Towards the end of plug-in hybrid cars?
Could this be the swan song for plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs)? The latest figures for new car sales in France for November 2022 reveal a lagging segment. Indeed, if the electrified vehicle (hybrid and electric), especially self-charging hybrid vehicles (29,499 units) and electric vehicles (20,274 registrations), is reducing its market share, the rechargeable hybrid (PHEV) has decreased by only 12,340 registrations. (+1.5% for a 9.2% market share).
So, since the beginning of the year (January-November 2022), approximately 112,004 plug-in hybrid cars have been registered, which means an 11% decrease compared to 2021.
The frustration also affects Germany, where the environmental bonus is due to expire at the end of 2022, and the UK, where the end of the environmental bonus is already in 2018. Even China, especially the municipality of Shanghai, the largest global market for PHEVs, is considering removing all advantages associated with this segment.
Heat engine and small battery
How can this dissatisfaction be explained? A plug-in hybrid car 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 (enables an average range of 1-2 km) and is charged during the vehicle’s braking or deceleration phases, the plug-in hybrid car offers the possibility of charging in the sector. But not only that, because many manufacturers also allow you to use your heat engine as a generator to charge your battery.
On paper, a plug-in hybrid is the perfect hatchback because it allows you to combine a gasoline or diesel engine block (as in the Mercedes-Benz GLC 300, for example) with an electric motor and battery, and thus avoid it. ecological malus (but not by weight). In addition, in the eyes of users, this system offers security, because they can always rely on the combustion engine when the battery is empty or the charging station cannot be accessed.
But voices are rising to condemn what some consider “environmental nonsense.” Thus, a study signed in January 2022 by the Impact Living firm on behalf of the Swiss canton of Valais showed that the use of a plug-in hybrid vehicle depends on its owner. Without shying away from talking about “fraud against CO2 standards, climate goals and consumers”, the study showed that the tested cars (about twenty) consumed “230% more in real life than the values declared by the manufacturers”. (source http://www.impact-living.ch/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Consommation-vehicules-hybrides-rapport-publie-IMPACT-LIVING-canton-Valais-11-01-22.pdf)
Unreal certification tests
Whether the car is a thermal, hybrid, plug-in hybrid or even 100% electric, it must pass various tests to be approved, including consumption tests. These tests are performed in a laboratory according to well-defined general criteria. In 1973, NEDC (New European Driving Cycle) came into force. With the arrival of new engines on the market and unrealistic figures, NEDC was replaced by WLTP (Worldwide Light transports Test Procedures) in 2018.
This new test provides a “coefficient of utility” that corresponds to the ratio of kilometers driven by an electric motor compared to kilometers driven by an internal combustion engine. This factor is used to calculate the vehicle’s CO2 emissions.
A 2020 study found that PHEVs consume two to four times the advertised figure. The test period that cars have to go through does not fully correspond to real-life driving conditions. For example, the homologation cycle is carried out only over 23 kilometers. These tests are carried out simultaneously on an equivalent road without elevation and at medium speed. These conditions do not represent real roads. Thus, it is easier for manufacturers to adapt their cars to the CO2 emission standard set by Europe.
Another important parameter to consider is the way plug-in hybrid vehicles are used. Thanks to tax advantages such as exemption from TVS (company vehicle tax) in France, many companies have upgraded their fleets with PHEVs at an attractive price. The total is for models with emissions below 60g CO2/km – usually plug-in hybrids.
Professionals who benefit from a plug-in hybrid company car often have a fuel payment card that does not cover electrical terminals. Charging at the terminal becomes an option. It should also be noted that if it is not possible to charge at home, it may be difficult to charge it.
Draw studies and biases
But these studies, which are often biased, must be weighed against other numbers.
There are really 3 criteria to consider: full electric autonomy, mixed consumption and empty battery consumption, which, as we remember, is never completely empty in reality.
Averages recorded in our tests with batteries with an average capacity of between 10 and 15 kWh show that most PHEVs on the market today allow a range of forty kilometers in mixed driving. This is the case with many PHEV models of the Stellantis group, such as the Citroën C5 Aicross, Peugeot 308 or the new 408.
Some even go over 60km, like the Kia Sportage, without going over 80km in all-electric mode like the Range Rover Sport p510 (but it has a massive 31.8kWh battery that punches well above its weight).
In any case, the full electric autonomy seems to be enough to cover daily trips averaging about thirty kilometers per day.
The mixed consumption criterion is important for manufacturers who rely on it to compliment the advantages of their two engines. Often quoted between 1.5 and 2.5 l/100 km, it inspires those looking for a more frugal car than the holy grail diesel. In fact, the results are surprising, because during our tests in mixed consumption we find low values that oscillate between 2 l and 4 l, depending on the engines. But this is the whole problem, this information is only for a short distance, between 50 km and 150 km for the best models.
The problem, it will be understood, is that after the battery is discharged, the plug-in hybrid car’s battery becomes a veritable anvil that has to drag its excess weight (several hundred kilograms), thereby causing excessive consumption. increased fuel and CO2 emissions. For example, the weight of the Peugeot 408 Puretech 130 hp car is 1390 kg, and for the PHEV 180 version, it is 1706 kg.
However, here again it is necessary to quantify this observation: our tests showed that the consumption of many PHEVs with an empty battery is actually relatively measured, averaging around 6.5 l/100 km. For example, 6.4 l/100 km with BMW 320 e, 6.8 l/100 km with C5X, 6.5 l/100 km with Peugeot 308 and Opel Astra PHEV 180 and 6.7 l/100 with Peugeot PHEV 48 km we noted. 180.
In fact, it is 2-3 times more than declared by the manufacturers, who only very rarely deliver this empty battery consumption data. But in reality, it’s not so bad, because the traction chain, which switches to simple hybrid mode, continues to charge the battery during energy recovery phases, for example, during braking, thus making it possible to drive in full electric mode. low speed or when starting, even when it says low battery.
On the highway, this is not a cure-all. Charging phases are rarer, the car really has to use more energy due to its extra weight. Therefore, we regularly find ourselves with averages oscillating between 8 l and 8.5 l, thus burdening an autonomy that is already not great due to a tank that is amputated by the volume of the battery and rarely exceeds 40 l.
As a result, the consumption and CO2 ratio of a rechargeable hybrid depends above all on its driver and the way it is charged at home.
New standards from 2025
Faced with this difference in numbers, Europe announced at the beginning of 2022 that it wanted to change the standards. It is ready now: the European law has been adopted. From 2025, consumption tests of cars in the laboratory will be conducted with less significant use of the battery in order to get closer to reality. And in 2027, the calculation will use 2.5 times the emissions we have today.
So what is the future of plug-in hybrid cars in Europe?
Currently, plug-in hybrid vehicles 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, PHEV consumption test results should approach real values. The values declared by the brands will therefore be higher than the standards applied by Europe; therefore, they will face the risk of sanctions. Thus, new European legislation should encourage car brands to create more electric-based models.
However, the relevance of these new standards is emerging. Indeed, January 1, 2035 will mark the almost definitive death of the thermal combustion vehicle. Thus, the European Commission adopted a decision on June 8, 2022, requiring annual emissions from new cars to be 55% lower from 2030 than in 2021. The quota for 2035 is even 100% compared to 2021.
Given the global situation (inflation, shortage of semiconductors, the war in Ukraine and rising electricity prices), a reversal that allows 100% electric to rub shoulders with other engines cannot be ruled out. , hybrids, PHEVs and even new types of engines. like hydrogen (Hopium, Toyota, Porsche or BMW), not to mention electronic fuels.
The review clause, backed by the European Commission’s internal market commissioner Thierry Breton and French transport minister Clément Beaune, will allow for the study of new technologies available to support the decarbonisation of the car fleet in 2026. The transport minister also insisted that European manufacturers must continue to export 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 achieve them are less so.