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Would a plug-in hybrid be suitable for me?

Published on 08.05.2020

Ask yourself which drive system would truly makes sense for your own car.

At a time when diesel is wrongly maligned for its pollutant emissions (NOx, particles etc.), where petrol is criticised for its CO2 emissions(20 to 30% more than diesel), and where electric vehicles are extolled by politicians for their environmental virtues, many of us are wondering which drive system would truly makes sense for our own car.

Nothing is as cut and dried as the politicians would like to have us believe, as they tend to over-simplify subjects as complex as the drive systems of our beloved cars. We must therefore consider all elements on a case-by-case basis, analysing the subject with a minimum level of rigour, objectivity and without bias.  This is what we propose doing here for plug-in hybrid vehicles.
 

What is a plug-in hybrid?

This type of drive system combines a combustion engine (petrol or diesel) and an electric motor (or several motors in some cases). The electric motor is supplied by a lithium-ion battery, which is charged principally by the mains (via a 220V socket or a dedicated terminal) as well as in deceleration phases or by the combustion engine (in certain operating phases). This is where the main difference lies between a plug-in and a classic hybrid (self-charging), the most famous of which is none other than the Toyota Prius.
 

Hybrid or electric?

Electric cars have certain advantages, such as the absence of local sound, pollutant and CO2 emissions (we won’t go into the manufacture and recycling of their batteries here). However, they also have drawbacks, like their limited autonomy, long charge time or the cost of the battery. And while some aficionados of this type of drive system will swear that you really can do everything in an electric car, we have to state, objectively, that this doesn’t apply to everyone! If you are among those who make long journeys (>400 km) and you don’t want to learn to live with the endless number of charges needed to drive a 100% electric car, the hybrid would be an alternative solution.

 

Classic or plug-in hybrid?

A plug-in hybrid has a larger battery than a classic hybrid and can therefore cover longer distances in 100% electric mode (from 30 to 60 km on average compared with the 2-3 km of the classic hybrid). This therefore impacts on fuel consumption (petrol or diesel), which will be lower if you are able to drive frequently in electric mode, i.e. if you can charge the battery every 30 to 60 km. It is therefore essential for you to be able to charge the battery frequently to enjoy low fuel consumption since, in the opposite case, you’ll consume far more than the values stated by the manufacturers (2-3 l/100KM). The prerequisite to purchasing a plug-in hybrid is therefore having a charging point at home and/or your place of work. If not, you’d do better to opt for a classic hybrid, which doesn’t need a socket connection and whose average fuel consumption if fairly low (similar to that of a diesel).
 

Are there drawbacks to the plug-in hybrid?

We know nothing in life is perfect, and the plug-in hybrid has its fair share of drawbacks, starting with a price far higher (8,000 to 10,000 euros) than a petrol vehicle. The price is justified by its large battery (10 - 20 kWh), its electric motor and the on-board charger. And if that weren’t enough, all this impacts on the weight of the vehicle too, which is 300 kg to 450 kg heavier than the equivalent combustion version. This point, which goes frequently unmentioned, impacts on road handling, which is less agile and, to a lesser extent, comfort, which is more unyielding. Obviously, this additional weight will be a drawback when driving in non-electric mode, and consumption will be higher with an empty battery, especially in town driving with its frequent acceleration and braking.
 

Which user profile is the plug-in hybrid suitable for?

In view of all these elements, we can conclude that this type of drive system suits people who often drive in congested urban or suburban environments, who occasionally need to travel long distances, who are able to charge their vehicle at home and/or work, and who don’t have just the one vehicle for every occasion.  Added to this is the budget factor since the plug-in hybrid is sadly not affordable for everyone (consider a minimum of €35,000 euros for the entry models).
 

Am I eligible for a subsidy for buying a plug-in hybrid?

Speaking of money, you can get a €2,500 government subsidy when you buy a new plug-in hybrid vehicle provided its CO2 emissions are 50 g/km or lower.But this won’t last as the government has just announced that this subsidy won’t be extended in 2021… Unbelievable!

So the conclusions of this article are that choosing the drive system best suited to you has never before been so complicated. As such, the ACL can advise you through its Mobility Loft every weekday between 8.30 a.m. and 5.30 p.m., preferably by appointment.

©BMW
 

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