/ Motoring

Are you re-volted by the plug-in trend?

Petrol pump facing electric car wire

One big trend that emerged at the Frankfurt Motor Show earlier this week is the popularity of hybrid technology. Everyone from Peugeot to Porsche was showing off at least one new model…

In fact, most of the gorgeously exotic sports cars at the show had hybrid technology – Porsche 918 is a plug-in as is BMW’s stunning i8. And the other star of the BMW hall – and the taxi stand running journalists around the show on press days – was the i3 supermini that’ll be offered in electric and range–extender hybrid form.

But it’s not only supercar and luxury car brands that are embracing this technology – VW slammed its cards on the table declaring an ambition to become the leader in hybrid and electric cars by 2018. To kick start this it had electric versions of the Golf hatchback and Up city car on its stand.

Sparks fly for electric cars

And Peugeot is following the lead of Renault with its 208 FE plug-in hybrid concept. I guess it should come as no surprise that Vauxhall has this week lopped £3,500 off the price of its Ampera range–extender hybrid. The starting price is still £28,750 (after government grant), but at least this brings it closer to the asking prices of conventional rivals.

And will this clever new technology be the panacea to motoring costs that it promises? If the hybrid daddy, the Toyota Prius, is anything to go by, the answer has to be yes. Although the plug-in version of this got nowhere near the official claimed 134.5mpg, the 78.5mpg it achieved in our tests, is one of the best figures we’ve ever recorded.

But such impressive fuel consumption figures will only be achieved by city drivers and those prepared to sit in the slow lane on the motorway (the Prius’s consumption rose to 48.7mpg on the motorway), so the plug-in isn’t the ideal choice for everyone. And plenty of small, eco-focussed diesel superminis are now achieving almost as good mpg. VW’s 1.2 TDi BlueMotion, for example, did 74.3mpg overall and 61.4mpg on the motorway.

So are you ready to jump on the hybrid bandwagon? Or are you going to stick with conventional car power?


Until the arrival of catalytic converters, diesel particulate filters and low sulphur fuels, electric vehicles offered useful environmental benefits for driving in town centres. I am not convinced that they are much better compared with conventional modern engines.

The best opportunity for electric vehicles is for urban use, where high speed and acceleration is unnecessary. That will place much less demands on battery power, the Achilles heel of all electric vehicles. Manufacturers may be able to turn out electric vehicles that can accelerate from 0-60 mph in under 10 seconds, but I think they should be focusing on the market for delivery vehicles and small cars for urban use.


Remember where the fuel comes from for your electric vehicle – gas-fired power stations for example. And how would our generating capacity cope with a large increase in electric-vehicle demand?
Higher efficiency petrol and diesel with electric back up, using regenerative braking for example, can improve efficiency and still give normal range.
One way to be energy efficient is to simply use less by not driving as much. Improving public transport could help here.


There is the opportunity to use locally generated power (e.g. from solar panels on the garage roof) and energy from the grid when there is surplus capacity. That should work well for hybrid vehicles, where it is not a disaster if the batteries are not fully charged at the start of a journey.


That electric cars will often just shift the pollution elsewhere has already been touched upon, although a modern generating plant will burn the fossil fuel more efficiently what hasn’t been considered is where all this extra electricity is going to come from. We’re already facing a generating capacity shortfall thanks to the EU’s insistence that we close many of our large coal burning power stations. A switch to electric cars could be the last thing we need.

Geof says:
25 October 2016

We produce our own electricity through solar PV and house heated by sustainable wood. We need to tackle climate change now – that means cutting back on fossil fuels straight away – using cars less etc. We are shifting from dirty petrol to electric. If you care about your grandchildren it makes perfect sense.


I’m confused about the fuel consumption figures given for plug-in hybrids. For example, you said in your tests the plug-in Prius achieved 78.5 mpg. Was that test starting with a fully charged battery and ending with a fully discharged one? What figure would you get if you started the test with a discharged battery, and wouldn’t that be a fairer comparison to conventional engines?


I hope you are not expecting fair comparisons, Clint. Since when did marketing people do that? 🙁


Is Clint referring to tests done by Which? I hope we don’t classify them as “marketing people” (of whom, it is said, it’s the 95% who give the other 5% a bad name).


I was referring primarily to the figures obtained in actual road tests by Which? as they generally seem to be more realistic. The Government figures of 133+ mph sound a bit far-fetched, but even then I would expect these to adhere to official standards intended to make comparisons fair (notwithstanding the previously stated tactics of manufacturers). So my question is, when these tests are made (both Which? and Government ones) does the measured consumption take account of the energy supplied by the battery and the gas used at the power station to produce that?