15 Feb 22

Why BEV sales are racing ahead of PHEVs

Sales of battery electric cars increased by 24% in the last quarter of 2021, while PHEV sales fell, raising the prospect that fleets will transition directly to pure electric motors

New car sales figures indicate that the future for plug-in hybrid cars (PHEVs) could be short lived as fleets and private motorists transition directly to battery electric vehicles (BEVs).

PHEVs were originally considered as a convenient stepping stone to complete electrification, allowing fleets and drivers to experience plug-in technology and zero tailpipe emissions without range anxiety. Used optimally, there is scientific evidence that PHEVs could even be a greener solution than pure BEVs.

However, studies and practical fleet experience have found that only a minority of PHEV drivers exploit the maximum environmental benefits of the technology by recharging regularly from renewable electricity to drive as many miles as possible in zero emission mode before the combustion engines kick in.

Drivers don't recharge PHEVs

In the real world, drivers suffer from waning enthusiasm to plug in PHEVs for short ranges of 30km to 50km, and when driven on petrol power a PHEV has higher emissions than a standard combustion engine vehicle due to the extra weight of its battery pack and motor.

Data from Dutch fuel card company Travelcard (below) confirms the discrepancy between official WLTP emission figures and real world CO2 emissions, with true performance being close to four times the lab test.

Having analysed the real-world fuel usage of 100,000 PHEVs, the International Council on Clean Transportation concluded that: “PHEV fuel consumption and tail-pipe CO2 emissions in real-world driving, on average, are approximately two to four times higher than type-approval values.” For PHEV company cars, the ICCT found that only 20% of mileages were driven in electric mode, dropping to 18% in Germany.

Fake EVs

Climate campaigner Transport & Environment goes so far as to describe PHEVs as: “fake electric cars, built for lab tests and tax breaks, not real driving.”

And now those tax breaks and purchase incentives for PHEVs are evaporating across Europe as national Governments attempt to accelerate the transition to pure BEVs. In the three major markets of Germany, France and the UK, purchase incentives are significantly higher for BEVs than PHEVs, with qualifying criteria for PHEVs getting tighter. In the UK, no PHEV currently satisfies the Government-set threshold of being able to travel 112km with zero tailpipe CO2 emissions, while in France the CO2 emissions threshold of 20g/km precludes almost all PHEVs apart from those that use small range extender engines to recharge their batteries.

Benefit in kind tax advantages for company cars are also heavily in favour of BEVs, rather than PHEVs, although both technologies generally enjoy significantly lower tax bills than their petrol or diesel equivalents.

BEVs outsell PHEVs

These developments are reflected in new car sales figures, which show how BEVs are now outstripping PHEVs, with the gap widening in the largest markets. While full-year results for 2021 show a total of 867,092 PHEV registrations in the European Union, up 70.7% on 2020, and BEV sales up by a similar percentage to 878,432 units, the last quarter showed BEV sales growing much more rapidly. According to ACEA, the manufacturer’s association, BEV sales surged by 24.9% in the last three months of 2021 (pictured above), compared to the same period of 2020, while PHEV sales declined by 1.8%. This gave BEVs a 9.1% market share for 2021, ahead of PHEV’s 8.9% share.


Country 2021 sales % BEV % PHEV
Germany 2,622,132 14% 12%
France 1,659,003 10% 8%
UK 1,647,181 12% 7%
Italy 1,462,141 5% 5%


883,158 3% 5%


446,418 2% 2%


322,857 20% 10%


303,294 19% 26%


390,269 6% 12%


244,585 14% 6%

Czech Repub

206,875 1% 2%


The improved range of BEVs and a clear sense of direction in the new vehicle market are leading environmentally-focused fleets towards a direct transition to pure electric models.

“We expect to convert our fleet to EVs entirely, we are not considering PHEVs,” said Almy Magalhaes, Senior Manager Procurement Indirects And Services Europe, Ecolab.

And OEMs are following suit; there are seven BEVs in Europe's small car segment but no PHEVs, while Mercedes-Benz announced last year that: “Investments into combustion engines and plug-in hybrid technologies will drop by 80% between 2019 and 2026,” as it transforms its capital allocation from EV-first to EV-only.


Illustrations: Shutterstock, ACEA

Authored by: Jonathan Manning