This is the decisive factor in whether to buy a plug-in hybrid

By DPA | 11 September 2021

STUTTGART: There are now electric cars on the market that can travel up to 700km on a single charge, thanks to their giant batteries.

However, for many, this emission-free way to travel is out of reach financially. Is a plug-in hybrid the right compromise?

Some hybrids - half combustion engine, half electric car - are far more affordable, and on shorter journeys, they also drive only on electricity. For longer distances, they may have to resort to fuel.

The variety of hybrid models on the market has exploded in the past few years: From Audi to Ford and Hyundai to Mitsubishi and Volkswagen, more than two dozen brands have a version available.

Depending on each person's driving habits, petrol or diesel consumption can be reduced by 30 to 80 per cent with a plug-in hybrid, says the ADAC, Europe's largest motoring club. Part of that equation depends on the person also regularly charging the hybrid.

Constantin Hack, from Auto Club Europa (ACE), says plug-in hybrids are great for people who regularly drive only short distances as well as longer stretches over 200km - ie, weekend commuters.

Even someone who works in the development department at Mercedes-Benz admits that it makes little sense to get a plug-in hybrid if there's no opportunity to charge the vehicle when you're at home or at work.

However, if those charging capabilities are available, says Tom Hinsken, then it's possible to commute 50km to and from work every day without producing any emissions if your vehicle has an electric range of up to 100km, as with the Mercedes C 300e.

BMW is also working on models that can drive up to 100km on pure electricity. For potential buyers looking whether to buy a plug-in hybrid, daily mileage should play a big role in the decision.

Drivers who frequently see more than 30,000km on the highway are better off with diesel, says Wieland Bruch, a spokesman for BMW.

Diesel is often still the more efficient and lower-emission drive for frequent long-distance drives, says the ADAC.

One downside to plug-in models is that unlike pure electrics, there is often no fast-charging system, so the batteries have to be plugged in for several hours.

According to the ADAC, for short stops, such as during a typical shopping trip, only the batteries of Mercedes, Polestar, Land Rover and Mitsubishi can be fully recharged.

Buyers should not be confused by the WTLP figures cited for consumption, which are often quoted at around two litres per 100km, depending on the electric range.

The WTLP is a global harmonised standard that helps buyers compare different models, but fuel consumption values are usually much higher in everyday life.

Of course, that depends on how the car has used - something that Jens Dralle, who's in charge of testing and technology at a German industry magazine, has also observed.

During tests for the magazine, most plug-in hybrids come close to the synthetic WLTP average consumption figure. The cycle assumes 15,000km a year, 10,000 of which are short trips where the electric motor is used.

"Plug-ins don't consume more fuel per se, it very much depends on the driving distance," says Dralle.

"In addition, a hybrid usually drives more efficiently than a pure combustion engine, even with an empty battery, because there is always some energy left in the battery to at least drive as a normal hybrid," according to Dralle.

Not when accelerating, he says, but when driving at a leisurely pace on the motorway, for example.

The disadvantages of many hybrids is that they not only have a smaller boot, but depending on the model, can also weigh up to 400kg more than a car with just a combustion engine.

The decisive factor, in the end, is whether there is a charging infrastructure either at home or at work that allows the owner of a plug-in hybrid to take advantage of the car's electric component.