Plug-in hybrid cars 'a wolf in sheep's clothing' on carbon emissions

Emma Gatten
·2-min read
Plug-in hybrid cars
Plug-in hybrid cars

Plug-in hybrid cars are a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” that emit more than 2.5 times more carbon emissions in the real world than in lab tests, according to new analysis.

While lab tests suggest that PHEVs emit on average 44 g CO2 per kilometre, analysis by NGO Transport & Environment suggests that in the real world  PHEVs actually emit 117g CO2/km on average. That compares to 164-167g CO2/km from petrol and diesel cars.

The analysis found that drivers often do not charge their cars, and that some engines automatically switch on even when in battery mode which made it “almost impossible” for them to be driven as zero emissions vehicles.

All of the ten top selling plug-ins in the UK automatically switch on the car’s engine as soon as external temperatures go below 14C, in order to keep the car warm for passengers.

Greg Archer, UK director of Transport & Environment, said: “PHEVs are not electric cars and claims that in cities plug-in hybrids have zero emissions are just mischievous, misleading marketing. Unless the battery is frequently charged, these fake electric cars are actually worse for the climate than conventional cars.” 

Some 3.3 per cent of new cars sold in the UK in the past year, nearly three times the previous year, despite rising concerns over their true environmental credentials.

Greenpeace, which supported the research, said it showed plug-in hybrids should be included in any future ban on petrol and diesel cars, which the Government is consulting on bringing to as early as 2030.

The Government initially announced its intention to include hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars in the ban, but is reportedly reconsidering under pressure from the motoring industry.

Greenpeace  also called for a phase-out of subsidies, which can see companies pay less than half the tax than on a regular car.

Greenpeace UK’s head of politics, Rebecca Newsom, said: “Plug-in hybrids are the car industry’s wolf in sheep’s clothing. They may seem a much more environmentally friendly choice but false claims of lower emissions are a ploy by car manufacturers to go on producing SUVs and petrol and diesel engines.”

The Society for Motor Manufacturers, said the report was flawed because it relied on tests that were no longer in use. Mike Hawes, the SMMT Chief Executive said: “However, even the report’s assumed figures show plug-in hybrid vehicles provide more than a 30 per cent overall reduction in emissions compared to petrol or diesel.”

Mr Hawes added: “PHEV range and performance will continue to improve meaning that, for many users, they are the essential stepping stone to a fully electric vehicle.”

Many motorists remain reluctant to go fully electric, with one recent survey suggesting that around half of all road users say they will never buy an EV because of concerns over charging, range, and cost.