Plug-in hybrid vehicles pollute more than claimed, say campaigners

‘Plug-in hybrids are fake electric cars, built for lab tests and tax breaks, not real driving’, according to a prominent zero-emission mobility campaign group.

Transport & Environment (T&E) has published new research that suggests plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) emit more CO2 than advertised, even when the battery is fully charged.

Hybrid vehicles combine an electric motor with an internal combustion engine, usually a petrol unit, with the promise of reducing emissions. PHEV models are the most efficient version of this, because they allow the user to top up the batteries from the mains, increasing electric range and reducing the need for the traditional engine.

These cars often come with very impressive official economy figures because they can run on electricity for long periods during testing. However, it has long been known that real-world economy depends entirely on how often the user charges the vehicle.

PHEV Testing Results, T&E and Emissions Analytics

Now, T&E claims leading PHEVs pollute far more than advertised, even when the batteries are topped up.

The campaign group commissioned vehicle testing firm Emissions Analytics to gather data on plug-in hybrid versions of the BMW X5, Volvo XC60 and Mitsubishi Outlander in ‘optimal conditions’ for T&E, and found all produced higher emissions than advertised.

T&E said the three ‘emitted 28-89 per cent more CO2 than advertised… on a fully charged battery’ and ‘three to eight times more than official values’ on an empty battery.

Most PHEVs have a battery charging mode that allows the driver to use the engine to charge the battery while driving. This is considered useful for longer journeys to top the batteries up to drive on electric closer to the destination.

EU governments should end the purchase subsidies and generous tax breaks for plug-in hybrids that are fuelling another emissions scandal

And it's time Europe overhauls how it rewards fake 'electric' PHEVs in EU car CO2 tests and regulations, @TimmermansEU

— Transport & Environment (@transenv) November 23, 2020

However, T&E’s research shows the vehicles emitted up to 12 times more than claimed.

Julia Poliscanova, senior director for clean vehicles at T&E, said: “Plug-in hybrids are fake electric cars, built for lab tests and tax breaks, not real driving.

“Our tests show that even in optimal conditions, with a full battery, the cars pollute more than advertised.

“Unless you drive them softly, carbon emissions can go off the charts. Governments should stop subsidising these cars with billions in taxpayers’ money.”

PA has contacted BMW, Volvo and Mitsubishi for comment.

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