Hidden emissions from plug-in hybrid cars could mean Germany misses climate targets, study finds

Justin Huggler
·2-min read
The discrepancy in the emissions figures is largely down to the way plug-in hybrids are used
The discrepancy in the emissions figures is largely down to the way plug-in hybrids are used

Plug-in hybrid cars produce almost three times more CO2 emissions than their manufacturers claim and could jeopardise attempts to meet climate targets, a German government study has found.

Based on current trends, there will be 2.6m hybrid plug-in cars on Germany’s roads by 2030, producing around 2.4m tonnes (2.4m tons) of CO2 emissions a year according to manufacturers’ figures.

But the real figure is more likely to be 6.7m tonnes (6.6m tons) a year, a study commissioned by the German environment ministry found.

The study’s authors called for current German government subsidies and tax incentives for plug-in hybrids to be reviewed in the light of their findings.

It comes amid debate in the UK over subsidies for plug-in hybrid cars, and calls for them to be included in the 2030 ban on petrol and diesel vehicles.

The UK Government has said new hybrid cars will be exempt from the ban until 2035, after the car manufacturing industry said they were a vital transition technology. 

The discrepancy in the emissions figures is largely down to the way plug-in hybrids are used.

Drivers tend to charge them less often and use the combustion engines more than allowed for in the manufacturers’ figures.

But the study found that even with daily charging plug-in hybrids would produce 0.8m tonnes more CO2 emissions than manufacturers claim.

The current charging infrastructure in Germany is inadequate, making it impossible for drivers to charge their vehicles frequently enough, the study found.

But it also found that most plug-in hybrids have insufficient electric range for drivers to avoid using the combustion engine, particularly when driving at practical speeds for long journeys.

The study found plug-in hybrids used as company cars have the lowest proportion of electric driving.

The study was commissioned by the German environment ministry and carried out by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IFEU), the Öko-Institut and Transport & Environment, an umbrella group of European environmental NGOs.