Would it be an oversimplification to assume that the prime purpose of PHEVs - Plug-in Hybrids-Electric-Vehicles - and pure electric cars like Nissan’s LEAF is to slow and eventually prevent our planet from overheating? So, the speedy proliferation of PHEVs in forever growing numbers will surely reduce our carbon footprint, right? Wrong.
Unlike pure electric cars, today’s avalanche of newly engineered PHEVs come equipped with both a conventionally fuelled engine and also a battery powered electric motor.
Currently their pure electric range is between 30 - 50km.
So given today’s inadequacies in determining the average CO2 emissions of such vehicles, and judged purely from these cast-in-stone official average CO2 emissions, these PHEVs are marketed as genuine green machines.
That being so, surely, governments should be congratulated for their efforts to stimulate demand for these vehicles.
That’s chiefly by way of outright purchase incentives and sweetheart use regulations.
That’s free city parking, use of bus lanes and a host of other sweeteners.
Since time immemorial, the more cunning members of our society have found loopholes in even the most complex tax regulations.
Even a quick glance at latest available European PHEV registration numbers, where available, will reveal a paradox.
Last year’s hot PHEV sales rally in Holland illustrates that consumers will bite if the bait is right.
But there is more.
Last year’s most popular PHEV in the Netherlands was Mitsubishi’s Outlander. Moreover, SUV-Crossovers accounted for a third of bumper PHEV registrations.
Pole position went to Mitsubishi’s Outlander, followed by Volvo’s XC90 and the Porsche Cayenne in seventh and eighth position and BMW’s X5 in the number ten slot.
Eight in ten of last year’s Dutch Porsche Cayenne buyers opted cunningly for the more tax-efficient PHEV version.
Powered by a potent 333PS petrol engine and a 95PS electric motor, the Cayenne hybrid has an official average CO2 emission of just 79g/km.
Currently there are no methods in place to check how often and over what distance these PHEVs are used in pure electric mode.
Admittedly broad brush, and not just in Holland, anecdotal evidence suggests that few of these PHEVs are regularly recharged. If true, these vehicles are driven more often than not with the power of their conventional motors.
Plain as day, operated that way, their real-life CO2 emission will be nowhere near their tax-saving paper values.
Paradoxically, instead of boosting, as intended, the take-up rate for genuine fuel-sippers, in the real world they often serve as a cunning ploy to attain a handy discount for a new SUV.
Take Norway as an example.
Here, ostensibly one of Europe’s most environment-conscious countries, SUV Crossovers were responsible for almost half the PHEVs sold there this January.
The trend was echoed in France, where 43 per cent of this January’s PHEV sales were SUVs.
But perhaps most revealing of consumers’ true willingness to do their small part to cut automotive CO2 emission, Switzerland’s top-five PHEVs registered this January were SUVs.
That means 75 per cent of the PHEVs first registered in this wealthy Alpine Republic were genuine SUVs.
Today Belgium follows the same trend.
In Belgium’s PHEV sales chart, this January SUVs scooped the top four places, thus bringing January’s SUV share of PHEV sales to more than 80 per cent.
The underlying message for manufacturers in today’s European car sales climate, if you want to shift PHEVs, make sure it’s an SUV.
The paradox for taxpayers, surely - in countries where these vehicles are subsidised - given that today there is no means of checking the way these vehicles are driven, scarce public funds are spent to subsidise automotive toys already well within reach of these SUV hybrid buyers.
No wonder that Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV was, with some distance, last year’s top selling PHEV in Western