Just over a year ago, many motoring pundits were gloomily predicting that the plug-in hybrid might be about to lose its shine. Prematurely, perhaps, the £2,500 grant funding available for these cars was withdrawn with almost no warning – to plenty of criticism. A full calendar year forward, I’m not convinced this technology has had its day yet.
Granted, the figures look bad at a glance. SMMT data shows PHEV registrations declined by almost a fifth in 2019, 34,734 units, versus 42,232 in 2018, with demand overtaken by a buoyant market for full EVs – 37,850 of which were registered last year. But, in context, that’s despite many of the best-selling PHEVs disappearing from price lists due to model replacement and re-testing under the new WLTP fuel economy cycle. One in eight of 2019’s PHEVs were registered in December alone.
Company car tax has also been a ‘carrot’ for plug-in vehicle uptake, and the system hasn’t been as kind as it could be recently. A reformed system is scheduled to come into force from April (pending final approval in the March Budget) with proposals suggesting the Outlander will drop into a lower 12% Benefit-in-Kind band, just as petrol and diesel cars feel the full tax burden of hiked CO2 figures from WLTP testing. However, even the 16% band this car falls into in the 2019/20 tax year offers some savings versus a similarly-sized petrol or diesel SUV.
Then there’s the drivetrain. I’m a diligent user, so the car has been charged almost whenever it’s parked, but haven’t been hypermiling nor have I been selective with the journeys I’ve used it for. Despite frequent motorway trips, I’ve averaged just under 70mpg over nine months, assisted by a 25-30-mile electric range which has proved more than adequate to do most journeys on battery power. Even with that range exhausted, the engine switches off frequently when it’s not working hard – just as it would in a conventional hybrid.
Unfortunately, I can’t give you an accurate figure for the EV/hybrid mode split, as the pie chart in the dashboard display resets every time it’s fully charged (it’s the stat I’d have most liked to see). However, based on the 67.8mpg lifetime economy and the typical 38mpg I’m getting on motorway journeys when it hasn’t been plugged in, roughly 45% of its lifetime mileage has been done on battery power. Almost all of the remainder will have been on the motorways, away from urban areas. So it’s a step in the right direction, provided it’s used properly.
There are financial rewards for doing so. ‘Fuel’ costs in EV mode are around 4p per mile, compared to around 15p per mile when it’s running as a hybrid (based on BEIS average fuel costs for 2019). Even with my less-than-ideal usage, I’ve calculated the Outlander’s combined fuel costs (petrol and electricity, weighted based on the figures above) to be around 10p per mile. That’s roughly in line with a 60mpg lifetime average for a diesel car, except I’ve put out almost zero exhaust emissions in town.
So I can see the PHEV having a bit of a renaissance in 2020, with new models arriving hopefully just as incentives are reinvigorated. Despite a multitude of great reasons to go fully electric, this technology remains a very important component of our progressive move to electrification.