Popular plug-in hybrid cars BMW, Renault and Peugeot emit much more carbon dioxide than official measurements suggest, according to new road tests by academics. The finding raises concerns about the true impact of models touted as being better for the environment.
Plug-in hybrids pollute more
According to research from the Graz University of Technology (Austria), cars from BMW, Renault and Peugeot emitted much more than standard laboratory tests said, and the BMW 3 Series, in particular, emitted more than triple what was advertised.
Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) combine a small battery with a traditional gasoline or diesel engine. Their manufacturers claim that these models allow their owners to travel long distances while driving with zero emissions, but activists and academics maintain that they are more polluting than they appear.
The investigation revealed that the BMW 3 Series emitted 112g of carbon dioxide per kilometre, three times its official rate of 36g. Meanwhile, Peugeot’s 308 polluted 20% more than its official rate of 27g and Renault’s Megane exceeded the official 30g test by 70%.
In city circulation, the Peugeot had just over half (53%) of the advertised electric range on a charge, while the BMW had just 74%. Only Renault had affirmed electric autonomy. However, with just 50 km on a single charge and without fast charging, the emission-free use of Renault on intercity journeys in European cities will remain limited.
BMW has introduced a new geo-fence technology that automatically switches the PHEV to emission-free electric driving when driving through cities. However, when tested in the city of Graz, the BMW 3 Series fired the engine twice.
The tests also suggest that the BMW could save battery power when outside of cities if it enters an area within the geo-fence. In this regard, T&E indicated that geo-fence technology does not guarantee emission-free driving in cities and presents the potential risk of increasing CO₂ emissions outside those areas.
Directly affects transport decarbonization
Company cars account for 71% of new PHEV sales, and studies show they get the vast majority of miles on engine use and are rarely charged. When the BMW, Peugeot and Renault were tested with an empty battery, they emitted between 5 and 7 times their claimed amount of CO₂ on the road. For this reason, T&E and ECODES demand that governments stop subsidizing PHEV vehicles and apply a tax based on their actual pollution.
According to the T&E report, in collaboration with ECODES for its dissemination, Spain dedicated 21 million euros last year exclusively to subsidies for the purchase of PHEV vehicles from BMW, Peugeot and Renault.
Meanwhile, second-hand vehicles that are truly zero emissions are still not included in the MOVES Plan, which is already the case in France. This, added to the obsolete taxation of vehicles, which in the same way does not differentiate between BEVs and PHEVs, is a clear indicator that changes are urgently needed. The ultimate goal must be to encourage the acquisition or use of vehicles that truly do not emit CO2.
PHEVs consume more fuel than laboratory figures
It is worth mentioning that some tests carried out by independent groups, such as the British consumer association Which, have repeatedly shown that PHEVs consume more fuel than laboratory figures suggest. Burning more fuel increases running costs and pollutes carbon emissions.
“Plug-in hybrids are sold as the perfect combination of a battery for all local needs and a motor for long distances, but real-world tests show this to be a myth. In city tests, only one of the PHEVs has the advertised electric range, while all three emit more than declared in commuter driving,” said Anna Krajinska, head of vehicle emissions at the Transport & Environment (T&E) campaign. ), who commissioned the present study to the Graz University of Technology.
Reducing carbon emissions from the auto industry is seen as vital to countries’ climate ambitions. However, many experts believe the industry is far from being compatible with the Paris Agreement goal of less than 1.5C of global warming.
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