Plug-in hybrid cars, not so “green”? “It’s about use”

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

In Europe, one market in particular saw a real increase in 2021. That for plug-in hybrid cars. Sale of what are sometimes called PHEVs – for Plug-in hybrid electric car – increased by about 63% last year. But already at the beginning of 2022, the attraction seems to have abated. Sales would be declining. Minus 8% e.g. in January 2022 compared to January 2021.

Plug-in hybrid car, a market driven by aid

How to explain it? “It is especially acquisition support that has put pressure on the PHEV market in France. A tax policy that has long been extremely favorable to them ”believes Etienne Mingot, specialist in issues related to new mobility at Targa Telematics, a company that offers intelligent solutions for connected vehicles.

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

But for several months, PHEVs have been in the news: according to various studies conducted mainly by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), hybrid cars rechargeable would not be like “green” than announced. ONE report commissioned by the authorities of the Swiss canton of Valais, for example, evokes “quantitative results (measurements of actual fuel consumption) which show that plug-in hybrid cars do not live up to their promises and offer only very small benefits (if any) compared to a conventional thermal car”. “A scam for climate goals and consumers”according to one of the authors of the report.

This is confirmed by Étienne Mingot. “If you’re not careful about how you use one plug-in hybrid car, you’re heading for disaster. » PHEVs can actually consume much more – petrol, but also electricity – than expected on paper. Bad news for drivers’ wallets. And for carbon dioxide emissions (CO2), which may turn out to be up to four times larger than those advertised by the manufacturers.

“In fact, it’s about use”explains the specialist in Targa Telematics. To fully understand, remember that a PHEV per. definition has a gasoline engine connected to a battery (200-300 kg) allows a range of about 40 to 50 km in 100% electrical mode. The idea is therefore to combine the benefits of one with the other. And that’s why “in most people’s minds, PHEV has become a kind of transition solution to 100% electric”. A way to gently learn about this new mobility. Without fear “autonomy error”.

Did the death blow for PHEV sound?

The problem is that PHEV not only has benefits. For some, it even actually combines the disadvantages of thermal and electrical. First, because it is heavier than its all-electric or all-thermal cousins. Precisely because it embeds what is needed for both engines. And especially a battery. A battery whose autonomy is negatively affected by the extra weight it puts on the PHEV. A battery whose weight also allows the vehicle to use more fuel in thermal condition.

Seeing PHEVs as transition technology is a mistake

Targa Telematics experts have investigated the matter. “Our telematics solutions help analyze usage and provide recommendations that both enable financial savings and at the same time reduce 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 environment. The idea is therefore to use these cars in 100% electric for daily trips and to only switch to thermal for longer trips. , which must remain on the margins. “

Thus also though CO emissions2and the costs are higher – than those associated with a 100% thermal car – on these long trips, all of which are offset by the savings achieved thanks to the use of electricity on a daily basis. Enough to let PHEV remain a vehicle “green” if its driver is willing and just remembers to recharge the battery regularly. “Considering PHEVs as simple transition models 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 application that we describe.”

With the entry into force of a new European standard for CO2, interest in these particular cars is expected to continue to decline. This standard would in fact simply double – on paper at least –carbon footprint of PHEVs. What is causing them this time to lose their entitlement to the organic bonus and other tax benefits that they have had until then. “It is a sure bet that sales of plug-in hybrid cars will fall sharply when the support still granted to them is removed. » And it’s planned from 1eh July 2022. “It will continue though”regain control “ of those who will still be in circulation. »

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