Towards the end of plug-in hybrid cars?

Could this be the swan song for plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV)? The latest figures on new car sales in France for the month of November 2022 show a lagging segment. If the electrified car (hybrid and electric) eats away at market share, especially for so-called self-charging hybrid vehicles (29,499 units) and electric vehicles (20,274 registrations), the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) will drop by only 12,340 registrations (+1.5% for a market share of 9.2%).

phev, which phev to choose, plug in hybrid

For example, since the beginning of the year (January to November 2022), approximately 112,004 plug-in hybrid vehicles have been registered, a decrease of 11% compared to 2021 in the same period.

Towards the end of plug-in hybrid cars?

This disappointment also affects Germany, where the ecological bonus should end at the end of 2022, and the United Kingdom, where the abolition of the ecological bonus dates back to 2018. Even China – especially the municipality of Shanghai – which is the largest market on PHEV, is considering taking away all the advantages related to this segment.

A heat engine and a small battery

How to explain this dissatisfaction? A plug-in hybrid is a car equipped with a combustion engine, an electric motor and a battery. Unlike a conventional hybrid car which has a very small battery (allowing it to travel an average of 1 to 2 kilometers) and which charges while the vehicle is braking or decelerating, a plug-in hybrid car offers the opportunity to to load. But not only, because with many manufacturers you can also use your heat engine as a generator to charge your battery.

Towards the end of plug-in hybrid cars?

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On paper, the plug-in hybrid is the perfect combo as it makes it possible to combine a petrol or diesel engine block (as in the Mercedes-Benz GLC 300, for example) with an electric motor and a battery and thus escape to the ecological malus (but not that of weight). In addition, in the eyes of users, this system offers security because they can always count on the combustion engine when the battery is empty or when access to a charging station is not possible.

Towards the end of plug-in hybrid cars?

But there are calls to denounce what some consider “ecological nonsense”. For example, a January 2022 study signed by the company Impact Living on behalf of the Canton of Valais, in Switzerland, showed that the use of a plug-in hybrid vehicle depended on the owner. Not hesitant to speak of a “swindle to CO2 standards, climate targets and consumers”, the study showed that the tested vehicles (around twenty) “consumed 230% more in real life than the values ​​announced by the builders”. (source http://www.impact-living.ch/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Consommation-vehicules-hybrides-rapport-publie-IMPACT-LIVING-canton-Valais-11-01-22.pdf)

Unrealistic certification tests

Whether a car is thermal, hybrid, plug-in hybrid or even 100% electric, it must pass several tests to be approved, including fuel consumption tests. These tests are performed in the laboratory, according to well-defined common criteria. In 1973 the NEDC (New European Driving Cycle) came into force. With the arrival of new engines on the market and unrealistic figures, the NEDC was replaced in 2018 by the WLTP (Worldwide Light vehicles Test Procedures).

This new test introduces a ‘utility factor’, which corresponds to the proportion of kilometers traveled with the electric motor compared to the kilometers traveled with the internal combustion engine. This factor is used to calculate a vehicle’s CO2 emissions.

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WLTP cycle metering

In 2020, a study showed that PHEVs consumed two to four times more than advertised. The test cycle that cars have to pass does not exactly match the actual driving conditions. For example, the homologation cycle is only covered over 23 kilometers. These tests are also performed on an equivalent road with no elevation changes and at medium speed. These conditions are not representative of real roads. In this way it is easier for manufacturers to bring their vehicle into line with the CO2 emission standard set by Europe.

WLTP cycle metering

Another important parameter to consider is the way plug-in hybrid vehicles are used. Many companies have renewed their fleet with PHEVs at an attractive price, thanks to tax benefits in France such as the exemption from TVS (company car tax). It is the total for models with emissions of less than 60 g CO2/km – mostly plug-in hybrids.

Professionals who benefit from a plug-in hybrid commercial vehicle often have a fuel payment card, which does not cover electrical terminals. Charging at a terminal will become an option. Not to mention it can be complicated to charge if it’s not possible to charge at home.

Studies and biases to weigh

However, these studies, which are often biased, must be weighted by other numbers.

Indeed, 3 criteria must be taken into account: the all-electric autonomy, the mixed consumption and the empty battery consumption, which, as we remember, is never completely empty in reality.

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With batteries with an average capacity of between 10 and 15 kWh, the averages from our tests show that most PHEVs on the market today will give you more than 40 kilometers of mixed driving. This is the case, for example, with many PHEV models of the Stellantis group, such as the Citroën C5 Aicross, the Peugeot 308 or the new 408.

Citroen C5 Aircross

Some even exceed 60 km, such as the Kia Sportage, not to mention those that exceed 80 km in all-electric mode, such as the Range Rover Sport p510 (but it has a huge 31.8 kWh battery, which literally stands out).

In any case, the fully electric autonomy seems sufficient to cover daily journeys, which average about thirty kilometers per day.

Towards the end of plug-in hybrid cars?

The mixed consumption criterion is important for manufacturers, who rely on it to praise the merits of their twin engines. Often displayed between 1.5 and 2.5 l/100 km, it inspires those looking for an economical vehicle much more than the sacred diesel. In fact, the results are surprising, since during our mixed consumption tests we indeed find low values ​​that fluctuate between 2 l and 4 l depending on the engines. But, and this is the whole problem, this data is only valid over a short distance, between 50 km and 150 km for the best models.

The problem, it will be understood, arises from the fact that once the battery is empty, the plug-in hybrid car becomes a real anvil that has to drag the excess weight of its battery (several hundred kilograms), resulting in overconsumption fuel consumption and an increase in CO2 emissions. For example, a Peugeot 408 Puretech 130 hp weighs 1390 kg, compared to 1706 kg for the PHEV 180 version.

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Towards the end of plug-in hybrid cars?

But here too this observation must be weighed up: our tests showed that with an empty battery, the consumption of many PHEVs actually remains relatively small, an average of about 6.5 l/100 km. We recorded 6.4 l/100 km with the BMW 320 e, 6.8 l/100 km with the C5X, 6.5 l/100 km with the Peugeot 308 and Opel Astra PHEV 180 and 6.7 l/100 km with the Peugeot 408 PHEV 180.

Towards the end of plug-in hybrid cars?

In fact, it is indeed 2 to 3 times more than what the manufacturers announce, who only very rarely communicate this empty battery consumption data. But in reality it’s not so bad, insofar as the traction chain switching to simple hybrid mode continues to charge the battery in the energy recovery phases, for example during braking, making it possible to drive in full electric mode. low speed or when starting, even if the battery is said to be flat.

Towards the end of plug-in hybrid cars?

On the highway, however, it is not a panacea. Because the charging phases are rarer, the car has to use more energy because of its excess weight. We therefore regularly find ourselves with averages fluctuating between 8 l and 8.5 l, putting a strain on the autonomy already not glorious due to a tank amputated by the volume of the battery and which only rarely exceeds 40 l.

The largest manufacturers have started with plug-in hybrids

The largest manufacturers have started with plug-in hybrids

©Renault

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Ultimately, the consumption and CO2 percentage of a rechargeable hybrid are therefore mainly a function of the way in which it is used by the driver and by home charging.

New standards from 2025

Faced with this difference in figures, Europe announced its intention to change the standards in early 2022. The time has come: a European law has been adopted. From 2025, the consumption tests of cars will be carried out in the laboratory by taking into account less battery consumption, in order to approach reality. And in 2027, the calculation will use a coefficient of 2.5 for the emissions we obtain today.

Towards the end of plug-in hybrid cars?

Hopium Machina, is hydrogen the future of the car?

Hopium Machina, is hydrogen the future of the car?

© Hopium

So, what future for plug-in hybrid cars in Europe?

Currently plug-in hybrid cars account for about 9% of the market share and are sold by most car manufacturers.

With the standards coming into effect in 2025 and then in 2027, the results of the PHEV’s consumption tests should be close to actual values. The values ​​announced by the brands would therefore be higher than the standards imposed by Europe; they would therefore risk sanctions. For example, the new European legislation should encourage car brands to make models that rely more on electricity.

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However, the relevance of these new standards is emerging. Indeed, January 1, 2035 will mark the almost final end of the thermal combustion vehicle. For example, on 8 June 2022, the European Commission decided that the annual emissions from new vehicles from 2030 must be 55% lower than those of 2021. For 2035, the quota is even 100% compared to 2021.

Given the global situation (inflation, shortage of semiconductors, war in Ukraine and sky-high electricity prices), a turnaround cannot be ruled out, so that 100% electric can stand alongside other engines, including hybrids, PHEVs and even new types of engines such as hydrogen ( Hopium, Toyota, Porsche or BMW) and not to forget e-Fuels.

A review clause, supported by the European Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton and the French Minister of Transport, Clément Beaune, will make it possible to take stock in 2026 to study the new technologies available to decarbonise support the fleet. The Transport Minister has also urged European manufacturers to continue exporting hybrid or thermal vehicles in 2035, to prevent Chinese companies from conquering all emerging markets. In short, the ambitions are clear, but the means to realize them are much less so.

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