Plug-in hybrid cars are still presented as a climate solution, but tests on the newest generation of PHEVs indicate they pollute significantly more than claimed on city and commuter routes. Two years ago, Transport & Environment (T&E) found the technology, which contains an electric battery and a combustion engine, polluted significantly more than advertised on longer routes. The Government should tax PHEVs based on their actual pollution and only permit models with adequate electric range to be sold until 2035, T&E says.
Three recent PHEV models, a BMW 3 Series, Peugeot 308 and Renault Megane, emitted more CO2 than advertised when tested on the road even when starting with a full battery. The BMW polluted three times its official rating when driven on a typical commuter route, according to the tests by Graz University of Technology, commissioned by T&E. The Peugeot 308 and Renault Megane plug-in hybrids performed better but still polluted 20% and 70% more than claimed, respectively, despite the relatively short round-trip distance covered (34 miles).
In city driving, the Peugeot had just over half (53%) of the advertised electric range on a single charge while the BMW had only 74%. Only the Renault had the electric range claimed. However, with just 31 miles on a single charge and no fast charging, the Renault’s zero-emissions use on commuter routes across European cities will remain limited. T&E said only plug-in hybrids with a minimum electric range of 80 miles and the ability to fast charge should continue to be allowed to be sold until 2035 under the planned ZEV mandate.
Richard Hebditch, director of Transport & Environment UK, said: “Plug-in hybrids are sold to drivers and governments as part of the climate solution. The truth is they pollute far more than advertised and are a dangerous distraction from full electrification. In city and commuter tests, they pollute significantly more than advertised. The Government’s plans to decarbonise driving must be based on the reality of their emissions, not on the industry’s claims.”
BMW has introduced new geo-fencing technology that automatically switches the PHEV to zero-emission electric driving in cities. However, when tested in the city of Graz, the BMW 3 Series switched on the engine twice. Tests also suggest that the BMW could be saving battery charge when outside cities in case of entry into geo-fenced areas. T&E said geo-fencing technology does not guarantee zero-emissions driving in cities and, potentially, risks increasing CO2 emissions outside such zones.
Company cars make up half (51%) of new PHEV sales in the UK, driven by lower benefit-in-kind taxes for employees and lower road tax (VED) compared to full combustion engines. But research shows company car PHEVs drive the vast majority of kilometres on the engine and are rarely charged. When tested with an empty battery, the BMW, Peugeot and Renault emitted 5-7 times their claimed CO2 on the road. T&E said the Government should tax private car and company car PHEVs based on their pollution in the real world.
Richard Hebditch said: “The UK is publicly committed to phasing out of sales of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, but has left a backdoor for fossil fuels in plug-in hybrids. The reality is that PHEVs are still big polluters. Unless there are tight rules about what will be eligible, we risk locking in CO2 from cars right through the 2030s rather than the fully electric future we need.”