En 2020, a study carried out by the NGO Transport and Environment had sounded the charge against vehicles with plug-in hybrid engines. It pointed to real consumption between 2.5 and 4 times higher than the values displayed in the approval certificates. What damage the image of this type of electrified models, called Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV), presented by manufacturers as an ideal solution offering the best of both worlds between electric and thermal propulsion. Since then, several European countries have stopped granting financial aid to PHEV models: Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands, among others. Germany is also considering tightening its taxation applied to plug-in hybrid technology, which in fact allows certain high-end car manufacturers to sell potentially very energy-intensive models without malus or penalty.
An advantageous tax
The DS 7 Crossback E-Tense 225 is a good example of this technical tour de force. This imposing SUV has a rechargeable hybrid powertrain consisting of a 180 hp 4-cylinder turbo petrol engine and a 110 hp electric motor. Powered by a 13.2 kWh lithium-ion battery, the latter can propel the DS 7 over 55 km in zero emissions mode on the WLTP homologation cycle, which allows it to obtain an official consumption of only 1.4 l/100 km and CO emissions2 31g/km. What access to many tax benefits. More than the bonus on the purchase of 1,000 euros – which will moreover be abolished from the 1er July 2022 – it is rather the total exemption from company vehicle tax (TVS) and the free registration certificate in almost all departments that reduce the company bill. PHEV models also meet eligibility rules in company fleets, particularly with regard to the LOM law, which imposes a minimum quota of low-emission vehicles in fleet renewals.
No wonder, then, that plug-in hybrids enjoyed dazzling success last year, with an 89% increase compared to 2020 (141,012 registrations) and a market share reaching almost 10% at the end of the year. Companies, fleets and professionals accounted for 60% of sales.
Proper use of PHEVs
But for them to consume little, their battery still needs to be recharged. Under this condition, these vehicles are capable of driving between 50 and 100 km in 100% electric mode, depending on the model. Enough to ensure most daily trips – of the home-work type – without consuming a drop of gasoline or rejecting the slightest gram of CO2. On the other hand, when the battery is empty, the vehicle uses its thermal engine and then becomes more energy-consuming than a conventional hybrid due to the weight of the battery (from 200 to 300 kilos). From theory to practice, the difference can therefore be significant, especially since the recharges of a PHEV model are more restrictive – because they are more frequent – than those of an electric car (BEV), because of its battery. lower capacity (between 10 and 15 kWh).
Thus, drivers do not necessarily have the reflex to connect their vehicle to a terminal at home or at their place of work after each use. Especially since these plug-in hybrid models are not likely to break down, unlike the 100% electric ones which find themselves immobilized once their battery is flat. Also PHEV users probably forget to recharge their vehicle more easily, especially when they have a fuel card to refuel at their company’s expense. Some never even recharge them. According to Citroën, which carried out a study among its C5 Aircross Hybrid customers, only 55% of them make their journeys of less than 40 km in electric mode, and 52% recharge their vehicle once or twice every 100 km. Thus, many fleet managers have had the unpleasant surprise to find that, for lack of proper use, their fleet of PHEV vehicles literally weighed down the fuel item and, as a result, the costs of use. Especially compared to the diesel vehicles they had replaced. Cold shower also for customers user chooser (professional type), not very attentive to their uses, to whom we had promised great savings thanks to this two-in-one technology.
For Laurent Pichon, manager consulting to LeasePlan, “The usage profile is more restrictive on plug-in hybrids; these vehicles must be recharged every day, instead of every 2 or 3 days for 100% electric vehicles. They are also not compatible with fast charging, which requires each time between 3 and 4 hours of recharging to recover around fifty kilometers of autonomy. » Another weak point of PHEVs is that they are not suitable for large riders. “Above 1,500 km per month, their rate of use of electric power drops and they lose interest in total cost of ownership (TCO). These models also remain more expensive in terms of rent (+ 15-20%) for employees, which is paid for in terms of benefits in kind (AEN)”, recalls Laurent Pichon. Hence the need to notify customers well in advance to avoid bad experiences.
Track down bad drivers
Since 1er January 2021, all new PHEV models must include an on-board On-Board Fuel Consumption Meter (OBFCM) monitoring system, i.e. a tamper-proof cookie for analyzing usage data. This device, mandatory in Europe, could be harmful to PHEV vehicles, because it allows you to know exactly their fuel and electricity consumption. Enough to identify drivers who drive with a discharged battery. Manufacturers will indeed have to transmit the data collected to the competent authorities of the EU. For five years and until 2026, 90 million vehicles should be analyzed in Europe. In France, a market surveillance service for vehicles and engines (SSMVM) was created in September 2020 to check the compliance of the latter on a random basis. This is why manufacturers are now launching campaigns to raise awareness among users of PHEV models. BMW, for example, gives credit points to its customers who recharge the most, even offering them free recharges. For its part, Citroën has implemented the Plug-in Reminder system on its C5 Aircross Hybrid, which sends notifications to drivers when the battery is not recharged often enough. Another device planned at Stellantis, the PHEV Connect, intended for fleet managers. This system, introduced a year ago, uses data from vehicle telematics units. It allows to know the use of the fleet in electric and hybrid mode, the frequencies of recharging, the rate of connection to the terminals… What to accentuate the monitoring of the drivers and, therefore, to optimize the costs of use of the PHEV models.
New certification standard
To correct the misleading values of plug-in hybrid models, the EU could also revise the homologation cycle in force for these vehicles, but not before 2025. “It is clear that the current WLTP cycle is not adapted to PHEV vehicles and that it does not reflect the reality of uses”, confirms Laurent Pichon. The future standard would make them less competitive and less advantageous. It could also cost manufacturers dearly in terms of exceeding their average CO2 emissions.2 (Cafe standard). If Renault launched with its Captur and its Mégane E-Tech plug-in hybrid and that the offer of models is increasingly important, the general car brands seem however more inclined to develop their range 100% electricity, leading to higher performance and greater profitability. Some observers indeed expect a decline in plug-in hybrid engines this year. Has this so-called transition technology already fulfilled its mission? §
Citroen C5 Aircross
DS 7 Crossback
Mercedes GLC Coupe
Source: AAA Data – Arval mobility Observatory reprocessing.
William CROZES – WILLIAM CROZES/Continental Productions – VOLVO – HYUNDAI