T&E: ‘Plug-in hybrids pollute more than claimed’

Plug-in hybrid cars are still presented as a climate solution. Still, tests on the newest generation of PHEVs indicate they pollute significantly more than claimed on city and commuter routes, says the NGO Transport & Environment (T&E).

Two years ago, T&E discovered that the PHEV technology polluted significantly more than advertised on longer routes. Now it appears that they do the same during city trips or on shorter commuting routes. T&E says the new tests confirm that lawmakers should base taxes for PHEVs on their actual pollution and stop subsidizing their sale.

Three different PHEV models tested

Three recent PHEV models, a BMW 3 Series, a Peugeot 308, and a Renault Megane, were tested by the Graz University of Technology (Austria) for Transport & Environment. All three 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; 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 (55 km).

In city driving, the Peugeot had just over half (53%) of the advertised electric range on a single charge, while the BMW had 74% of the promised range. Only the Renault had the electric range claimed. However, with just 50 km on a single charge and no fast charging, Renault’s zero-emissions use on commuter routes across European cities will remain limited, says T&E.

Anna Krajinska, vehicle emissions manager at 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. For example, in city tests, just one of the PHEVs has the electric range advertised, while all three emit more than claimed in commuter driving. So lawmakers should treat PHEVs based on their actual emissions.”

“Company cars make up 71% of new PHEV sales, and research shows they drive the vast majority of kilometers on the engine and are rarely charged,” T&E claims in its press release. “When tested with an empty battery, the BMW, Peugeot, and Renault emitted 5 to 7 times their claimed CO2 on the road. Governments should end subsidies for PHEV fleet vehicles and tax them based on their pollution in the real world.”

No subsidizing

According to T&E’s report, European countries spent around €350 million last year on purchase subsidies for PHEVs from BMW, Peugeot, and Renault alone. So while taxpayers are forced to fork out, consumers are also hit with the higher total costs of owning plug-in hybrids compared to battery electric vehicles.

The report claims that, on average, an EU driver switching from the Peugeot 308 plug-in hybrid to a fully electric Citröen ëC4 would save €4 800 over four years. At the same time, the electric Renault Megane (also a different model, editors note) would save €1 300 compared to the PHEV version. The report noticed that owning a Tesla Model 3 instead of the BMW 3 Series PHEV would save €2 600.

Anna Krajinska concludes: “PHEVs should not be treated as zero-emission vehicles, even if they have the geo-fencing capability (shutting off the engine automatically in cities). Private 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 encourage companies to use battery-electric cars, which are truly zero emissions.”

In the city, PHEVs running on the ICE engine emit much more than advertised, according to the tests by Graz University of Technology /T&E



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