Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) are seen as a major element in car makers’ need to bring down fleet CO2 emissions. So, you might be surprised to hear that sales of such vehicles were down by around 20% last year compared with 2018.
Rewind the clock to August 2019 and it looked worse still; demand for new PHEVs dropped nearly 72% compared with the same month in 2018.
A SLUMP IN DEMAND?
The lack of demand is most likely linked to the removal in November 2018 of Government grants that awarded buyers up to £2,500 for choosing a plug-in hybrid. At the time the Government said the removal of the Plug-in Car Grant for plug-in hybrids – but not fully electric vehicles – would focus funding “the cleanest vehicles, and ensure that the grant remains sustainable as the UK market for ultra low emission vehicles develops.”
Whatever the reason, the result was a sharp decline in sales of new plug-in hybrids.
The grant removal might not have been the only reason, however. Another problem might be the rather limited choice of PHEVs on sale, especially if you haven’t got £50,000 or more to spend. That though, is changing fast, and it’s precisely why the market for plug-in hybrids – both new and used – is looking increasingly interesting.
THE APPEAL OF A PLUG-IN HYBRID
It’s easy to see why you might fancy the appealingly dual nature of a PHEV. Most offer real-world pure electric running of typically between 20 and 30 miles, which for many people will be enough to cover the average daily commute fuel-free.
Unlike a pure electric car, in a PHEV the battery power is backed up by a petrol or diesel engine, giving you the freedom of any ‘normal’ car when you need to complete longer journeys.
But whether you’re buying new or used the selection of PHEVs to choose has been rather limited. The Hyundai Ioniq and Toyota Prius plug-in hybrids (pictured above) are common sense through-and-through, but might be regarded as having all the style appeal of an orthopaedic shoe.
The Kia Niro and MINI Countryman have more desirable SUV-like styling, while the big Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV 4×4 is outright tough. But in the Mitsubishi’s case prices are pushing £40,000 for a fully equipped model. Among BMW’s stable is the 225xe, but that too is rather dumpy-looking, not to mention remarkably expensive next to comparable family hatchbacks.
At the upper end of the scale there’s a host of lovely luxury PHEVs from Volvo, BMW, Mercedes and more. But only if you’ve got the cash.
THINGS ARE ABOUT TO CHANGE
That is about to change. Within months a Renault Captur (pictured above), Ford Kuga, Peugeot 3008, Vauxhall Grandland X and more will go on sale with plug-in power. And they will join recently launched PHEVs such as the Volvo XC40, and Volkswagen Passat GTE. Perhaps, then, buyers are just holding off until these desirable new mainstream models hit the showrooms.
What’s more, many will be arriving in time to take advantage of proposed changes to company car tax rules that incentivise drivers for switching to an electrified car. While the lowest rates are reserved for drivers of pure electric models, plug-in hybrids also perform favourably under the new rules.
THE MARKET FOR USED PHEVS
In the meantime, although new PHEVs are typically rather pricey to buy, used versions are a great way of getting the tech for less. A used BMW 330e or 530e are solid choices in the executive car class, since they’ll both cover some 20 to 25 miles on electric running alone with relative ease, and they’re great to drive and spacious enough for easy family motoring.
Or, if a big family SUV is more your style then the venerable Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is a solid choice. It’s not as good to drive as the BMWs, and the petrol engine isn’t as efficient so you’re looking at around 30mpg when you’ve run out of electricity. But it is really spacious, has enough off-road potential to make light work of a horse yard or rutted track, and it’ll do 15-20 miles on electric power. Plus, because the Mitsubishi has sold in big numbers there are loads on the second-hand market. A fairly young, low mileage car can be yours for around £15,000.
CHARGING A PLUG-IN HYBRID
It’s worth mentioning that one of the benefits of PHEVs is that their small batteries (compared with a fully electric car) can usually be charged in under eight hours from a normal three-pin domestic socket. This means they are great if you only have access to a normal plug socket at home or work.
If you can offer proof of purchase of your used PHEV (or pure electric car, come to that), and have off-road parking, you can get a government subsidy that will bring the cost of a dedicated home car charger down to well under £400. With one of these installed the charging time drops to around two hours.
In some – but not all – cases PHEVs can also be prewarmed when plugged in. This often-underrated benefit of an electric car means an end to de-icing your windscreen, or indeed having to get in a cold car for the morning commute.
THE MANY AND PERSUASIVE ARGUMENTS FOR A PHEV
Clearly, despite the sales slump the reasons for buying a plug-in hybrid are still many and persuasive, from the low running costs to the peace and quiet that comes with driving on battery power. What’s more, with the technology regarded by manufacturers as being crucial to meeting CO2 targets the number of PHEVs on the market is only going to increase. The more new cars launched, the more will filter through to the used market, too.
Combine the arrival of this buffet of more affordable, more desirable plug-in hybrids with increasing consumer confidence in the technology and it’s hard to think that 2020 won’t be the time for this technology to really hit its stride. In fact, if it doesn’t, I’ll eat my own charging cable.
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