'Make plug-in hybrids work for their eco credentials'

Deputy editor John McIlroy thinks a smarter taxation and incentive system would make plug-in hybrid owners drive more efficiently

Mainstream media seized upon research by Greenpeace and Transport and Environment last week, suggesting that plug-in hybrid vehicles have become a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”. This won’t surprise many Auto Express readers, but it turns out that PHEVs aren’t that efficient if you don’t, well, plug them in.

It was an interesting angle for the environmental pressure groups to take – and one that I viewed with interest as I completed another week of pure-electric school runs in our Volvo XC40 plug-in hybrid.

PHEVs are a relatively easy target for the likes of Greenpeace, because if they aren’t used properly, then they are, in effect, regular combustion-engined cars made less efficient by the extra weight of the batteries that they’re forced to carry around.

Trouble is, many company car choosers pick these cars not because of their potential for everyday efficiency and zero-emissions motoring, but because their official CO2 emissions mean they can save a tidy sum on Benefit-in-Kind tax. And when these people then drive their cars as they would a regular petrol or diesel vehicle, they do end up with relatively poor economy. 

We agree that this situation is unsatisfactory. But at the same time, we’re with the car industry in rating plug-in hybrid technology as a useful tool in the transition towards all-electric motoring.

So here’s an idea. With fully connected cars becoming more prevalent, there’s scope for a better intelligent taxation system which continues to offer company car choosers financial benefits through choosing more eco-friendly vehicles – but which then hits them with a penalty if they don’t use that zero-emissions ability to a sensible extent. The cars will almost certainly keep a record of when the engine is running and when they’re using battery power alone, so why not use that data to encourage more responsible use of PHEVs?

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