Plug-in hybrid cars, not so “green”? “It’s all a matter of use”

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From 2035, the sale of diesel or petrol vehicles will be banned in the European Union. Autonomy, cost, ecology … Are electric cars really competitive?

A few days ago, the International Agency forenergy (AIE) published his Global EV Outlooka report that provides an annual update on the evolution of the electric car. First observation: worldwide, electric car sales doubled in 2021 to a record high of 6.6 million, or about 10% of all cars sold worldwide. And bring the number of electric cars on the planet’s roads to about 16.5 million. That’s three times more than in 2018.

In Europe, one market in particular experienced a real increase in 2021. That of plug-in hybrid vehicles. Sales of what are sometimes called PHEV – per Plug-in hybrid electric vehicle – increased by 63% last year. But already, in early 2022, the attraction seems to have waned. Sales would go down. Less than 8%, for example, in January 2022, compared to January 2021.

Plug-in hybrid car, a market driven by aid

How to explain it? “It is especially the acquisition aid that has driven the PHEV market in France. A fiscal policy that has been very favorable to them for a long time”believes Etienne Mingot, a specialist in issues related to the new mobility of Targa Telematics, a company that offers intelligent solutions for connected vehicles.

A scam of climate targets and consumers, says one of the report’s authors

But for several months now, PHEVs have been in the news: according to various studies conducted mainly by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), these hybrid cars rechargeable would not be so “green” than announced. A report commissioned by the authorities of the Swiss canton of Valais, for example, evokes “Quantitative results (measures of actual fuel consumption) that show that plug-in hybrid vehicles are far below their promises and offer only very slight advantages (if any) compared to a conventional thermal car.”. “A scam for climate targets and consumers”according to one of the authors of the report.

Etienne Mingot confirms this. “If you don’t care how you use it plug-in hybrid vehicle, you are heading for disaster. » In fact, PHEVs can consume much more (gasoline, but also electricity) than expected on paper. Bad news for the drivers’ portfolio. And for the carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) which can be up to four times larger than those advertised by the manufacturers.

“It’s all a matter of use”explains the specialist of Telematic Targa. To fully understand this, remember that, by definition, a PHEV has a gasoline engine associated with a battery (200-300 kg) allowing a range of about 40 to 50 km in 100% electric mode. The idea, then, is to combine the advantages of one with those of the other. So “In the minds of most people, PHEV has become a kind of 100% electric transition solution.”. A way to learn gently about this new mobility. Without fear of “lack of autonomy”.

Has the cry of PHEV’s death sounded?

The problem is that PHEV not only has advantages. For some, it even combines the disadvantages of thermal and electrical. First of all, because it is heavier than its all-electric or thermal cousins. Precisely because it incorporates what is needed for both engines. And above all a battery. A battery whose autonomy is negatively affected by the extra weight it puts on the PHEV. A battery whose weight also makes the vehicle consume more fuel in thermal mode.

Seeing PHEVs as a transition technology is a mistake

Targa Telematics experts have studied the issue. “Our telematics solutions help analyze usage and provide recommendations for saving and reducing emissions of CO2 »explains Étienne Mingot. “As it stands, they show that PHEVs can expect a battery life of about 40 to 50 kilometers in an urban setting. So the idea is to use these 100% electric cars for daily commutes and switch to thermal only for longer journeys that have to be left out. ”

Thus, although CO emissions2and the costs are higher – than those linked to a 100% thermal car – on these long journeys, all of which is offset by the savings achieved through the daily use of electricity. Enough to allow the PHEV to remain a vehicle “green” if your driver is willing and just remember to recharge the battery regularly. “To consider PHEVs as simple models of the transition between thermal and electrical is a mistake. Whether from an economic or ecological point of view, they are only interesting in the context of this very specific use that we are describing.”

With the entry into force of a new European standard on CO2, interest in these particular cars is expected to continue to decline. This standard, in effect, would simply double, at least on papercarbon footprint of the PHEV. Which, of course, made them less likely to benefit from the environmental bonus and other tax benefits they had enjoyed until then. “It’s a safe bet that sales of plug-in hybrid cars will drop sharply when the aid that is still allocated to them is eliminated. » And it is planned from 1er July 2022. “However, it will remain at”regain control “ of which will still be in circulation. »

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