped for 150 mph performance, yet we have blanket speed limits of around half of that. Why do we do that? Because the car makers and marketing people know that they have before them a gullible public, most of whom can only ever fantasize about possessing such as machine, or place themselves into unsustainable debt just to own one for no better purpose that that of trying to impress their peers. But, of course, neither the consumers nor the manufacturers want to sing from that hymn sheet and governments enjoy the sound knowledge that the motor vehicle is their most lucrative cash cow which consumers will continue to sustain regardless of how much financial pain they have to endure.
As for my personal situation, because I choose to run a 1.9 litres, low mileage (approx 53K) eleven years old, oil burning car, I am punished out of all proportion to the pollution I create because my motoring is merely around 3000 mile per year. I could of course go to one of my local dealers and blow, say, £30k or more to drive an ALLEGEDLY less polluting vehicle and then sit it on my drive for days on end and watch its value disappear by some 25% per year, but I choose not to do so because I KNOW that retaining my old car is more environmentally friendly, not to mention more financially effective.
However, accuse me of sour grapes or whatever you may wish, but the entire private car taxation system is iniquitous. For the convenience of retaining my old and exceptionally comfortable and well equipped car, I am now having to pay £320 per year Vehicle Excise Duty (or whatever it’s now euphemistically termed) plus fuel taxes of course. By contrast, I could be a high mileage user who get all of the tax breaks by running one of the FICTITIOUS ‘environmentally friendly’ cars – and pure electric is not a real solution to the environmental issues of motor cars, or roads congestion. Get rid of ‘type of vehicle’ taxes and tax motor vehicles on actual annual mileages driven. Annual mileages are easily verified. Legislation could force car makers to install telemetry into new cars to notify HMRC or DVLA, or whoever, of mileages and tax bills issued accordingly with payments made by direct debit, much as any other utility bill – goodness knows, cars are already equipped with a host of mostly pointless gizmos, so one more would not hurt. Older cars without the electronics to do that are MOT’d after three years anyhow and the mileage is already being annually recorded electronically. That way the big users would pay in direct relationship to the damage they inflict and mileage charges could even be tweaked to correct for big gas-guzzlers, for the few remaining in due course. In other words, the polluter would be paying and, indeed, as we move ever closer to non-ICE cars, the government would not lose out on loss of fuel tax revenues because, for sure, beyond the initial persuasion value, there is no logic in giving continuing tax breaks to those who can afford to buy the biggest and more expensive pure electric type vehicles.
TBH I find it very hard to believe anything from official sources as everything today has to fit a political agenda. I drive an old Skoda petrol car, as a pensioner cannot afford to change to a newer model .
I’m assuming that even if they pollute more than claimed under lab testing, it’s still less than a regular petrol engine, and thus a step in the right direction? Hopefully performance and technology are still improving.
“Are you surprised that hybrid vehicles are not only less fuel efficient, but also bigger polluters than normal petrol and diesel vehicles?”
I don’t think that is what is being said at all. It says that they are not as good as the makers claim which is a TOTALLY different thing! If it turned out that they were “bigger polluters than normal petrol and diesel vehicles” then that would be an absolute scandal!
You need to stop grossly misleading people!
I’ve had a Hyundai Ioniq PHEV since the end of September and recently filled it up for the first time since purchase. It used 27 litres to do 1050 miles. Apart from a couple of early trips when I couldn’t recharge it, most of that has been to run the heating and aircon. For that it runs at idle and uses no more than 1 litre per hour.
I’ve previously had a Vauxhall Ampera which was classed as a EV, even though most people would regard it as a PHEV, which averaged 120 mpg over 3 years, I expect the current car to improve on that.
If you have a lifestyle which suits this type of vehicle, being retired helps, and are not just buying it for BIK and then not using it properly, it can contribute to a significant reduction in pollution. Mine is charged overnight via a renewable energy supplier and in spring and summer will be taking advantage of our solar panels.
This study looks like deciding on the end result you want then rigging the process to fit.
I’m getting annoyed that PROPER Hybrids (eg my Toyota C-HR) gets lumped in with phev’s which are a con to attract company car drivers.
PROPER hybrids hardly use petrol at all…
It would be interesting to know how many miles you drive using only electric power, and how often you charge from the mains.
The plug in hybrids are virtue signalling “fake” green cars for the Islington set and people with enough money to take advantage of the generous tax breaks, paid for by poor people who pay high road for their old cars, tax to travel the bare minimum they are obliged to due to inadequate public transport.
Well Not totally surprised… i tried a PHEV 3 years ago, the range was poor compared to manufacturers claims, and economy on Diesel was lower than its all diesel counterpart. the car was £7500 more to buy than its diesel counterpart too. so in the three years that i owned it it cost me £1450 more in Diesel so over £2899 per year more expensive to run for me!.
Last month the car was replaced with a Straight Diesel which is doing 55MPG compared to the PHEV at 38MPG and it cost £5000 less than the car it replaced 3 years on..
i think the reason for the extra CO2 ouput is related to the lower economy… i was taught that if you use more fuel the emissions MUST be higher! and the reason ght economy is lower is that when the car is running on Diesel / petrol you have 100-200kg of battery to drag around with you. like having 2 fat friends in the car all the time.