Just as the corporate race to embrace electric cars kicks into high gear, many of the basic necessities for success, such as ever-falling battery prices, are slipping, leading some to believe it might be better to think again. before ditching internal combustion engines (ICE), and embrace half-way house technology like plug-in hybrids.
But plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), arguably the perfect compromise on the journey to an all-electric world with their ability to go many electric miles and eliminate the dreaded battery-electric range, are in danger of falling victim. be given to politicians and special interest groups determined to destroy the good on the way to some mythical perfection. Hybrids depend on ICE power and therefore must be eliminated.
British expert Nick Molden, chief executive of Emissions Analysissaid that with average sources of mains power, battery electric vehicles reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by about 50%, while a hybrid reduces them by about 30%.
Ford of Europe and Volvo recently jumped to zero emissions by 2035. Britain has pledged to ban sales of new ICE vehicles by 2030, and other countries in Europe are considering similar measures. The problem is that “zero emissions” means different things to different people. Some believe this means battery electric cars do not emit CO2, which is operationally true. Others think this should measure the entire process of manufacturing, materials, use and recycling for a lifetime measure of CO2. With the help of this measure, purely electric cars are a major emitter of CO2.
“There are big practicalities getting in the way of net zero by 2035. It’s not going to happen and I don’t believe manufacturers plan to go all-electric globally. Why cut yourself off from most markets? The US, for example, will not do that in that time frame. As a global automaker, you will still be selling ICE cars after that date,” Molden said in an interview.
“The life cycle emissions, including manufacturing on an average network, BEVs reduce CO2 emissions by about half compared to 30% of a full hybrid. The (BEV) CO2 reduction is not as great as you think. Overall, I don’t think this will be achieved or desirable in 2035. I expect the governments to allow full hybrids for much longer and that is very sensible,” says Molden.
“If Europe went all-electric, manufacturers would still have to build ICE vehicles for the rest of the world. Any company saying this other than premium luxury brands is not credible. It’s too expensive and they don’t deliver the CO2 reduction they should deliver,” he said.
That does not impress European politicians. Next week, the European Parliament will vote on a European Union (EU) proposal to do just that. Half of new cars would be “emission-free” by 2030 and all by 2035, marking the end of new ICE vehicles. According to green lobby group Transport & Environment (T&E), the mood is hard to predict, but –
“It should be a good idea for the EU Parliament to support this proposal,” T&E said in an article headlined “Breaking the combustion engine’s grip on Europe”.
A recent report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) have expressed serious doubts about many short- and long-term aspects of the switch to battery-powered vehicles. Short-term barriers included supply chain disruption and the war in Ukraine. In the longer term, the price of essential battery ingredients such as lithium, cobalt and nickel has risen, jeopardizing one of the main goals of battery electric success, price parity with ICE vehicles, reportedly the $100 per kilowatt battery. The delivery of these key elements also became problematic.
(The IEA was founded by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The OECD includes many US-led democracies with market economies charged with developing policy standards to promote sustainable economic growth.)
Wall Street Journal columnist Allysia Finley recently reported that the aspirations of those making major investments in the future of electric cars are in danger of surpassing reality, not least because prices are still 35% higher on average than ICE-powered cars and the price difference is likely to increase as the demand for critical minerals grows.
As the problems with making battery-electric vehicles (BEV) mount, the claims of competing technologies retaining ICE technology seem obvious. Hybrids use small batteries in conjunction with ICE to maximize efficiency, but with very little battery power. PHEVs have slightly larger batteries, which can be charged independently and offer an electrical range of about 25 to 35 miles and should soon be able to reach between 50 and 60 miles. I just drove the Opel/Opel Grandland SUV PHEV, which has a battery range of between 24 and 29 miles, but for the needs of the average driver, can still provide nearly ICE-free daily driving. The ability to travel long distances without fear of range is a huge plus. The battery is small and therefore much cheaper than for a BEV, which wastes fewer sources of alarm. What’s not to like?
Kelly Senecal, author of “Racing Toward Zero – The Untold Story of Driving Green” with Felix Leach, said this premature drive to kill ICE cars will waste valuable and proven resources. With ICE coupled to batteries, hybrid technology is the fastest way to reduce global carbon dioxide (CO2).
“PHEVs combine the best of both worlds. Driving in the city can be powered by the electric motor, while the combustion engine takes away the fear of range for longer journeys. Now imagine refueling with renewable liquid fuel and this is a really great solution for both the environment and consumer convenience,” said Senecal.
“Most of a driver’s daily commute can be done on the small battery in a PHEV. In addition to lower battery production GHGs (greenhouse gases), this also means less mined resources. In today’s world of limited battery materials and supply chain issues, hybridization is the most practical and responsible way to electrify transportation,” he said in an email.
The opposition to hybrids was vigorous.
Tesla’s Elon Musk famously said he doesn’t like plug-in hybrids, or any kind of half-hearted attempt at going electric. He despises them as amphibians or transitions.
T&E analyst Julia Poliscanova said this a few years ago.
“Plug-in hybrids are fake electric cars, built for lab testing and tax breaks, not real driving. Our testing shows that even in optimal conditions, with a full battery, the cars pollute more than advertised. Unless you drive them gently, CO2 emissions can go off the charts. Governments should stop subsidizing these cars with billions in taxpayer money.”
This criticism of PHEVs has a point, but a narrow point. Large fleet operators have purchased PHEVs and have benefited from huge tax subsidies across Europe. But many played with the system by allowing their drivers to ignore the batteries and just rely on petrol or diesel. For professional drivers who drive maybe 200 or 300 miles a day, the typical battery range of about 50 miles is irritating, not a blessing. So these PHEVs, because they are heavier than ICE counterparts, actually emit more CO2 than simple ICE vehicles. But for the private motorist with few kilometers, who will probably use many more vehicles, that range will be sufficient to drive fully electric. Banning PHEVs because the system threatens to waste valuable interim technology in a few games.
So despite the Vauxhall/Opel Grandland not coming close to its claimed 39-mile battery capacity, it didn’t really matter. The fact that I only got an average of 26.7 miles per charge didn’t negate my claim that PHEVs are the best choice in the electric world, because that would have been enough for most everyday driving needs. During my week with the car, I achieved an effective 171.8 mpg and increased the vehicle’s average fuel economy from 45 mpg to 76.2 mpg.
For me and the average motorist, driving locally, even with this limited battery range, was almost everything, just electric. And of course the range is eliminated and long journeys are possible.
Vauxhall/Opel was part of GM Europe until it was acquired in 2017 by Groupe PSA, which in turn merged with Fiat Chrysler in 2020. The Vauxhall/Opel Grandland is a close relative of the Peugeot 3008 and 5008 and these brands are now stable mates of the Stellantis conglomerate that includes Citroën, Fiat, Jeep, Lancia, Chrysler, DS and Alfa Romeo.
Opel Grandland GS Line Plug-In Hybrid-E 1.6 Turbo
Combined Power – 222 hp
Combined torque – 360 Nm
Petrol power – 1.6 liter 4-cylinder turbo 178 hp @6,000 rpm
torque – 300 Nm @ 3,000
Electric Power – 109 hp @ 2500
Torque – 320 Nm at 500-2,500
Battery – 12.2 kWh
Electric range only – according to WLTP 39 miles
WintonsWorld Average – 42.7 miles from 7 refills
General fuel economy claim – 192 mpg
WintonsWorld average – 171.8 mpg
Acceleration – 0-60 mph 8.9 seconds
Top speed – 140 mph
Gearbox – 8-speed automatic
Drive – front wheels
CO2 – 31 g/km
Price – £33,820 after tax and before subsidies ($42,500)