29 juil 22

As BEVs continue to boom, PHEV sales flatline

PHEVs were once touted as the perfect bridge between ICEs and BEVs. But sales figures from across Europe show a market seemingly no longer in need of that bridge. As BEV sales continue to shoot up, PHEV sales have remained static since mid-2020. 

So, you’re switching from a petrol or diesel car – an ICE, for short – to an electric vehicle (EV), but you’re a bit uncomfortable about the transition?

Going all the way

Then why not opt for a plug-in hybrid EV (PHEV), which has both a combustion engine and an electric motor. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with electric driving, you can go all the way and get a battery-electric vehicle (BEV). 

Only a few years ago, it seemed logical that ICEs would first be replaced by PHEVs, and then PHEVs by BEVs. That gradual transition seemed appropriate for the most radical change in automotive engineering in a century. 

While many consumers (and corporate fleets) did not follow that chronology, many opting to go straight from ICE to BEV instead, enough buyers were swayed by the security of those twin motorisations to assure that the market position of PHEVs seemed assured. 

Similar market shares

For example, PHEVs and BEVs had similar market shares in the UK back in 2019. But the most recent figures show that BEVs now sell twice as much as PHEVs on the British market. 

In other European markets too, the PHEV slice of the market is now shrinking. In Germany, PHEV sales were down 16% in June, compared with the same month last year. In France, the drop was by 28%.

One element is market readiness. With range anxiety receding, private and corporate drivers see few advantages in opting for a PHEV. 

More harm than good

In addition, from a sustainability perspective, PHEVs seem to be doing more harm than good. If the electric option is used to the maximum, PHEVs have the potential to save fuel, cost and emissions. But in practice, that is often not the case. 

The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) recently published the result of a survey of 9,000 vehicle, which showed that the actual fuel consumption of PHEVs was up to 5 times higher than what the official testing procedures predicted. 

Among privately-owned PHEVs the ICCT found that electric driving made up only 45% to 49% of total driving. For corporate PHEVs, the average was no more than 11% to 15%. 

Pretty dismal result

With company cars representing such a large and important share of the market (more than half of all new-car sales in some countries), that is a pretty dismal result. It is one of the reasons why governments are reducing subsidies for PHEVs much faster than for BEVs. 

Manufacturers too are de-emphasising PHEVs in favour of BEV models, due to the EU’s ever-tightening emissions targets. So with supply, demand and incentives all in free fall, it may seem that the PHEV may very soon go the way of the dinosaur – or at least the ICE. 

However, PHEVs are doing relatively well on the Chinese market, where plug-in sales have doubled over the last year. Plug-in popularity in China is due to the large number of apartment dwellers, who are excluded from the option to home-charge their EV. However, even in China, BEVs now sell double as much as PHEVs.  

Image: Shutterstock

Authored by: Frank Jacobs