Fact and Fiction: The Hybrid Lie

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Hybrid cars are more than outdated and pointless; they are holding back to the transition to clean transport and net-zero. They briefly had a place, back in the 1990s, in demonstrating electric technology, but now have no place in the world — and I would go as far as to say that they should be banned along with internal combustion engines as soon as possible.

The reason I propose such a draconian measure is because hybrid cars — both conventional and plug-in — are not only doing very little to help, they are actually slowing the transition to zero-emission fully electric cars. This is due to two main reasons; firstly, they are an unnecessary distraction for consumers, and secondly, they are blocking infrastructure that should only be used for fully electric cars.

The truth, and the message that needs to be underlined, is that the vast majority of us no longer need an internal combustion engine (ICE) — electric will do just fine. So, by putting a battery alongside an ICE, we confuse that message and reinforce the idea that full electric vehicles (EVs) are somehow risky, limited or impractical: this is a symbolic defeat.

Limited Environmental Benefit

Many people want to drive more efficient and therefore more fuel-friendly vehicles — and at first glance, a hybrid appears to be the answer to both. You will never have to worry about running out of range, because you still have an ICE in a hybrid car, and you can feel good about yourself because you are reducing your emissions, right? Wrong.

Three of the most popular plug-ins in 2020 all emitted more carbon dioxide than advertised when tested in the real world, according to research by Transport and Environment — and this matches previous research on older models.

With a plug-in hybrid, PHEV, you charge usually a very small battery that gives limited range, typically less than 50 kilometers on electric, and the rest of the time you're on gasoline. So, although you could say that 50 clean km is better than nothing at all because they have to carry around the weight of the internal combustion engine and its fuel, the effects are more than negligible.

Hybrid Placebo

Some might say they may be marginally better for the environment. Even if we say for argument's sake that this is true, it is their position within the market and the impact on the consumer that makes their overall impact still negative.

Hybrids are a placebo, and an unnecessary distraction from going full electric and seeing real, measurably positive impacts for carbon emissions and therefore the climate. If people go hybrid, they think they may not need to go fully electric as they are "doing their bit" — without doing very much at all. Although the warm feeling of complacency when you make the ethical choice is no bad thing, when this feeling is misplaced, it just distracts and delays from significant, valuable changes.

Furthermore, it has become quite common for people to state that they will try hybrid first before going full electric due to the irrational fear of range of electric cars. Research conducted by Nissan showed that 97% of EV drivers found the switch "as expected" or "easier," and 89% believe that ditching diesel/gasoline was the right decision. This means that we simply don’t need an intermediary step — EVs remain popular, practical and wholly necessary for the climate. Therefore the hybrid option is reducing or delaying peoples’ desires to go full electric.

Hybrid may be a small win — but with any small win, you have to consider its positive impact versus the inevitability that people will feel satisfied with that win. With hybrids, the win is too small — a transition from gasoline or diesel to full electric is needed; nothing less will do.

EV Infrastructure Priorities

There are only a limited amount of electric charge points out there. Considering this, they should all be reserved for those that truly need it and those truly making a positive impact. There are even fewer of those rapid charging points that are so vital to the electrification of our roads and motorways, and therefore the green energy transition. When hybrids use charge points, they are using what limited resources real EVs need. Assuming they have access to charging when parked at home, no car with an ICE needs to charge when out and about.

Range anxiety is a common and often misplaced fear of going electric. Building more charge points is vital, and we don’t nearly have enough, but if they are being used by cars that have an ICE, and let’s not forget have negligible, if any, positive impacts on the environment, they are reducing the operational capacity of our electric infrastructure. Every time a potential EV owner who’s looking at going electric sees charging points taken, they may think to themselves “best not get an EV yet.”

FICTION: Hybrid cars are better for the environment and a good necessary transition to electric cars.

FACT: Hybrids offer only a tiny, inconsequential positive climate impact. Hybrid cars are slowing the transition to full EVs by misleading consumers and blocking public charging infrastructure necessary for full battery electric cars. Hybrid car technology is now irrelevant.

Aidan McClean is an entrepreneur and clean technology investor who co-founded the world’s first all-digital all-electric car rental company, UFODRIVE. He is also the author of a new book, Electric Revolution. The views expressed in this article are those of the author.

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