Give PHEVs, Like Mazda’s CX-60, A Chance.
“They are efficient, less pollutant, and usually less expensive than pure electric cars”
The search for perfection often gets in the way of the good, French philosopher and writer Voltaire said, and green opposition to plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) reminds some critics of the great man’s words.
PHEVs provide an impressive transition between internal combustion engines (ICE) and battery electric vehicles. They can provide up to 50 miles of electric-only range, although the Mazda CX-60 PHEV I’ve just been driving only managed just over an average 31 miles per gallon (37 miles per U.S. gallon). But green lobby groups protest vehemently about their use because they allow a role for ICE technology.
Surveys of average car and SUV use show a great majority of motorists would find this was enough range, even with the Mazda, to take care of all their daily driving including local commuting, school runs and shopping. Long distances are fairly rare for most people, but if required, a PHEV can easily just switch seamlessly to the combustion engine and handle the long summer trip to the sun or the skiing trip, for maybe 400 miles or more.
Green lobby groups protest that battery electric vehicles (BEV) are capable of an all-round role too, but bitter experience for me has shown that so far, the technology is not up to it (my data box). Range anxiety, coupled with the current shortage or hopeless inefficiency of the European charging network makes the idea of a PHEV a very seductive one.
To be fair to green lobby groups like Brussels-based Transport and Environment (T&E) they do have a genuine gripe about the way PHEVs can be abused. For instance, some big fleet operators used fat subsidies to replace their ICE vehicles with PHEVs, but because drivers had their gas paid for, they had no incentive to plug the vehicles in. Overall output of carbon dioxide (CO2) actually went up because these vehicles with 2 engines are heavier. So “Ban PHEVs”, says T&E.
As for politicians’ attitudes, the jury is still out. The European Union (EU) has banned the sale of new ICE vehicles by 2035, including hybrids and PHEVs. The California Air Resources Board (CARB),whose rules may be accepted by many U.S. states, has also banned the sale of new ICE vehicles by 2025, but has given PHEVs a limited dispensation because it felt poorer people in rural locations might find BEVs too expensive or impractical.
T&E doesn’t want any concessions.
The PHEV myth, according to T&E
“Plug-in hybrids are sold as the perfect combination of a battery for all your local needs and an engine for long distances. But real-world testing shows this is a myth. In city tests, just one of the PHEVs has the electric range advertised, while all three emit more than claimed in commuter driving. Lawmakers should treat PHEVs based on their actual emissions,” said T&E vehicle emissions manager Anna Krajinska.
T&E commissioned this survey, https://www.transportenvironment.org/discover/plug-in-hybrids-pollute-more-than-claimed-in-cities-and-on-commutes-new-tests-show/ and said governments should stop subsidizing their sale.
But this survey doesn’t include the relatively narrow group of private motorists who will use PHEVs for 11 months of the year as a purely electric vehicle. They wouldn’t need subsidies anyway to be attracted to this kind of green formula, but T&E would not allow this.
Felipe Munoz, global automotive analyst at JATO Dynamics, said the transition to BEV from ICE needs to be gradual.
“HEVs (gasoline/hybrid) and PHEVs are the midway solution between ICE and BEVs. They are efficient, less pollutant, and usually less expensive than pure electric cars. Certainly, they are not zero-emissions cars (BEVs aren’t either), but they have contributed a lot to reduce the average emissions of the new cars recently. Toyota can tell,” Munoz said in an email exchange.
“In the case of the PHEVs, they are one of the many valid solutions to reduce emissions. And only for this, the authorities should not ban it. If we really want to get to a zero-emissions reality, we must do it gradually, by including all efficient solutions and considering the impact on other fields such as employment (in the auto industry), and external competition from China. The fact that there are drivers who don’t properly use the plug-in system does not mean that the technology is useless. On the contrary, the legislation should take into account these bad practices, punish them, but also reward those users that make a good use. That’s why they are paid for, to come up with efficient regulations,” Munoz said.
Keep perfectionists out of this
The search for perfection shouldn’t stop useful solutions which can contribute to long-term requirements.
Nick Molden, CEO of independent emissions testing company Emissions Analytics, said PHEVs seem on the surface to be almost perfect for addressing the switch from ICE power to BEVs. But they do raise problems which need to be solved, and in fact the advantage over HEVs wasn’t that great.
“They (PHEVs) seem perfect for everyday use but if companies pay for the user’s fuel and the battery isn’t used that’s a negative. PHEVs are not good for long-distance commuting either. Governments should take away any tax advantage which is happening anyway. The fuel economy advantage is not much greater than having a full hybrid. They are significantly more expensive to buy and it’s very good for really quite a narrow group of people,” Molden said in an interview.
Molden said the seemingly irrational and hostile attitude to PHEVs, even if driven appropriately and emitting low CO2, comes in two categories.
“A lot of these groups are simply anti-combustion so anything with an engine is bad. There are others who are just against cars, seeing the downsides of congestion outweighing the benefits of individual freedom. Concerningly, a switch to all-electric vehicles presents an opportunity for governments to use the electric grid to ration or curb car use. Some politicians want to force people off the road or force them to use public transport, or not to travel at all, which is a valid position but should be subject to transparent democratic debate, not done on the sly,” Molden said.”
Federico Millo, professor of automotive internal combustion engines at Politecnico di Torino, agrees that the progression towards BEVs needs to be gradual and the industry should be able to tailor different solutions to take account of individual needs.
“For some people, the PHEV is perfect. It uses a small battery and is great for commuting into a city. It’s just a question of using it properly. With rising populations in cities and the number of cars on the road, we need to rethink our use of cars. We need more public transport and more efficient public transport. We should be sharing cars instead of having personal cars and we need to choose the right technology and not misuse it,” Millo said in an interview.
What is an example of misusing technology?
Geo-fencing the key
“If we consider the U.S. market, making large, heavy SUVs, trucks and Hummers electric is a nonsense because of the massive batteries required, although they are extremely popular and very profitable for the manufacturers. There’s no sense in making a large car electric. Small electric cars are the way forward with lighter batteries. Manufacturers need to concentrate on how an electric vehicle is going to be used, then design around that,” Millo said.
So-called “geo-fencing”, where PHEVs could be forced to turn off the ICE and switch to the battery in inner cities, is another way of tailoring the technology to its actual use, but T&E’s Krajinska doesn’t even go for that. T&E demands perfection.
“PHEVs should not be treated as zero emissions even if they have geo-fencing capability. Private car and company car taxes for PHEVs should be based on the actual CO2 reduction delivered. Governments should end all purchase subsidies for PHEVs in fleets and instead encourage companies to use battery electric cars which are truly zero emissions,” Krajinska said in a statement.
Mazda CX-60 PHEV AWD Takumi
Mazda’s new CX-60 SUV boasts its first plug-in hybrid but disappoints with its claimed 39 miles of electric-only range, which turns out to be only an average of 31.2 miles in real-world action.
The latest PHEVs, like the Suzuki Across/Toyota RAV4, make closer to 50 miles, but despite this Mazda shortfall the concept works given this ability will still be well within the average daily use of a vehicle for local commuting, shopping and the school run.
I plugged in this CX-60 every day for a week, mostly in very cold weather, and it filled the battery ranging from 29 miles to 35, often insisting, curiously on my app, that it had actually pumped in 51 miles. But the most important piece of data for me is the fact that if I used the CX-60 PHEV for my usual motoring, I would never use any petrol at all.
Engine – 2.5 litre, 4-cylinder, direct injection petrol
Electric motor – 128 kW
Total power – 323 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Total torque – 500 Nm @ 4,000
Gearbox – 8-speed automatic
Battery capacity – 17.8 kWH
Drive – all-wheels
Maximum speed – 124 mph
0 to 60 mph – 5.5 seconds
Price – £51,800 after tax ($62,350)
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