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Plug-in Hybrid Cars Must Be Plugged In. Who Knew?

A report by Fleet News slams plug-in hybrid cars. But its analysis is twisted to show bias toward diesels.

This story about plug-in hybrid cars was first published on Gas2.

A report by British company The Miles Consultancy contains shocking news. People who drive plug-in hybrid cars need to plug the damn things in every once in a while in order to get the benefits offered by plug-in hybrid cars. TMC makes its living by providing fleet managers with detailed statistics about the total number of miles driven and average fuel economy — the sort of stuff that makes a fleet manager’s heart flutter.

An analysis of the data from 7 PHEV cars shows that they only average 45 miles per gallon, whereas they are rated at up to 130 mpg in the New European Test Cycle. Alarm! Red Alert! PHEVs are a ripoff, screams Fleet News, without bothering to inform its readers that the NEDC figures represent relatively short-range driving, during which the electric motor would provide most of the power to move the cars forward. Fleet News is shocked — SHOCKED — to find that once the battery is depleted, the onboard gasoline engine has the audacity to burn gasoline. Oh, the horror!

Things get worse, however. According to TMC, once the gasoline engine is engaged, it puts out more CO2 emissions than a comparable diesel engine. Well, gosh. Diesels have been know to have lower carbon emissions than gasoline engines for only the last 50 years or so. (Well, we thought we knew that.) It’s the other nasty stuff like nitrous oxides and particulates that spew from their tailpipes that are the problem.

The thrust of the Fleet News hit piece is that fleet managers should beware. Don’t be taken in by the claims of PHEV advocates. Buy nice, conventional diesel-powered cars for your fleets instead of those fancy schmantzy plug-in hybrid cars. Are we starting to get a hint as to who might be behind this so-called “report” yet?

Motoring Research exploded the hysteria spread by Fleet News by talking to a real person about the TMC findings — a technique by which actual journalism often takes place. “There is a real risk that fleet managers are adopting a PHEV strategy for completely the right reasons but unknowingly actually increasing their fuel bills,” says TMC managing director Paul Hollick.

“PHEVs can be a cost-effective choice where drivers cover only moderate mileages; but only if the cars’ batteries are recharged daily. On the evidence of our sample, one has to question whether some PHEVs ever see a charging cable. In a lot of cases, we see PHEVs never being charged, doing longer drives and this is not a good fit for a lot of business car users. A robust PHEV deployment policy is essential.”

Way back in 2011 when the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid first hit the market, several government and corporate fleets added them to their inventories. The initial results were disappointing. The Volts didn’t seem to be any more fuel efficient than conventional cars. After much head scratching and thumb twiddling, it was determined that no one ever bothered to plug them in at the end of the day. Apparently, lots of people out there still have no idea what the “plug-in” part of PHEV is all about — least of all the whiz kids at Fleet News.

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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."


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