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Plug-in hybrids are a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’

September 26, 2020

By Paul Homewood



It is expected that hybrid cars will also be outlawed, along with petrol and diesels, though they may be given five years grace.

The logic is that hybrids still use fossil fuels, albeit with greater fuel efficiency.

The BBC have news that they may not even be as efficient as made out:



Carbon dioxide emissions from plug-in hybrid cars are as much as two-and-a-half times higher than official tests suggest, according to new research.

Plug-in hybrid vehicles are powered by an electric motor using a battery that is recharged by being plugged in or via an on-board petrol or diesel engine.

They account for 3% of new car sales.

But analysis from pressure groups Transport and Environment and Greenpeace suggest they emit an average of 120g of CO2 per km.

That compares with the 44g per km in official "lab" tests

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) are sold as a low-carbon alternative to traditional vehicles and conventional hybrids – which cannot be recharged from an external source – and are proving increasingly popular.

The new research is published as the government considers whether to bring forward a proposed ban on the sale of new petrol, diesel and conventional hybrid cars from 2035 to 2030.

‘Official’ versus ‘real world’

The BBC understands one suggestion is that plug-in hybrids should be given a stay of execution, with new sales allowed to continue until 2035.

That’s because they can offer a 20- to 40-mile range as a purely electric vehicle and are therefore potentially significantly less polluting than other vehicles.

But this new analysis from Transport and Environment and Greenpeace suggests they don’t offer anything like the carbon dioxide savings claimed for them by manufacturers.

The official tests indicate that plug-in hybrids emit an average of 44g per km of CO2. These tests are conducted on a circuit and see vehicles driven in a way that regulators consider "normal".

The real figure, however, according to the report, is more like 120g per km.

The pressure groups have analysed what they say is "real-world" data on fuel efficiency collected from some 20,000 plug-in hybrid drivers around Europe.

These are drivers who have chosen to record their mileage and fuel consumption for surveys or who drive company or leased vehicles whose fuel efficiency is recorded.

According to this data-set the lifetime emissions of a plug-in hybrid average around 28 tonnes of CO2.

By comparison, the average petrol or diesel car is estimated to emit between 39 and 41 tonnes of CO2 from fuel during its lifetime, a conventional hybrid would typically emit more like 33 tonnes.

According to these figures a plug-in hybrid would only deliver an emissions reduction of about a third on a typical petrol or diesel car – far less than the official estimates…

Transport and Environment’s analysis says a key problem with plug-in hybrids is that so many owners rarely actually charge their cars, meaning they rely on the petrol or diesel engine.

Another is that many plug-in hybrid models include design features that automatically turn on the petrol/diesel engine at start-up on a cold day, or will kick in that engine if driver accelerates hard.

The latter mode means that the car’s emissions will depend a lot on the driver’s behaviour.

"If you always charge the battery and tend to do lots of short journeys, they will have very low emissions," says Nick Molden, who runs Emissions Analytics, a company that specialises in vehicle emissions evaluation.

"If you never charge the battery and drive very aggressively then they can have significantly higher emissions than the equivalent petrol or diesel model," he continues. 


Anybody with a bit of common sense could have predicted this, and it is nothing to do with manufacturers fiddling tests, as Greenpeace have claimed.

It is obvious that you cannot rely solely on battery power for long on a cold day or drive aggressively.

But what is noteworthy is this comment:

Transport and Environment’s analysis says a key problem with plug-in hybrids is that so many owners rarely actually charge their cars.

This is despite the fact that charging is a much cheaper alternative.

And it begs the question why? It suggests that many drivers are not able to charge up at home, and certainly are not prepared to waste time using public chargers.

  1. richardw permalink
    September 26, 2020 7:22 pm

    The number of secondhand Prius cars (many used as taxis) in certain areas is an indication that road tax exemption could also be a factor. The batteries on these older cars almost certainly need replacement by now yet there is no MOT test criterion by which they may be judged still to be functioning hybrids.

  2. Geoff B permalink
    September 26, 2020 7:24 pm

    hybrid is the worst solution you have to lug a heavy battery around when you are on fossil fuels and when on battery you have to push the engine along. Stupid idea. Stick with petrol or Diesel much more efficient and in a few years could have a lower lifetime CO2 than electric vehicles. I do not believe that CO2 is a problem anyway, the more the better, increased crop yields.

    • September 29, 2020 8:39 pm

      Exactly. The space shuttle didn’t work because most of the fuel went not into putting payload into space but into putting a landing craft into space. Hybrids are carbon-efficient as long as the carbon cost of generating the plug-in electricity is left out of the equation.

      Would I like to own a plug-in, yes I would. After driving a Mazda rotary rocket for some years I came to love that smooth linear power delivery. Of course a high-revving motorbike gives an even bigger thrill.

  3. Brembo permalink
    September 26, 2020 8:13 pm

    Well said Geoff B reducing CO2 is just virtual signalling and serves no purpose. As a company car driver having been forced to choose a hybrid why would I plug it in at home when the company will not pay for the electricity used to charge it?

    • September 27, 2020 9:40 am

      You may have just answered our host’s question:
      This is despite the fact that charging is a much cheaper alternative. And it begs the question why?

  4. David permalink
    September 26, 2020 8:17 pm

    I think that some form of hybrid must be the future so that emissions in towns and built up areas can be reduced, Obviously the ultimate CO2 emissions whether direct or from a power station are no problem but the eco people do have an unarguable case for reducing city emissions.

    • Geoff B permalink
      September 26, 2020 9:15 pm

      seems logical but the hybrid is charging the battery from the engine so it is making CO2 when it is doing yes you can run electric in a pollution area but you just polluted somewhere else…its just not anything like a solution to albeit a non problem. They are a totally stupid idea.

      • I don't believe it! permalink
        September 27, 2020 12:05 am

        Remember it’s about plug in not mild hybrids so in theory the batteries should already be charged (if the owners have remembered or bothered).

    • In the Real World permalink
      September 26, 2020 9:31 pm

      Government figures prove that air quality [ emissions ] in the cities have reduced by 75% in the last 50 years .And modern petrol/ diesel cars have very low emissions . So much so that during the lockdown with 80% less traffic the air quality in the cities did not change .
      These figures have been repeated all over the world , proving that vehicles are responsible for hardly any of the city emissions ..

      So the ECO people do not have any case other than more lies .

    • I_am_not_a_robot permalink
      September 26, 2020 10:00 pm

      David, you are conflating invisible, odourless CO2 and genuine air pollution.

      • I don't believe it! permalink
        September 27, 2020 12:10 am

        I am pretty certain that particulate levels did not change significantly (as per the cited article)

      • Chaswarnertoo permalink
        September 27, 2020 10:18 am

        Beneficial plant food, not pollution. Our ‘leaders’ appear insane.

      • I_am_not_a_robot permalink
        September 27, 2020 10:02 pm

        My mistake, I misunderstood David’s post.

    • Hivemind permalink
      September 27, 2020 12:04 pm

      It took me a long while to realise that cars like the Prius were actually getting their benefit from using the battery for regenerative braking. If you think about regenerative braking, though, you realise that there are a lot of less costly and lighter-weight solutions, such as hydraulic accumulators.

      Studies in America also found that almost nobody plugged their hybrids in at night. It suggests that they simply drove whatever car the company supplied like a normal vehicle.

      • Albert permalink
        September 29, 2020 10:45 am

        Your have to have a pretty bad driving style to get much energy out of regenerative braking.

  5. Beagle permalink
    September 26, 2020 8:42 pm

    I remember an article a while ago that hybrid cars carried a financial benefit as a company car. At the end of the lease when they were sold the charging cables were generally still in the original wrapping and unused. They were only bought for the company car benefit. I can’t imagine a private buyer paying the higher price and not charging them.

    • ianprsy permalink
      September 26, 2020 10:44 pm

      Spot on. You can always tell which Prius is a company car – it’s the one overtaking you.

      • Chaswarnertoo permalink
        September 27, 2020 10:20 am

        A Pious overtook you? Are you driving a tractor?

  6. September 26, 2020 9:01 pm

    The added weight of batteries to get 40 mile or 64 km electric range is 800 lb or 365 Kg plus an added cost of nearly $8,000. Even if an electric vehicle rebate was available this only makes sense if the car is mostly driven on short trips and you have access to an electric charger at work or home. If that’s the case a pure electric may make more sense. Otherwise, I don’t see the utility of carrying so much parasitic weight all over the countryside.

    • bobn permalink
      September 27, 2020 1:30 am

      The hybrid solution favoured in Norway is to have an electric AND a diesel car. The electric gets all the subsidies and is used on short local commutes, but most electric car owners also have a diesel 4×4 for long journeys, load carrying and cold weather. I see that pattern repeating in the UK.

      • Ben Vorlich permalink
        September 27, 2020 8:24 am

        This seems to suit the needs of a small electric city car exactly. Probably has a better performance than the diesel version

      • Hivemind permalink
        September 27, 2020 12:13 pm

        “small electric city car”

        $25,000 Aust for the cheapest version? That’s crazy!

  7. Nancy & John Hultquist permalink
    September 26, 2020 9:58 pm

    The words “pollution”, “emissions”, and Carbon Dioxide appear to be used interchangeably. What about water vapor? Then there is brake lining and rubber from tires.
    Science Fiction has given us some planet covering urban visualizations.
    All movement – x, y, z – can be by tubes and compressed air.
    Insofar as current proposals to solve the “existential crisis” of global warming (now “heating”) are not up to the task, let’s think bigly into the future. Replacements for Clarke, Verne, Asimov, …, are called to action.

    • Tim C permalink
      September 27, 2020 12:16 pm

      N & J I think its climate change now, unless its a hot day.

  8. David permalink
    September 26, 2020 10:09 pm

    Maybe one could have a much smaller battery and keep it topped up with a power coil under the road surface. highish capital cost but not needing much maintenance. Some answer must be offered to the eco’s who bang on about city pollution. In any case most people do not have the money or space for two cars and drivers need to be able to cope with short journeys and long journeys.

    • Geoff B permalink
      September 26, 2020 10:48 pm

      not really practical near field charging (that is without direct connection) is ok for toothbrushes and phones but not for a car…there is an idea to put up overhead wires over motorways to enable trucks to put up a pantograph to power them, but it needs to be 10000 volts at least to get enough energy to make it worthwhile and that is lethal, the railways are 33000 volts.

    • Chaswarnertoo permalink
      September 27, 2020 10:22 am

      You are not an engineer and don’t have any STEM qualifications, it seems.

      • Geoff B permalink
        September 29, 2020 10:15 am

        degree in electrical engineering…MBA in later life….last job general manager in China..then self employed consultant…….enough maybe facts please not insults.

  9. Coeur de Lion permalink
    September 26, 2020 10:44 pm

    Sorry chaps, way off thread, but Arctic ice has got back above four million square kilometres today. Like 2007.

    • September 27, 2020 9:36 am

      Bird Girl has been taken to Arctic by Greenpeace in their diesel powered ship
      .. to do a PR piece about “zero summer sea ice by 2035”

      • Chaswarnertoo permalink
        September 27, 2020 10:23 am

        So they’ll need rescuing from the ice, then. One does hope the icebreaker can’t reach them.

      • Tim Crawford permalink
        September 27, 2020 12:22 pm

        Fake news stewgreen . Michael Mann and the IPCC declared the Arctic ice free by 1995, 2000, 2005, 2010, 2015 or maybe 16. So you can see there is bo ice there now

  10. ianprsy permalink
    September 26, 2020 10:48 pm

    ANother thing the legislators haven’t cottoned on to, apparently, is that the hybrids getting the biggest tax benefits are the really expensive ones with unnecessarily large power ratings. If there was a sliding scale of benefits, where, say, a small NIssan got 100% of the calculation, tapering down to 0% for a 2.5 tonne large German (pick your brand), there would be some logic in the process.

  11. September 27, 2020 12:54 am

    Climate science is clueless but the bizarre climate game just keeps rolling along.

  12. Tom Scott permalink
    September 27, 2020 8:53 am

    I have a PHEV and it is a brilliant solution to urban noise and pollution. Virtually all my daily driving is electric but the engine gets a run at the weekend.

    • Chaswarnertoo permalink
      September 27, 2020 10:28 am

      Just the pollution at the power stations, then. A PHEV is a great way of powering a house with a petrol generator as they were designed to do. ‘Electric’ cars still produce particulate pollution.

  13. Barrie Emmett permalink
    September 27, 2020 8:54 am

    It’s all getting very messy. Again the old adage spans and tests the passing of time, ‘Your lies will out you’. Like all these carbon fallacies they are all shrouded in vested interests. As you say too many snouts in the trough. 830am on a Sunday and the scammers are busy, just had a missed call from Tonga. There’s always someone at it somewhere. Today have to take the twins to a hockey match. Just hoping the Barbour will keep out the cold wind. Barrie

    Sent from my iPad


  14. September 27, 2020 8:58 am

    Noticeably absent from the story is the lifetime emissions of an electric car.

    Speaking of which: here in Norwich as in many other places there are thousands of narrrow terraced houses built before private cars were available to more than 1% of the people. In some terraced streets, in the evening, it can be difficult to find a space in the same street that you live in, let alone one outside your house.

    And if you did manage to park on the pavement right outside your house, then what? Run a cable out through the letter box? There is no sensible solution to this – are we going to have vast neighbourhood car parks with charging infrastructure? Recharging at the equivalent of a petrol station is not going to happen until charging times plummet.

    At the moment the “all electric” policy feels like it is waiting for reality to say “no”.

    • mikewaite permalink
      September 27, 2020 10:08 am

      An opportunity for people with drives to install a charging point and sell the electricity to neighbours without charging facilities. . Already happening with car parking space, so why not electricity?

      • Chaswarnertoo permalink
        September 27, 2020 10:29 am

        What electricity? Wylfa has just been cancelled.

  15. Barrie Emmett permalink
    September 27, 2020 8:58 am

    Oh forgot to say whilst I am at the hockey match, Jo is acting as a line judge at Eloise’s football match. Collecting the new car tomorrow. Barrie

    Sent from my iPad


  16. Barrie Emmett permalink
    September 27, 2020 9:01 am

    And just taken delivery of Robert Galbraith’s, aka JK Rowling latest novel, Troubled Blood. Gripping. Barrie

    Sent from my iPad


  17. Barrie Emmett permalink
    September 27, 2020 9:17 am

    Stop Press. Global warming. Northern Ireland had it’s coldest night on record last night, -3,7C. Harrabin comment please. Barrie

    Sent from my iPad


  18. September 27, 2020 9:34 am

    O/T Hull Energy Works been on fire for 20 hours loads of fire engines
    2019 PR “another #EU Regional Development Fund #ERDF Major Project.
    Energy Works is a huge energy from waste project in #Hull.
    It produces enough electricity to power 43,000 homes”

    or it would do if they could get the gasification tech to work
    It opened last year but then closed again and they’ve been twiddling for a year.

    Sept 15 tweet
    ” #BioenergyInfrastructureGroup tells me its #gasification-equipped Energy Works (Hull) #EfW was “fully operational” last year, but is currently offline indefinitely as improvements are carried out. Not clear where it is with CfD “

  19. A C Osborn permalink
    September 27, 2020 9:45 am

    Sounds like an Insurance scam to get some of their investment back, as it is never going to pay for itself.

  20. Beagle permalink
    September 27, 2020 10:01 am

    I wonder if all these MPs and advocates of zero CO2 emissions are getting on with their electric vehicles and air source heat pumps? You would think they would all be keen to share their experiences. Tell us how fitting an air source heat pump went when you installed it in an old house. (I don’t expect an answer any time soon ).

  21. Ariane permalink
    September 27, 2020 10:46 am

    Come on, chaps. Get out the horse and cart and off to work in the fields. Don’t know what to do with all the landless labourers, though. Maybe they could be employed making the bikes and all of us can meet in the pub – till 10 pm, then go home to our unheated homes – to save the planet and keep Al Gore, Bill Gates and UNEP employees happy.

  22. mwhite permalink
    September 27, 2020 10:49 am

    “The commercial application of the SAFIRE PROJECT experiment as a nuclear plasma reactor”

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      September 27, 2020 11:37 am

      Verrry interesting….and incredible engineering and project management. I wish them luck.

  23. Joe Public permalink
    September 27, 2020 10:59 am

    Strangely, the BBC forgot to explain how EVs’ formal miles-per-kWh and range are assessed.

    “… the car is ‘soaked’ overnight in an air-conditioned chamber at 18deg C while plugged in to ensure all cars are in the same state when the test commences.”

    “The driving part of the test is only conducted when the ambient air temperature is between 10 and 15deg C.”

    “All driving is done at What Car?’s private test track, so traffic conditions don’t affect the result. However, the 19.4-mile route simulates a mix of stop-start urban traffic, rural roads and motorways.”

    Wonder how far they’d travel along gentle hilly routes, during wet cold January evenings with heater, lights & windscreen wipers operating.

    • Hivemind permalink
      September 27, 2020 12:39 pm

      Or an Australian summer, in stop-start city traffic with the aircon on high?

  24. Tim C permalink
    September 27, 2020 12:03 pm

    In other news – water is wet. All car manufacturers mileage claims are rubbish including, or perhaps especially, Tesla. looking forward to the BBC’s expose on electric cars

  25. Kelvin Vaughan permalink
    September 27, 2020 1:38 pm

    I’ve got a used hybrid Toyota Yaris. It averages about 58mpg in the summer and about 52 mpg in the winter. I can get about 74mpg in summer if I creep around at 20mph.

  26. September 27, 2020 5:16 pm

    What does it take for the idiots in charge to understand that there ain’t no such thing as ‘clean’ energy. Manufacturing EVs, hybrids, batteries, wind turbines, solar panels etc. is very dirty and bad for the environment one way or another. I’ll be keeping my old Nissan Micra and my old electricity meter (how many of those have been wasted?) until forced to do otherwise.

  27. John permalink
    September 27, 2020 5:36 pm

    In the USA almost all electric companies offer their customers a choice of buying their power from renewable sources
    Why was this not mentioned ?

  28. September 27, 2020 6:12 pm

    Electric companies in the UK do the same, or claim to. They offer 100% renewable electricity but fail to mention, unless it’s buried somewhere in the small print, that what you’re actually getting is the same mixture from the National Grid as everyone else. They claim to feed the equivalent of your usage back to the Grid from their wind or solar farms. The only way you can have 100% renewable energy is to be off grid and then hope the wind keeps blowing and/or the sun keeps shining.

    • I don't believe it! permalink
      September 28, 2020 12:20 am

      Not certain that’s what they do. Watched a sketch by a Dutch comedian who explained the scam. A renewables energy provider will receive a “credit” for the electricity they have supplied to the grid on top of their payment for the electricity; they can then sell that credit on to a retailer who is then allowed to claim, on the basis of that credit, that they have supplied “green energy” despite not being supplied with the electricity to which the credit relates!

      • Graeme No.3 permalink
        September 29, 2020 2:13 am

        The Netherlands is a big buyer of “renewable credit certificates” from Norway. It enables them to offset about 60% of their generation as “Green electricity”.

  29. Coeur de Lion permalink
    September 29, 2020 9:49 am

    My daughter the novelist has just bought a Nissan Leaf with various proceeds. Didn’t dare ask how much. Beautifully engineered and stylish, excellent cornering and stability, weight not noticeable, suspension excellent, a terrific product. But whenever visiting us (85 miles) there’s a perennial TENSION in the atmosphere about CHARGING. Where next? Cd u pse move your car so we can reach your workbench?

  30. Oliver King permalink
    September 29, 2020 12:25 pm

    This is why people don’t charge at home:
    I currently drive a VW Passat Estate 2.0l diesel. The latest version of this car attracts company car tax for a 20% tax payer of £1804 or £150 a month.
    The VW Passat Estate GTE hybrid attracts company car tax of £765 a year or £63.75 a month.
    I therefore want the hybrid as my next company car. Now I can charge it at home but I also have to pay my company 15p a mile for personal use. So why would I pay to charge the battery at home from my own pocket for business mileage? Since I don’t pay for fuel, just the 15p a mile, why would I charge it at home for personal usage out my own pocket and still pay 15p a mile? Unless I can come to an arrangement with my company to compensate me for home charging I’m not going to do it.
    So the tax system encourages hybrids for company car drivers but there’s no incentive to spend your own money to charge it. That’s why they are never charged.

  31. JCalvertN permalink
    September 29, 2020 2:10 pm

    Electric cars would only make sense if we had 100% nuclear powered electricity. But we don’t. Most of our electricity comes from natural gas. It would be more efficient to burn the gas in the car.

  32. September 29, 2020 4:19 pm

    Burn gas in the car – now that’s a good idea. For a while I’ve had this sort of idea that if you could get gas or oil or coal or something like that onto a farm cart, and set the stuff on fire, it would produce energy that you could somehow use to move the farm cart along – a bit like the way they do with coal and trains. Any ideas? I don’t mind sharing the royalties.

  33. September 30, 2020 5:36 am

    Interesting observation.

    Basically, all-electric cars aren’t sustainable, and requiring people switch from a real car to an oversized paperweight would deprive people of needed transportation. (above article focuses on the legality of it in CA).

  34. John Page permalink
    October 2, 2020 10:44 am

    The Norwich Society is a charity, a blameless civic society “celebrating Norwich’s unique character and beauty, preserving its heritage and shaping our future”.

    But now it’s publicising a virtual climate change conference, complete with slanted questions & at least 6 speakers (yawn).

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