Swiss slam brakes on subsidies for ‘con’ plug-in hybrid cars

A Swiss region has pulled subsidies for hybrid cars, citing a report that found they offered negligible emissions and fuel consumption advantages when tested on Alpine Switzerland’s roads.

The mountainous southern Wallis canton commissioned a study by Impact Living, a project management firm that helps clients transition to more environmentally friendly solutions.

Their report on fuel consumption by plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) in Wallis found little in the way of benefits — with one of the authors calling their claimed environmental advantages a “con”.

“These vehicles do not permit any environmental improvement … it’s a climate target con and it’s a consumer con,” energy engineer Marc Muller said.

Studies have suggested the real-world gains in carbon dioxide emission reductions for PHEVs — which can switch from battery power to petrol — are not as high as in manufacturers’ tests, Impact Living said.

For example, in 2020, the International Council on Clean Transportation research NGO, which studied 100 000 PHEVs in Germany, found the real-world fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions were more than twice as high as official test results — four times for company cars.

However, such studies were not based specifically on the mountainous Swiss terrain, which would appear to offer more favourable conditions for battery recharging through the regenerative braking system, due to all the downhills.

Home to the Matterhorn mountain and ski resorts such as Verbier, Crans-Montana and Zermatt, Wallis’s Alpine topography consists of mountains and valleys.

Impact Living recorded data from 20 hybrids and 15 conventional cars for three months.

The study found “unfortunately, the quantitative results (measurements of actual fuel consumption) show that PHEVs are far removed from what they promise and only present slight advantages — or none — compared to a conventional car.”

From 2021, as in the neighbouring EU, the average level of emissions from new cars in Switzerland may not exceed 118 grammes of CO2 per kilometre, as measured under globally harmonised test procedures.

Many European countries offer purchase incentives on hybrid cars, or tax benefits on buying or owning them.

In line with its environmental targets, Wallis had been giving a grant of 2 500 Swiss francs on the purchase of PHEVs weighing less than 3.5 tonnes, and 5 000 francs for those weighing more.

“The plug-in hybrid does not appear to be a solution given the results,” Impact Living concluded.

“In real life, the plug-in hybrid average is slightly above the 118g CO2/km target value.”

Wallis canton has withdrawn PHEV subsidies, given the findings.

“The results are catastrophic,” Wallis council president Frederic Favre said.

“We cannot support tools that do not allow us to achieve the targets we have set for ourselves.” ­— AFP

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