Hybrid cars pollute more than advertised in cities and on commutes

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Two years ago, Transport & Environment (T&E) found the technology, which contains an electric battery and a combustion engine, polluted significantly more than advertised on longer routes. It says the new tests confirm beyond doubt that lawmakers should base taxes for PHEVs on their actual pollution and stop subsidising their sale.

Three recent PHEV models, a BMW 3 Series, Peugeot 308 and Renault Megane, emitted more CO2 than advertised when tested on the road even when starting with a full battery. 

The study found that the BMW polluted three times its official rating when driven on a typical commuter route, according to the tests by Graz University of Technology, commissioned by T&E. 

The Peugeot 308 and Renault Megane plug-in hybrids performed better but still polluted 20 percent and 70 percent more than claimed, respectively, despite the relatively short round-trip distance covered (55km). 

In city driving, the Peugeot had just over half (53 percent) of the advertised electric range on a single charge while the BMW had only 74 percent. 

Only the Renault had the electric range claimed. However, with just 50km on a single charge and no fast charging, the Renault’s zero-emissions use on commuter routes across European cities will remain limited.

Anna Krajinska, vehicle emissions manager at T&E, criticised how hybrids were being sold and called for Governments to act.

She said: “Plug-in hybrids are sold as the perfect combination of a battery for all your local needs and an engine for long distances. 

“But real-world testing shows this is a myth. In city tests, just one of the PHEVs has the electric range advertised, while all three emit more than claimed in commuter driving. 

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“Lawmakers should treat PHEVs based on their actual emissions.”

BMW has introduced new geo-fencing technology that automatically switches the PHEV to zero-emission electric driving in cities. 

However, when tested in the city of Graz, Austria, the BMW 3 Series switched on the engine twice. 

Tests also suggest that the BMW could be saving battery charge when outside cities in case of entry into geo-fenced areas. 

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T&E said geo-fencing technology does not guarantee zero-emissions driving in cities and, potentially, risks increasing CO2 emissions outside such zones.

Company cars make up 71 percent of new hybrid sales, with lower Benefit-in-Kind tax rates attracting businesses to integrate them into their fleets.

However, experts are calling on Governments to end subsidies for hybrid fleet vehicles and tax them based on their pollution in the real world.

Recent data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders found that hybrids comprised 14.4 percent of new car registrations, increasing volumes by 40.6 percent in January 2023.

Anna Krajinska concluded: “PHEVs should not be treated as zero emission even if they have geo-fencing capability. 

“Private car and company car taxes for PHEVs should be based on the actual CO2 reduction delivered. 

“Governments should end all purchase subsidies for PHEVs in fleets and instead encourage companies to use battery electric cars which are truly zero emissions.”

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