Recently, the government shocked the nation by announcing that it’d be bring forward to the ban on new diesel and petrol car sales to 2035. Even more surprising was the plan to ban plug-in hybrids…
Plug-In Hybrids Under Fire
By 2035, it’ll be illegal to buy or sell a new diesel or petrol car. This ban was originally intended for 2040, but has been brought forward by the government. It’s also suggested that it’s open to bringing the date forward further still, pending further consultations. But whilst the role of plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) was once ambiguous, it’s now known that they’ll also fall under the ban. But is this the right move? Based on their environmental impact, a case can definitely be made.
As the name suggests, plug-in hybrids possess both an on-board engine and battery; meaning that, as well as combustion, it can also travel limited distances on electrical power alone; which can be topped up via an external source of power; much like a fully electric vehicle. For consumers, this means they can usually cover around 30 or so miles on electricity alone, all whilst enjoying the range of a diesel or petrol equivalent. This means, in theory, cheaper fuel bills and fewer emissions being pumped out into the atmosphere. The problem is that, ultimately, this theory is losing support.
The ‘green’ credentials of plug-in hybrids are now in doubt. This is because recent research has suggested that they emit three-times their stated figures for CO2 emissions and consume as much as three-times as much fuel in ‘real-world conditions’. When testing vehicles, figures are differentiated between lab-based conditions and those on the open road. The latter, involving a greater degree of variables, often produces worse figures than those in labs. Why? Because different temperatures, road conditions and driving styles all have an impact. For plug-ins, however, the difference is stark rather than novel.
The Miles Consultancy (TMC) has conducted research suggesting that the most popular PHEVs can triple the severity of their stated emissions and fuel consumption figures. An investigation by Emissions Analytics also found that they, when not charged, have ‘alarmingly’ high rates of fuel consumption and fuel emissions. This, in of itself, also draws strength from the fact that many hybrid drivers have been found to never charge their cars; instead opting for them purely for tax benefits.
What’s To Blame, Technology Or Human Error?
Paul Hollock, TMC’s managing director, has spoken frankly about the behaviour of PHEV drivers. He said, “on the evidence of our sample, one has to question whether some PHEVs ever see a charging cable. In a lot of cases, we see PHEVs never being charged, doing longer drives and this is not a good fit for a lot of car users”. Nick Molden, chief executive of Emissions Analytics, has spoken of the problem of assuming how PHEVs are used. He said, “the problem is the official figures are very sensitive to assumptions about how PHEVs are being charged and driven”.
If plug-in hybrids are never charged, they’re effectively diesel or petrol cars; just with additional weight achieved via a battery and its infrastructure. The result is that these cars are more polluting, at least in practice, than conventional options. This why Kia, in a statement, claimed ”responsibility lies with the owner, but used correctly, a PHEV will improve fuel economy and reduce tailpipe emissions”. But there are more and more questions being raised about the weight of the vehicles in general, even if they are used correctly. The sheer weight of the vehicles increases fuel consumption and emissions from tyres and braking systems.
Are Hybrids Redundant?
The strongest argument in favour of PHEVs is that they represent a good way of transitioning to zero-emission vehicles. They subtly introduce drivers to the charging process and using charging infrastructure. But if most hybrid drivers aren’t charging their cars at all, this theory falls flat on its face. In addition, given the improving range of fully-electric options, their appeal seems to be waning; especially as the charging network improves. Many popular hybrids have also been excluded from the plug-in grant and fully-electric cars will face 0% Benefit in Kind (BiK) rates from April.
Hybrids, judging from the behaviour of their owners, aren’t less-polluting. Even when they are correctly used, they can also still be more polluting than even conventional diesel and petrol options. With improvements being constantly made to EVs, their appeal continually diminishes. In this sense, then, they’re arguably on the wrong side of history. What remains to be seen, however, is whether EVs will be accessible and practical enough for mass-adoption by 2035. Many people remain, not unjustifiably, sceptical.
The question, then, isn’t ‘is the government right to ban hybrids?’ Instead, it’s more like ‘can the government make EVs a viable option by 2035?’
Hybrid Vehicles Explained – https://autoserve.co.uk/motoring-news/hybrid-vehicles-explained/
EVs And Hybrids ‘Increasingly Suitable’ For Commuting – https://www.autoservefleet.co.uk/latest-news/evs-and-hybrids-increasingly-suitable-for-commuting/
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