The climate ratings of plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) are set to become a lot more realistic after the EU agreed today to assess their CO2 emissions based on how much they actually emit on the road. Green group Transport & Environment (T&E), which has campaigned for years to highlight the true impact of ‘fake’ electric vehicles, said the new system would end the emissions scandal that is misleading consumers and allowing carmakers to significantly weaken their CO2 targets.
Currently, regulators assume PHEVs are driven far more in electric mode than is actually the case, leading to unrealistically low emissions ratings. From 2025, the EU will significantly reduce the so-called utility factors, which is the share of electric driving that regulators use for calculating CO2 emissions of PHEVs. From 2027, the utility factors of plug-in hybrids will be fully aligned with how they are driven in the real world.
Anna Krajinska, emissions engineer at T&E, said: “For years, the emissions of plug-in hybrids were based on unrealistic driving conditions. The new rules reflect the reality that PHEVs pollute far more than carmakers claim. Governments which still incentivise the purchase of these fake electric vehicles need to stop those harmful subsidies now.”
The latest data shows that, on average, privately owned PHEVs emit three times more CO2 – and therefore use three times more fuel – than recorded officially. For company cars it is even worse: plug-in hybrids emit five times more than their official ratings. Carmakers have blamed drivers for high emissions, but in reality PHEVs are poorly made with small batteries, weak electric motors, big engines, and usually no ability to fast charge.
The current, unrealistic CO2 ratings allow most PHEVs to count as ‘low emissions’ vehicles under the EU’s clean car rules. The law gives carmakers a bonus for each zero or low emissions vehicle they sell, prompting manufacturers to make more plug-in hybrids as a way of weakening their fleet average emissions target.
Anna Krajinska said: “We welcome the end of the myth that plug-in hybrids are low emissions vehicles. Carmakers will no longer be able to sell high volumes of PHEVs for the sole purpose of weakening their climate targets. If they want to avoid EU fines they will have to sell genuinely green cars that help reduce our oil consumption.”
The EU also decided to review its new utility factors in 2024 based on data collected from on-board fuel consumption metres, which will give a more comprehensive assessment of the share of kilometres driven electrically. This will provide an opportunity to further amend the 2025 and 2027 utility factors agreed today.