29 September 2021

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Plug-in hybrid cars, once criticised for their efficiency, now have longer range, tax benefits and clever new technology to help fleets use them more effectively.

While pure electric cars and vans take most of the headlines, plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) are still proving popular. In the year to date, until the end of August, there have been more than 70,000 plug-in hybrids sold in the UK, a rise of over 140% on the same period last year when just over 30,000 had been registered with an overall market share of nearly 7%. This lags slightly behind full electric vehicles, of which 92,000 have been registered during the same period

Nevertheless, it shows there is still demand for these petrol/electric and diesel/electric models, even though the Plug-in Car Grant was effectively cut for hybrids when the qualification changed to vehicles having CO2 emissions of less than 50g/km and able to travel at least 112km (70 miles) without any emissions at all. Most plug-in hybrids are not able to fulfil these criteria. 

The reason was that the Government did not believe the electric element of PHEVs was being used enough. After the grant regulations were changed, in 2019, Jesse Norman, then-minister of state for the Department for Transport told Autocar: “The evidence was very clear: owners of plug-in hybrids were not plugging them in, negating the environmental benefits and undermining the incentives.” 

Are things changing for PHEVs?

There is much research which suggest that PHEVs have not been used in electric mode by drivers enough – campaigners Transport & Environment called it an ‘emissions scandal’ – the latest PHEVs are able to buck this trend.

Thanks to advances in batteries and efficiency, many PHEVs can do much longer distances on electric. For example, a 2017 plug-in Mercedes GLE had a claimed electric range of 18 miles before its engine had to take over, yet the latest model offers more than 60 miles on battery.

Added to which, a PHEV with electric range of more than 40 miles and CO2 emissions of below 50g/km would attract a Benefit-in-Kind rate of 7%, and even one with less than 30 mile range is rated at 13% - usually far lower than its petrol- or diesel-only equivalent

Manufacturers are also using technology to encourage the use of electric running in PHEVs. Every time a PHEV BMW vehicle is charged for a set period, or uses electric-only power in specified cities, the driver receives points, for example. When 3,200 points are reached, a £10 charging credit is awarded, to be used across the BMW Charging network.

BMW plug-in hybrid models can also switch automatically to electric driving mode once they have entered eDrive zones in London Birmingham, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Belfast, Liverpool, Bath and Manchester using geofencing technology. 

So how can fleets manage PHEVs?

With PHEVs not to be phased out until 2035 in the Government’s plan there is still plenty of time for them to have a use in fleets: either for drivers who do very low mileages and need rarely go beyond the electric range, live predominately in cities or need to do occasional long trips well beyond the range of pure electric cars.

As with all good fleet management, selecting the right tool for the job is paramount, and used in the right way, PHEVs can play a role.

But in order to make certain that their role is maximised, it is important to ensure that the electric element of its powertrain is used to its fullest effect, and that when on petrol (or diesel) it runs as efficiently as possible.

The Allstar One Electric card allows fleet managers to do this, because the driver can use the card to charge across a multi-brand electric charging network in the UK, alongside access to the Allstar network of fuel stations.

For the fleet manager, this means that they get to see all costs in one place (rather than having to try and manually marry, and calculate, separate charging and fuel receipts) for each vehicle, allowing them to quickly ascertain whether PHEVs are being used in the most cost effective and fuel-efficient way.

With online reporting showing the amount of fuel used, the amount of electric bought and mileages, fleet managers now have the tools to deploy PHEVs in the right way on their fleets, providing a useful middle way between pure electric and petrol and diesel vehicles.  

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