Why plug-in hybrids are suddenly selling better in Europe than electric cars

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Contrary to all expectations and predictions, sales of plug-in hybrids in Europe are once again on the rise, at the expense of fully electrically powered cars. And this despite the pressure from the government on consumers to switch to full electric.

For the sake of clarity and ad nauseam: from 2035, new cars with a combustion engine will no longer be sold in Europe. Until then, the CO2 standard for a brand’s entire fleet may not exceed a predetermined target (Euro 6 or Euro 7 standard). If a manufacturer does not meet the standard, they must pay a heavy fine and the brand will suffer image damage. Because it is not environmentally friendly.

Theory versus practice

There is often a large gap between theory and practice. On the one hand, Europe is issuing increasingly strict CO2 targets, as part of the Paris Climate Agreement 2050. The aim is to reduce harmful emissions and slow down climate change. So far, so good.

On the other hand, the increasingly strict European targets ensure that the necessary technological adjustments significantly increase the cost of new petrol and diesel cars. Many manufacturers have therefore removed petrol and diesel models with unfavorable CO2 emissions and small profit margins from the range. As a result, buying a new car is no longer self-evident for normal earners.

At the same time, it appears that political authorities are grossly failing to realize their own objectives and promises with regard to electromobility. European legislation is still awaited that will require providers to display electricity prices in real time and accept payment by credit card. Another sore point: the development of a close-knit network of charging stations is lagging behind the growth in sales of electric cars.

Due to the stagnation in sales of e-cars, the future looks bleak for Audi Brussels.

However, a charging station is no guarantee of electricity. Indeed, one of the major challenges of the transition from thermal to electric engines concerns the availability of power. The government must urgently work to adapt the electricity grid to demand. It is also important to prevent peak times by flattening the demand curve.

Wallonia, for example, is considering revising the rates from 2026. A document from energy regulator CWAPE shows that the single tariff (constant price, day and night) and the dual tariff (different price between day and night) want to be replaced by an incentive tariff. This would use three color codes where green applies from 1 to 7 a.m. and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., orange from 7 to 11 a.m. and from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. and red from 5 to 10 p.m.

The intention is to make the orange rate three times more expensive than the green and the red five times more expensive. The new regulation is a deterrent for those who can only charge during peak times.

The good news is that the tariff differences only concern the costs of transport and distribution of electricity and that the price per kWh to the customer would ultimately increase by 20 percent. Which is still a significant increase and yet another unknown in the story of electrification.

Numbers don’t lie

Back to the current events of the day and the conclusion that sales of plug-in hybrids are once again on the rise, at the expense of fully electrically powered cars. According to the latest figures from ACEA (Federation of European Car Manufacturers), PHEV sales increased by 12 percent in February, BEV sales increased by 10.3 percent.

The revival of plug-in hybrid sales comes as a surprise. They were and are considered a transitional solution, to give German and Japanese car manufacturers time to find an answer to the electric acceleration initiated by Tesla.

The brands describe their plug-in hybrids as the best of both worlds because they combine electric driving with a long driving range and short refueling times. In addition, they entitle you to tax incentives. The most recent plug-in hybrids with a purely electric driving range of 100 kilometers achieve WLTP emission values ​​of less than 20 g/km.

Newcomers such as the Renault 5 E-Tech can give electric driving a boost.

But appearances are deceiving. In reality, the ecological footprint of a PHEV is much less favorable. After all, it has two engines and two batteries on board, making it on average 300 to 350 kilograms heavier and also considerably more expensive than a ‘normal’ petrol car or self-charging hybrid.

If drivers do not plug in their PHEV after every ride, it is actually quite environmentally unfriendly. Nevertheless, the system mainly powers large and powerful SUVs, such as Mercedes GLE and Porsche Cayenne. Europe is considering revising the homologation requirements and from now on also taking into account the actual electric kilometers driven. Now the government is subsidizing oversized PHEVs that are only environmentally friendly on paper.

More questions than answers

The sector still assumes that electric propulsion is the future, despite persistent and partly justified criticism. Half of Belgians are pro, the other half are against. A quarter of proponents indicate that they do not want to make the switch until after 2035. This is the moment when the ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars comes into effect.

Pros and cons are also age-related. Two-thirds of young people under the age of 35 are in favor of full electric, while this is less than 40 percent among those over 55.

As mentioned, the transition is slower and more difficult than expected. For the reasons we know. Electric cars remain (much) too expensive for normal earners. Hopefully attractive and affordable newcomers à la Renault 5 E-Tech will make a real breakthrough. Many people also take offense to the limited range, inadequate charging infrastructure and customer-unfriendly behavior of the providers. They refuse to display the current electricity prices on the charging stations. In this way they try to conceal the sometimes very significant price differences between the providers and between charging at a ‘normal’ charging station and a fast charger. And why can’t customers still pay with their credit card?

The government must oblige providers to be more transparent towards their customers.

Once again, the ball is in the legislator’s court, although the car brands are not going unpunished either. They could follow Tesla’s founding example.

Opponents are right to dispute the statement that electric cars are inherently environmentally friendly. Zero emissions are only achieved during the drive itself, while in fact you have to consider emissions over the entire life cycle of a car, including the resources and energy required for production and recycling. The decisive factor is the origin of the energy required to charge the batteries.

According to Carsco2comparator, an electric car with a 60 kWh battery only achieves a better CO2 balance after 60,000 kilometers than a diesel car with B7 diesel. If it runs on HVO diesel, its CO2 balance is 34 percent lower than that of a full electric.

Major loss of value

There are even more elements that make a full electric less attractive. For example, maintenance and repair costs are considerably higher than indicated by the brands. As more electric cars drive around, it becomes clear that they too have defects, that batteries do not last forever and that replacing defective cells is a very expensive business.

All this tarnishes the image of electric cars. As a result, they drop in value much faster than petrol and diesel cars. According to the American research agency ISeeCars, second-hand electric cars from 1 to 5 years old lose value up to 10 times faster than comparable petrol cars over a period of one year. ISeeCars is based on a study in the United States of 1.8 million used cars.

The major loss of value is due to the degradation of the batteries and the uncertainty about their lifespan and the amount of possible repair costs. Battery technology is still in full development and is evolving rapidly. In two to three years, a new generation will come onto the market that will be much more efficient and efficient and significantly cheaper because it will be produced on a much larger scale based on cheaper raw materials than today.

Put all these elements together and you will understand why plug-in hybrids are due for an unexpected revival. Whether and, if so, how long it will last is anyone’s guess and depends on factors and decisions that are unpredictable.

Now, the merger group Stellantis has announced that the Citroën Berlingo, Opel Combo and Peugeot Rifter will immediately be available again with petrol and diesel engines. No more than two years ago, Stellantis removed the aforementioned models from its range in favor of purely electrically powered variants.

And what about the outcome of a recent study showing that half of the people who currently drive an electric car want to exchange it for a mild or plug-in hybrid. Because it is too expensive and too user-unfriendly. 2035 is still far away and electric propulsion seems to be the future, but will it stay that way?

The article is in Dutch

Tags: plugin hybrids suddenly selling Europe electric cars

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