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EU Clamps Down On Fake PHEV Models

The EU is toughening its exhaust emission rules to make it harder for automakers to claim their PHEV offerings have lower emissions.

Volkswagen has become the poster child for automobile manufacturers who try to circumvent rules and regulations in any way possible, even by engaging in illegal activity if necessary, but the truth of the matter is that just about every manufacturer is guilty of gaming the system. We just learned last week Hyundai and Kia have recently been drawn into the diesel cheating scandal. Some years ago, Mitsubishi admitted it had been cheating on fuel economy tests for 25 years!

European manufacturers were famous for using aggressive tactics to boost fuel economy ratings. They used narrow tires and inflated them to ridiculous pressures to reduce rolling resistance. They used special brake calipers that kept the pads far away from the discs to reduce friction. Then they sealed the drivers inside and covered every gap between body panels with clear tape to lower aerodynamic drag. They disabled alternators, A/C compressors, and power steering pumps. When they were done, the cars were almost impossible to drive on public roads, but they did get impressive fuel economy.

EU PHEV Regulations

A few years ago, the EU imposed new emissions regulations designed to promote the sale of battery electric and plug-in hybrid cars. But the automakers soon found a way to game the system (again!). Last year, Transport & Environment reported that many PHEV cars for sale in Europe actually use their gasoline engines almost all the time, leading to far more emissions than claimed.

Regulators always have a problem defining what it is they want to regulate and how to do it. In theory, a plug-in hybrid has a smallish battery that allows it to travel on electric power alone for 20 miles or so without using the internal combustion engine at all. Since many drivers travel less than 20 miles a day as part of their normal routine, the cars would hardly ever use any gasoline. They would be plugged in to a normal wall outlet at night and start the next day with a full charge.

The Chevy Volt had a battery-only range of 52 miles. GM engineers were concerned that some of those cars might never use the onboard internal combustion engine (some of our readers who own a Volt report they only use about 5 gallons of gasoline a year!), so they programmed the engine to start every 3 months just to keep all the internal oily bits properly lubricated.

But many of the PHEV models recently sold in Europe use the gasoline engine almost constantly. Need to merge with highway traffic? The engine kicks in. Need to go when the light turns green? Let the engine help. Need to keep up with traffic? The engine can assist you with that.

The PHEV Clamp Down Begins

This week, Transport & Environment is reporting that the EU has agreed to assess PHEV emissions based on how much they actually emit on the road. Currently, regulators assume (we all know about the word “assume,” don’t we, boys and girls?) that PHEVs are driven far more in electric mode than is actually the case. Beginning in 2025, the EU will significantly reduce the so-called utility factors, which is the share of electric driving that regulators use for calculating CO2 emissions of PHEVs. From 2027, the utility factors of plug-in hybrids will be fully aligned with how they are driven in the real world. (Translation: manufacturers will be able to continue cheating the system for another 5 years.)

Anna Krajinska, emissions engineer at T&E, said: “For years, the emissions of plug-in hybrids were based on unrealistic driving conditions. The new rules reflect the reality that PHEVs pollute far more than carmakers claim. Governments which still incentivise the purchase of these fake electric vehicles need to stop those harmful subsidies now.”

The latest data shows that, on average, privately owned PHEVs emit three times more carbon dioxide — and therefore use three times more fuel — than recorded officially. For company cars it is even worse. Plug-in hybrids emit five times more than their official ratings. (Note: a plug-in hybrid is just an ordinary car with an internal combustion engine if you don’t plug the damn thing in!) Carmakers have blamed drivers for high emissions, but in reality PHEVs are poorly made with small batteries, weak electric motors, big engines, and usually no ability to fast charge, T&E says.

Anna Krajinska adds, “We welcome the end of the myth that plug-in hybrids are low emissions vehicles. Carmakers will no longer be able to sell high volumes of PHEVs for the sole purpose of weakening their climate targets. If they want to avoid EU fines, they will have to sell genuinely green cars that help reduce our oil consumption.”

The EU also decided to review its new utility factors in 2024 based on data collected from on-board fuel consumption metrics, which will give a more comprehensive assessment of the share of kilometers driven solely on battery power. This will provide an opportunity to further amend the 2025 and 2027 utility factors agreed upon today.

The Takeaway

It is apparent that the car companies have deliberately failed to educate consumers about plug-in hybrid vehicles. But it is also apparent that many consumers have willingly allowed themselves to get sucked in by manufacturer hype because they failed to educate themselves. If you are test-driving a PHEV over a short distance, you should never hear the engine. If you do, it’s a fake PHEV. Walk away. Manufacturers won’t make cars they can’t sell. It’s all well and good to ask regulators to establish ground rules, but it is up to us to be informed.

One place to begin is with an article written by my colleague Jacek Fior about his Peugeot 3008 plug-in hybrid, in which he excoriates manufacturers for playing stupid mind games with their customers. He is particularly scathing in his criticism of Toyota for calling its Prius a “self charging electric car,” a lie that is right up there with the “flat earth” myth in terms of credibility. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, which has been around for a while now, you can also educate yourself online. If you choose not to do so, shame on you.

Between now and 2027 when the new EU rules take full effect, it is your duty to avoid PHEVs that are designed to cheat the system. As Nancy Reagan would say, “Just say no to fake PHEVs.”

 
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Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his homes in Florida and Connecticut or anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. You can follow him on Twitter but not on any social media platforms run by evil overlords like Facebook.

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