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.

Hybrid Cars

[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.

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