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Climate killer: emissions scandal with plug-in hybrids

The vehicles emit up to 12 times more CO2 than the manufacturers claim. Some experts suspect cut-off devices which deliberately make the measured values appear low.

A study by the organisation Transport and Environment (T&E) exposes supposedly environmentally friendly plug-in hybrids as climate sinners. Tests have shown that the vehicles emit significantly more CO2 than is listed on paper. Especially in charge mode, i.e. when the battery is charged by the combustion engine while driving, between 300 and an incredible 1,200% more CO2 is to be emitted. When driving with an empty battery, the measured values are still 300 to 800% higher than claimed, and 28 to 89% higher when a fully charged battery is used optimally. Experts suspect that, similar to the diesel scandal, manufacturers are installing a cut-off device to keep CO2 emissions low during the test cycle.

Plug-in hybrids are heavily subsidised by the state to create incentives for switching to climate-friendly mobility. The German government in Germany spends more than 500 million euros in subsidies for hybrid vehicles. However, according to Stef Cornelis, Director Germany at T&E, these are not produced to be truly climate-friendly. "Plug-in hybrid vehicles are not built for clean road traffic operation, but to make full use of state subsidies and to meet European fleet limits.

The promotion of hybrid vehicles had already come under criticism because the vehicles are rarely driven in electric mode. According to a study by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), the proportion of private vehicles is 37%, while the electric motor is only used for 20% of driving time in company vehicles. As a result, plug-in hybrids continue to contribute a great deal to harmful particulate matter and nitrogen oxide emissions.

Whether manufacturers actually manipulate the CO2 values by means of cut-off devices will be shown by follow-up investigations. It is already clear, however, that the vehicles are unlikely to contribute to a climate-friendly turnaround in mobility.