When product planners gaze into their crystal balls to see what the automotive world will look like in the medium to long term in today’s developed world, most visionaries see plug-in-hybrids, likely followed further off in the future by electric cars and even fuel-cell powered vehicles.
Today, judged from fundamentals, few, if anyone, could conceivably be interested in buying a pricey plug-in hybrid.
However, a zero business case becomes an altogether different proposition when tempting financial incentives plus a must-have package of ownership incentives are brought into the equation.
That by way of example could be free and unrestricted entry into potentially mushrooming zero-emission inner city zones.
Free or subsidised parking in such areas linked to convenient low-cost battery charging facilities, use of bus lanes during rush hour periods etc.
Add to that a handy electric car-type purchase incentive, say €5,000 and/or tempting tax concessions for all those using such vehicles as company cars.
What you’ve got is a pretty potent incentive to opt for a plug-in hybrid.
Combine all that with a trendy high-status car, and what you’ve got is a winner.
Norway illustrates the net worth of such public-purse funded concessions.
Here more than one-in-ten new car buyers already opt for a heavily subsidised electric car.
The nature of Norway’s aid package simply cannot be replicated in Europe’s other markets.
However, as illustrated today by the UK and the Netherlands, PHEV incentives, particularly if offered in a trendy vehicle type, can transform lead into gold.
Facts are that thousands have taken delivery of Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV. Last year, the model comfortably outsold Europe’s top selling electric car by some margin.
In the UK alone, this year’s Outlander PHEV sales are forecast to reach a five figure number.
What’s the winning formula?
The Germans have a fitting description: Mogelpackung.
It means that the appealing package doesn’t contain what it seems.
Unlike pure electric cars, a PHEV offers one huge advantage.
Its owner, at the point of purchase, reaps all the advantages that go with it, say free entry into London’s congestion charge zone.
And yet, in daily life the PHEV can be driven mostly with the power of its combustion engine.
The benefit package linked to the purchase or lease of such a PHEV is of course based on the vehicle’s ultra-low paper CO2 emissions.
For the Outlander PHEV that’s just 44g/km CO2.
The snag is that in today’s real world there is simply no check mechanism to ensure that such a highly subsidised PHEV is in fact used in the way intended.
Word has it that some owners of BMW’s i3 electric car - fitted with a range-extender engine - practically operate their electrically powered i3 almost exclusively via the petrol-fuelled range extender engine.
The reason being, they simply haven’t got the time for the proper recharging facilities to replenish the i3’s cutting-edge battery in the manner originally intended.
They still reap all the benefits of driving a zero-emission vehicle.
So looking at today’s PHEV, would-be owners enjoy the best of both worlds.
Thanks to its ultra-low paper CO2 emissions, that’s on the one hand all the mouthwatering fringe benefits that come with its ownership.
On the other hand, they can use a status-rich and public-purse subsidised SUV-Crossover.
Provided, of course, its paper CO2 emissions do not exceed the stipulated limits.
Apart from crossing this administrative hurdle, these PHEVs can be kept happily in motion at most times by their higher CO2 emitting combustion engines.
Who’s to know?
So instead of contributing to a greener planet, or more likely, notably lower overall CO2 and NOx emissions in tomorrows ‘Zero-emission’ city centres, chances are that the switch to plug-ins only makes sense for its potential owners.
Today’s publically funded PHEV incentives make next to no sense until concrete measures are also put in place.
Chiefly a guarantee that PEHVs are operated at all times in the intended low CO2 emitting manner.
Given today’s loopholes it hardly comes as a surprise to learn that most major carmakers are working flat out on the development of their own plug-in hybrids.