The plug-in hybrid drive is considered the entry into electric mobility. But the supposedly environmentally friendly drive has its pitfalls.
It is a red flag for environmentalists, a tax-saving model for company car beneficiaries and it could protect car manufacturers from CO2 penalties: the plug-in hybrid remains the controversial brother of the battery electric car. Here is the most important information about technology.
What exactly is a plug-in hybrid?
The plug-in hybrid is sometimes referred to as “bridge technology” between the combustion engine and the electric drive. Because thanks to a small battery, it drives short distances (mostly around 50 kilometers) purely electrically, after which gasoline or diesel jump to the side of the electric engine.
Advantage: Compared to a pure electric car with a large battery, the costs are significantly lower, fear of range is unnecessary. On the minus side there is a short electrical range and a fundamental efficiency problem. This is because the additional weight and extra costs of the internal combustion engine, exhaust system and the like are disruptive in e-mode, while the over-dimensioned battery has to be moved during hybrid driving.
What plug-in hybrids are there and what do they cost?
While the offer was initially limited to large SUVs and large business sedans, plug-in hybrids are now available in all classes from the compact segment upwards. However, the program is still particularly broad among German premium manufacturers, but also among their foreign competitors who need electrification to push their CO2 fleet balance sheet politically.
Plug-in hybrids are by no means cheap; if only because the second engine delivers some additional horsepower, which means that the PHEVs are relatively high up in the model hierarchy and thus also in the price list. The cheapest offers start at a good 30,000 euros ($34,000) and are usually far above the basic diesel level. However, many models are eligible and qualify for the environmental bonus, which saves a few thousand.
How good is a plug-in hybrid for the environment?
It depends. In principle, it can best realize its advantages in pollutant and CO2 emissions in pure e-operation. This circumstance requires a certain charging discipline on the part of the user, but so far this has apparently often been lacking. At least it is said by lessors that they often still find an original packaging charging cable in the trunk of returns.
In addition, there are also great differences in climate friendliness between individual manufacturers and models, as a test by the ADAC has just shown. According to this, some brands already have a 50 percent share of electric vehicles with a positive carbon footprint, others only 80 percent.
The experts used the diesel variant of the model as a comparison model. In addition to the carbon dioxide emissions during operation, it was also taken into account how much of the greenhouse gas is produced in the production of the vehicles and the fuel or electricity. In conclusion, the club criticized the lack of transparency in terms of consumption and emissions. And asks the manufacturers to state the consumption values for purely electric driving and for operation with an internal combustion engine when the drive battery is empty.
How good is the plug-in hybrid for your wallet?
A plug-in hybrid only pays off with a lot of staying power when it comes to low energy costs in electricity operation. Assuming an optimistic practical consumption of 15 kWh per 100 kilometers, you pay around 4.50 euros ($5) for this route. Less than for most diesels, but currently not worlds less.
In the future, the prices for electricity and fuel will diverge again, but the most attractive financial item will initially be government subsidies. Above all, the halved tax rate for company cars: drivers of a company car with a plug-in hybrid drive only have to pay a flat tax per month on private use with half of the assessment basis (in Germany).
It is also worthwhile for private customers that most plug-in hybrids also qualify for the environmental bonus subsidy. A fact that environmentalists repeatedly criticize; they would rather see it restricted to pure electric cars.
What’s next with the plug-in hybrid?
Technically speaking, the trend is towards greater ranges, individual models are already in the 100-kilometer range. Even more important, however, is something that could be described as “charging discipline” by customers. Because the plug-in hybrid still has to prove that it can help reduce CO2 and keep air clean not only on paper, but also in reality. Otherwise, it is facing threats not only to withdraw its e-car privileges in Europe – be it tax advantages or the exception of entry restrictions.
Several approaches could help, including, above all, expanding the charging infrastructure, which would make refueling easier and more convenient, not only at the workplace. In addition, manufacturers such as Fiat are experimenting with geofencing software that controls the drive in such a way that city centers automatically run without emissions.
BMW, on the other hand, has announced a bonus points system with which regular charging will be rewarded with bonuses. What sounds like a game has a serious background: starting from next year, car manufacturers will have to report the real practical consumption of their customer-owned cars to the EU – the plug-in hybrid should then be able to show a clean face at the latest.