(Pocket-lint) – The addition of hybrids to the UK Government’s proposed ban on cars might have taken some people by surprise. Aren’t hybrid cars a good thing?
Boris Johnson’s announcement that the UK is moving its ban on petrol and diesel car sales to 2030 – and hybrids by 2035 – has been well-received by environmentalists, while causing a ripple of concern within the motor industry, with Mike Hawes, chief executive of the SMMT – Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders – saying:
“It’s extremely concerning that government has seemingly moved the goalposts for consumers and industry on such a critical issue. Manufacturers are fully invested in a zero emissions future, with some 60 plug-in models now on the market and 34 more coming in 2020.“
The writing was perhaps on the wall for hybrids already, as the plug-in car grant (PICG) was revised and withdrawn from hybrids in 2018. The PICG is a government subsidy to assist those looking to buy low-emission vehicles and currently sits at £3000 for fully electric cars costing less than £50,000.
Hybrid cars, it seems, may have run their course in the eyes of the government. The challenge that hybrids face is that they are a compromise. For drivers, that’s been a compromise that they have been willing to accept and the launch of the Toyota Prius over 20 years ago – with new-fangled hybrid technology – was seen as a breakthrough.
Popular with minicab drivers, the advantage that the Prius offered (and by extension all hybrids offer) is that you don’t waste energy when you brake – it’s regenerated and used to charge the battery in the car, which can then contribute to powering the vehicle, reducing the load on the combustion engine.
However this is only really a technology that’s beneficial when you’re braking frequently. That makes it great for suburban stop-start driving, but on the motorway, the hybrid side of the vehicle adds little apart from weight, often making hybrids less efficient than a conventional diesel.
Plug-in hybrids have greater advantages and the popularity of something like the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV has demonstrated this. Having some electric range you can charge up from home means short journeys can be zero emission – but with an average of around 30 miles of electric driving offered by such vehicles, the compromise is still very apparent.
Some of the uptake of hybrids has undoubtedly been driven by tax breaks for company cars, regardless of whether the owner actually uses the plug-in functionality or not, meaning that these cars are often emitting just as much as any other combustion engine vehicle on the road.
In reality, the inclusion of hybrids shouldn’t really come as a surprise and that may adversely affect the expanding market for these cars over the next 15 years. Many manufacturers have hybridisation on their roll-out plan for the next 5 years, but this might cause some to pause. Is it worth continued investment in hybrids if you’re not going to be able to sell them?
Underlying the position for the UK is the state of the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. While there’s a slow expansion of charging points – and replacement of early chargers with more powerful units – there’s still a feeling that what the UK really needs is a national charging structure rather than a loose collection of private companies. The alternative – hydrogen – is even further behind electric but is already being explored as a potential replacement for current liquid fuels.
Certainly, we’re going to see 15 years of change, because the demand for electric charging points is only set to rise, and currently the UK is nowhere near able to offer the convenience of petrol and diesel to motorists.
Writing by Chris Hall.