Shocking News! Plug-in Hybrid Cars Need To Be Plugged In!


A report by British company The Miles Consultancy contains shocking news. People who drive plug-in hybrid cars need to plug the damn things in every once in a while in order to get the benefits offered by plug-in hybrid cars. TMC makes its living by providing fleet managers with detailed statistics about the total number of miles driven and average fuel economy — the sort of stuff that makes a fleet manager’s heart flutter.

plug-in hybrid vehicles

An analysis of the data from 7 PHEV cars shows that they only average 45 miles per gallon, whereas they are rated at up to 130 mpg in the New European Test Cycle. Alarm! Red Alert! PHEV’s are a ripoff, screams Fleet News, without bothering to inform its readers that the NEDC figures represent relatively short range driving, during which the electric motor would provide most of the power to move the cars forward. Fleet News is shocked — SHOCKED — to find that once the battery is depleted, the onboard gasoline engine has the audacity to burn gasoline. Oh, the horror!

Things get worse, however. According to TMC, once the gasoline engine is engaged, it puts out more CO2 emissions than a comparable diesel engine. Well, gosh. Diesels have been know to have lower carbon emissions than gasoline engines for only the last 50 years or so. It’s the other nasty stuff like nitrous oxides and particulates that spew from their tailpipes that are the problem.

The thrust of the Fleet News hit piece is that fleet managers should beware. Don’t be taken in by the claims of PHEV advocates. Buy nice, conventional diesel powered cars for your fleets instead of those fancy schmantzy plug-in hybrid cars. Are we starting to get a hint as to who might be behind this so-called “report” yet?

Motoring Research exploded the hysteria spread by Fleet News by talking to a real person about the TMC findings — a technique by which actual journalism often takes place. “There is a real risk that fleet managers are adopting a PHEV strategy for completely the right reasons but unknowingly actually increasing their fuel bills,” says TMC managing director Paul Hollick.

“PHEVs can be a cost-effective choice where drivers cover only moderate mileages; but only if the cars’ batteries are recharged daily. On the evidence of our sample, one has to question whether some PHEVs ever see a charging cable. In a lot of cases, we see PHEVs never being charged, doing longer drives and this is not a good fit for a lot of business car users. A robust PHEV deployment policy is essential.”

Way back in 2011 when the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid first hit the market, several government and corporate fleets added them to their inventories. The initial results were disappointing. The Volts didn’t seem to be any more fuel efficient than conventional cars. After much head scratching and thumb twiddling, it was determined that no one ever bothered to plug them in at the end of the day. Apparently, lots of people out there still have no idea what the “plug-in” part of PHEV is all about — least of all the whiz kids at Fleet News.

About the Author

I have been a car nut since the days when Rob Walker and Henry N. Manney, III graced the pages of Road & Track. Today, I use my trusty Miata for TSD rallies and occasional track days at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. If it moves on wheels, I'm interested in it. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.
  • Coach Roschella

    “, it was determined that no one ever bothered to plug them in at the end of the day. ”

    I know when I bought my Volt, that statement was true of the dealer too. When I picked up my Volt, all nice and clean and with a FULL tank of petrol, I had less than 20 miles of EV charge on it….so disappointing that it wasn’t charged to capacity. I had even scheduled my appointment to buy it so they had a few days to prep the vehicle…

    • Steve Hanley

      “Things in this life change very slowly if they ever change at all.” The Eagles.

  • Jeff

    Actually, with the urea additive system for the majority of current diesel cars, ALL of the emissions, including NO2 & particulates, are lower from diesel engines than similar gasoline engines. Don’t take my word for it, you can check it out on the EPA website to verify this fact.
    And no, I don’t work in the diesel industry, but I did purchase a diesel car after checking that EPA study. I live in an urban area, and don’t have access to a steady charging station, so the plug-in hybrid doesn’t work for me, and many other urban dwellers who don’t have a garage for charging.

    • kevin mccune

      What happens if you put an ad blue system on a gas motor?(all it does is decrease the Nitrous oxides) then what of the Diesel nanoparticles?( they can actually cross the blood brain barrier ) There is a reason they are banning diesels in the EU and its not all spite.The reason I don’t like diesels is the higher maintenance.There is little merit to having them on small vehicles.

      • Jeff

        The adblue system doesn’t just reduce nitrous oxide- it breaks down the diesel soot and particulates into nitrous oxide and water vapor, and then further reduces the nitrous oxide to levels way below gasoline engines. As I mentioned in original post, read the EPA studies results, and you’ll see that the OVERALL level of emissions, including soot and particulates, is MUCH lower from diesel engines with the urea adblue systems than gasoline engines. EU is banning diesels because there are still many older diesel engines without the ad blue systems, that do have the soot issues.

        • kevin mccune

          Well I will stand behind the nanoparticle issue and I don’t think carbon can turn into another element like that unless the soot(mostly carbon ) contains nitrogen and hydrogen, nitrous oxides can be formed by any system that produces high enough temperatures, that was one system the old EGR systems employed to reduce exhaust gas temperaturesin gas engines, diesels were said to “burn ” air because of the high combustion temperatures diesels create a lot of heat its not as noticable due to the carefully designed heavy duty cooling systems,I have breathed enough exhaust from different diesel engines to know there are a lot differences (not as bad on the new ones) some of these older diesels couldn’t be used in tunnels because they would clog the particulate traps so quickly, the older caterpillar turbocharged Caterpillar engines were generally allowed to operate in these areas, So what I am implying is this , its a health issue also( you do not want nanoparticles)in your blood stream.I imagine you are mostly correct in your assertions.

          • Jeff

            We are definitely in agreement about the health issues, etc. for the older diesel engines in cars, trucks, and heavy equipment. I drove a bulldozer in my younger days, and you could actually see the exhaust (yuck). It’s just that the new diesel engines are so vastly improved (according to the EPA studies I read) that I don’t feel they are being given a fair shake.
            I look forward to the day of low low carbon and sustainable energy supplying power for all of our energy needs (cars and otherwise), it can’t happen a day too soon.

          • kevin mccune

            I have a feeling we may have to save diesel fuel for the heavies and I too look forward to that time when we get to leave a bit of the carbon sequestered.

  • dogphlap dogphlap

    In many cases the driver of a company car gets a fuel card that allows them to re-fuel the company car at the companies expense (often this is only intended for journeys undertaken for company purposes, but it may include private mileage as well, depends on the company). Those drivers as a general rule are not compensated for the cost of electricity they may incur should they plug the cars in at home. Result: they do not plug in at home, they refuel at a gasoline station and pay with their company fuel card. This is not rocket science.

    • Steve Hanley

      No it is not. It’s human nature and something fleet managers should have known would happen when they made the decision to purchase PHEVs.

  • Petrah

    Three Chevy Volts in our fleet motor pool. Dedicated stalls with a charger and lower curbing (air dams on the ground ya’ll). Training for new PHEV users. We see 125 MPG(+/-). The added cost of super unleaded is a bit of a cost difference. Now if we could just get the drivers to lose their fear of the new and different our utilization would increase to a reasonable level.

    • Steve Hanley

      Valuable input. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

  • GregS

    Probably the same people that would never rewind VCR tapes