To PHEV or not to PHEV
There’s growing overseas evidence that a large proportion of PHEV drivers rely heavily on fuel and seldom charge their vehicles.
In Europe, the majority of PHEVs have been bought by companies as part of their fleets. It’s believed drivers are filling up on the company card, rather than paying for the electric charge at their home.
As a result, the vehicles are producing as much CO2 as the highest-emitting light passenger vehicles. This poses issues for governments who subsidise these vehicles and/or their manufacturers as part of the push to reduce greenhouse gases.
In October, research from the UK-based independent research company, Emissions Analytics found that, because of the way they were being used, PHEVs are producing more CO2 emissions than self-contained hybrids, despite PHEVs performing far better on paper.
It found that PHEVs are “ineffective without behavioural compliance”. In other words, a PHEV that is never plugged in will achieve poor real-world results.
This adds to research carried out by Dutch researchers in 2015 that examined fuel card usage of PHEV drivers and discovered many seldom plugged in at home or at work. As a result, the Dutch government removed its emission-related subsidies for PHEVs. The UK followed suit in 2018 and its 2019 sales of PHEVs have dropped by around 30 percent.
In its tests, Emissions Analytics found that PHEVs that aren’t plugged in deliver an average 37.2mpg and CO2 emissions of 193.3g/km. This puts them among the highest of CO2 emitting light passenger vehicles. The research poses a problem for New Zealand policy makers considering incentives to encourage a shift to low emission vehicles in this country. Under the current Clean Car Discount and Clean Car Standard proposals, PHEVs would attract a discount on purchase price because they are categorised as ultra-low CO2 emitters with a further bonus because their batteries allow them to meet fuel efficiency requirements. PHEVs are widely seen as a good option for people wanting to take the range anxiety out of a move to an electric vehicle. However, Emissions Analytics found that non-plug-in hybrids “offer faster and more certain [CO2] reductions of up to 30 percent”.
Emissions Analytics reported, “The case for future PHEVs may lie principally in the light to medium commercial fleet, where the advent of zero-emission city centres may force dual-drive train approaches, the pure electric drive share being saved for last mile delivery and the ICE (diesel as well as petrol) permitting longer routes outside the cities.” The growth in PHEV manufacture is expected to continue while they remain classified as ultra-low emission vehicles under the new EU-mandated WLTP emission testing regime. This testing replaced the NEDC cycle that was last updated in 1997 and which was the test used by those involved in the diesel cheating scandal. However, global forecasting director Jeff Schuser from market analysts LMC Automotive believes the EU’s decision to classify PHEVs as ultra-low emission vehicles was calculated to boost the availability of electrified vehicles. “I suspect it’s the EU giving the automakers a get-out clause. I don’t think anyone wants to go down the scandal road again, he told AutomotiveNews Europe.
Costly to build
PHEVs are expensive to build – about $10,000 more for the extra motor and battery. German engineering specialist FEV says it is cheaper to make a small electric car with a 32 kwh battery than a PHEV. To reach that 50gm/km under the new WLTP emission test means most PHEVs need a bigger battery with a longer range. The car must produce less than 50gm/km of CO2 to qualify for European tax breaks. Many, largely luxury, brands are now adding larger being on its battery more frequently. At the same time, there is growing awareness that it is largely the wealthy buyers who are benefitting from the ‘feebates’ granted to those who buy ultra-low emission vehicles.
Many analysts say most emissions are produced by old vehicles and shifting a population into new low-emission diesel or petrol cars would more quickly reduce CO2 emissions, given the slow and expensive uptake of electrification.
Private ownership picking up in New Zealand
In New Zealand, almost all new PHEVs sold are Mitsubishi Outlanders. Around three-quarters of the 1,400 sold to date are owned by businesses. However, this year, 42 percent were bought by private owners. MTA’s Sector Manager Dealers, Tony Everett says the recent swell in private ownership suggests people are trying to reduce their carbon footprint. “If PHEVs are charged and driven largely on the battery there will be fewer emissions and lower fuel costs.” He says PHEVs are seen largely as a transition option, while society moves away from fossil fuels. “I think we can expect to see more of them on the roads as fleet owners swap older PHEVs out for the latest model. A PHEV suits people who do a short commute and a bit of round town driving, with the occasional weekend trip away. Because they are heavier than other similar cars, the fuel costs do creep up on long journeys. However, we can expect to see PHEVs fitted with bigger batteries over the coming years, which will give them a longer EV range and broaden their appeal.” Tony warns dealers to be careful to explain the fuel usage of PHEVs to would-be buyers. “They may be rated as extremely fuel efficient with just a few litres per hundred kilometres, but that is not the case when you are driving long distances on petrol or diesel.”