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Plug-in Hybrids Will Play A Big Role, Despite Unjustified Green Attacks

Plug-in Hybrids Will Play A Big Role, Despite Unjustified Green Attacks.

“Plug-in hybrids are the car industry’s wolf-in-sheep’s clothing”

“PHEVs have a part to play especially when BEV can’t fulfil all lower CO2 requirements”

You would think the half-way house that is a plug-in gasoline electric hybrid was the perfect stepping-stone to an all-battery powered world, and despite making enemies in high places, the concept has many useful years of life left.

Environmental lobby groups like Greenpeace, and Transport and Environment (T&E) say these hybrids should be banned because company car drivers abuse them by not maximizing the electric potential. But it would be ridiculous to stop a huge number of people from experiencing emission-free driving at an affordable price, minus range anxiety. Throwing the baby out with the bath-water comes to mind.

A plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) allows all-electric travel of up to about 30 miles now (unless it is an exotic super-car like the Polestar1 and its 78 miles), and soon maybe 45 miles, before the gasoline engine kicks in. The first hybrids, like the Toyota Prius, cleverly allowed electric generation to boost the economy and performance of an internal combustion engine (ICE), but only offered maybe 1 mile of independent, electric travel.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has called hybrids “amphibians” in the derogatory sense that they are uncivilized diversion from a primitive swampy world to the perfect haven of electric cars.

The Green movement doesn’t much like them either and sounds quite angry.

“Plug-in hybrids are the car industry’s wolf-in-sheep’s clothing. They may seem a much more environmentally friendly choice, but false claims of lower emissions are a ploy by car manufacturers to go on producing SUVs and petrol (gasoline) and diesel engines,” Rebecca Newsome, Greenpeace official in Britain said.

Brussels-based lobby group Transport & Environment said they are a bit of a confidence trick.

Not electric cars
“PHEVs are not electric cars and claims that in cities plug-in hybrids have zero emissions (of carbon dioxide CO2) are just mischievous, misleading marketing. Unless the battery is frequently charged, these fake electric cars are actually worse for the climate than conventional cars,” said Greg Archer, T&E’s U.K. director.

Some governments too have picked up this criticism and withdrawn big subsidies, which still remain for pure battery electric vehicles (BEV).

So they are pure evil and must be banned forthwith?

That would be a mistake and waste a user-friendly way to gradually wean motorists on to the full electric experience.

And there are some PHEV friends out there.

“PHEVs provide a flexibility few other technologies can yet match with extended range for long, out of town journeys and battery power in urban areas, reducing emissions and improving city air quality, “ said Mike Hawes, CEO of Britain’s Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

BEVs are still expensive, although choice is expanding rapidly and price points coming down. Range anxiety palpitations haven’t gone away on long journeys where average speeds of close to legal limits can often halve the claimed mileage availability. In Europe, the cheapest electric sedans start at around $40,000 after tax, and they are relatively small, like the Opel Corsa E or Nissan Leaf. A much bigger Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV SUV starts at around the same price and will give maybe 30 miles of electric-only driving.

PHEVs eliminate range anxiety, a huge plus for anyone clocking up high mileage. But if used for commuting, shopping and school runs, a PHEV will allow zero use of gasoline, particularly if there’s a charging point at home. True, the higher weight of an SUV and its 2nd motor will hurt long distance economy, but that doesn’t seem enough to provoke this noisy anti-PHEV movement.

Company car driver abuse
The problem arises because company car users who need transport for their jobs and have their gasoline or diesel paid for, have no incentive to plug in the battery to conserve fuel. Governments withdrew the subsidy when they discovered this.

Despite this subsidy withdrawal, PHEVs aren’t going away.

Last year in Europe, PHEVs accounted for 1.1% of sedan and SUV sales, and BEVs 2.1% of the market, according to data expert IHS Market. PHEVs will rise to 8.3% in 2025 and BEVs to 19.1%. By 2030, PHEVs will still hold 8.5% while BEVs zoom on to 30.0%. 15,805,752 cars were sold in Europe last year, according to IHS Markit.

Investment bank Morgan Stanley predicts a PHEV share of 11% in Europe in 2025, falling to 8.5% in 2030.

Consultants LMC Automotive expects PHEV share of 6.8% in 2025, rising a bit to 7.2% in 2027, and despite its lower predictions, sees a powerful role.

“There’s no doubt that they (PHEVs) have a part to play, especially in the medium-term when BEV can’t fulfil all of the requirement to lower CO2 emissions/improve fuel efficiency of the fleet. Because of that, most (manufacturers) in Europe are pushing PHEVs and from a consumer standpoint, aside from the higher price, they are attractive as they don’t require much change in behaviour, unlike a BEV,” said LMC analyst Al Bedwell.

“Of course, how much change in behaviour depends on how they are used and that is where one of the problems lies, highlighted by recent media reports. This is a particular issue for fleet users who may get tax breaks to choose PHEV and who may not be paying for their fuel and hence are not scrupulous about plugging in. I would assume that private users will plug-in most of the time where possible, but how is this monitored? No-one really knows the in-use efficiency of PHEVS,” Bedwell said.

Improve electric range
One way to surmount this problem would be to restrict the mileage for the government subsidy. A private buyer with standard use might drive say 8,000 miles a year, while company cars would do maybe three times that, and would forfeit a proportion of the subsidy if fuel consumption showed lack of battery use. Manufacturers could help too by improving the specification of their PHEVs by raising the electric-only range to say, 75 miles. For instance, the admittedly exotic and expensive Polestar1 PHEV claims an electric-only range of 78 miles, and in a recent road-test I averaged 78.6 mpg (65 U.S. mpg) over about 300 miles. Others suggest forcing carmakers to make the ICE less powerful to force more use of the battery, but that kind of bullying would not do down well with drivers.

Another reason governments are a bit wary of PHEVs is because manufacturers’ claims for fuel efficiency are often ludicrous. Mitsubishi claims an average 139.7 mpg (116 U.S.) for its Outlander PHEV. In my experience, this vehicle will use zero gasoline around town, and make about 28 mpg (23 US) on a extended journey, but E.U. rules concerning CO2 emissions apparently encourage exaggerated claims, which of course makes it easier for carmakers to meet the fuel fleet average consumption rules.

Despite the howls of rage from environmentalists, don’t expect to see the demise of PHEVs any time soon. It would be ludicrous and incomprehensible to ban affordable vehicles which in normal use consume no gasoline, and end range anxiety. Even the hated ICE technology will still be with us for years to come, although virtue-signaling politicians whip up hatred and threaten bans, which they are careful to always place years into the future.

LMC Automotive put it this way in its latest report on “Electrification”.

“However, there will be a long tail of demand for combustion engines. This will be not only in the ICE-only segment but in the hybrid segment and will be needed for reasons of practicality, cost and the sheer enormity of transitioning the industry from one technology to another,” the report said.


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