Pressure is mounting on the UK government to define what will constitute a hybrid car from 2030-2035, which it has set as the period when engines will be phased out of new car sales forever.
Legislators have kept the description deliberately oblique, undertaking a period of consultation that is rumoured to be getting rather more intense than anticipated. It was expected that arguments would centre only on defining the electric-only range needed to be achieved by a plug-in hybrid. Now it’s not so clear.
Reports suggest that real-world data on conventional hybrids is causing pause for thought. While some see the technology as offering only mild benefits, others point to data that suggests it’s making a real difference, partly through its efficiency and partly because, unlike PHEVs, which need human intervention and a working infrastructure, it’s always on.
The latter argument has merits. Picking through the data is an uncertain game, complicated by car makers being allowed to work together and pool their results. It’s notable, however, that Toyota-Mazda has for some time led the average CO2 emissions pack in Europe, with its 70%-plus hybrid mix challenged only by Stellantis, which has a helpful bias towards low-emissions small cars.
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Little wonder that the jockeying for position appeared to step up a gear recently when newspaper leaks suggested Toyota was increasingly eager to find out the government’s decision, its anxiety heightened by a need to know what to do with its hybrid-focused Burnaston and Deeside manufacturing plants and their 3500 or so workers.
Of course, inscrutable Toyota politely rebuffed the claims, but it seems only reasonable that it would want to know the timeline to investing billions in refitting the facilities or closing them down – a decision that’s likely to be dictated not just by electrification plans but also by the UK’s battery manufacturing capability and competitiveness as the shroud of Brexit unfurls.
But the government looks inclined to bide its time as it weighs up just how realistic its 2030 cut-off date is for the sale of pure-ICE cars. If EV uptake continues at the current rate and nationwide charging infrastructure can be built in time, it can take a harder line.
Even optimists admit it’s a stretch, though – not least as nobody knows for sure how big the advances in range and cost reduction will be between now and then. But if the 2030 deadline for a full switch remains challenging, and the data on the merits of hybrids versus plug-in hybrids compelling, don’t be surprised to learn that what was announced as a line in the sand turns out to be drawn slightly farther away than originally billed.