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Warning over plug-in hybrid company cars not being charged

Date: 13 November 2018   |   Author: Sean Keywood

Business fleet operators need to wake up to the issue of many plug-in hybrid (PHEV) company cars never being charged.

That's according to Paul Hollick, managing director of fuel management company TMC. He says manufacturers and fleets risk losing valuable government support unless they identify and curb drivers who abuse tax breaks for low-carbon cars by neglecting to use their low-emission capabilities.

According to TMC, data from 1,500 PHEVs showed an actual average fuel economy figure of 39.3mpg, compared with an average manufacturer claim of 129.7mpg.

Overall, the 2,432 PHEV and non-plug-in hybrids on TMC's fuel and mileage database average 49.06 mpg on the road, which is about the same as the average for diesel cars.

Hollick said: "Our data shows that although businesses may have the best intentions when it comes to adopting PHEVs, they are not being used in the way manufacturers intended.

"They are either not being charged; or are allocated to drivers who do a lot of long journeys, or a combination of the two.

"As a result, they are expensive to run and release higher greenhouse gas emissions in the real world than they would if used properly."

Hollick said businesses needed to ensure they have a strategy when adopting PHEVs, to make sure they are fit for purpose and that the necessary infrastructure is there.

He continued: "How are they going to be charged? At the office? At home? This needs to be nailed down before any electric vehicles are ordered.

"PHEVs can be cost-effective when drivers cover moderate miles, but only if the cars' batteries are recharged regularly. 

"On the evidence of our sample, one has to question whether some PHEVs ever see a charging cable.

"It's no secret that there are company drivers out there who choose a PHEV for the hefty company car tax break, then waste fuel by not bothering to use it properly.

"Effective management tools are readily available to allow companies to capture mpg data and address the behaviours of offending drivers. But many don't use them."

Hollick said manufacturers and fleets risked losing out on government incentives for low-CO2 vehicles because fleet customers continue to drag their feet over implementing best practice around pug-in cars.

"It is now in everyone's interest for fleets to get to grips with plug-in vehicle policy and practice quickly," he said.

"Not least because properly-managed PHEVs are and will remain crucial to running cost-effective car fleets as the transition to full zero-emission transport accelerates. 

"Indeed, PHEVs area great stepping stone towards fully electric vehicles."

TMC's criticism of PHEV drivers has provoked a response from fleet management company Fleet Evolution, which says that according to its own data well over 90% of drivers of ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs) regularly recharged their cars and used them for the purposes they were intended. 

Managing director Andrew Leech said: "In our experience, there is a very good reason why the three-pin charging cable remains in the boot. We provide free home chargers to all our ULEV drivers so that they can charge at home.

"They come with a fast charge cable, which the drivers pay for, so they can recharge at rapid charge points at service stations, car parks and supermarkets.

"That means they never need to use the standard cable that comes with their car. I have a Mitsubishi Outlander as my company car, and the cable is still in the wrapper in the boot. But I charge it every day."

Leech said he uses his car for his daily 21-mile commute, all of it under electric power. 

He continued: "When I drive longer distances - and I do around 30,000 miles a year - once the electric range has been reached, the car switches to the petrol-powered engine. But, by driving sensibly, I achieve 45-50mpg of petrol power, which is what the car was intended to achieve.

"It's a myth that these cars are simply gas-guzzlers. And I would contend that this is the experience of the overwhelming number of ULEV company car drivers on our fleet."