Greenwashed: UK Plug-in Fleets Enjoy the Taxpayer Perks, Never Plug in

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In Europe, diesel now holds a reputation as favorable as that of the dark lord of the underworld, while electric propulsion may as well have descended from Heaven. It wasn’t this way just a few years ago.

That said, in the UK, government incentives towards green vehicle purchases have, like the U.S., been ongoing since 2011. A recent study of corporate plug-in hybrid fleet vehicles purchased with the assistance of government grants reveals many buyers were just looking to dodge diesel taxes while bilking the taxpayer for a cheaper ride. Plugging in these plug-ins was not a priority.

As reported by BBC News (hat tip to Jalopnik), a study of several thousand fleet vehicles by The Miles Consultancy shows real-world fuel economy of corporate plug-in models isn’t all that hot, especially when compared to diesel fleet averages. It’s estimated that more than 70 percent of PHEVs sold in the UK this year went to corporate fleets.

Depending on the PHEV’s range, the grants amounted to 2,500 pounds ($3,295) to 4,500 pounds ($5,740) per vehicle.

TCM’s study of 1,500 PHEVs in its database showed a real-world average of 39.27 miles per gallon on the generous European driving cycle — a figure that basically matched that of the diesel cars in its database. Combining regular hybrids with PHEVs returned a figure of 49.06 mpg.

“There are some examples where employees aren’t even charging these vehicles up,” said Paul Hollick, managing director of The Miles Consultancy. “The charge cables are still in the boot, in a cellophane wrapper, while the company and the employee are going in and out of petrol stations, paying for all of this additional fuel.”

Toby Poston, communications manager director for the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA), blamed the behavior on a poorly thought out tax regime that incentivised plug-in purchases while disincentivising diesels. For many companies, it just makes sense to buy a PHEV, grab the government cash, and forget about the car’s purpose.

“We have got some situations where company drivers are choosing the vehicle based on their tax liability, rather than having the right vehicle for the right job,” he said.

Not only were employees not plugging the vehicles in, companies would allocate PHEVs for use on long highway trips, where a plug-in hybrid is at its most inefficient — hence the comparatively dismal MPG average. Britain didn’t turn green, it just burned green in the pursuit of it.

You’re seeing the past tense here because PHEV purchases are no longer eligible for government grants in that country. The UK did away with them this month, preferring to offer a smaller sum (3,500 pounds, or $4,617) to buyers of purely electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel cell cars, and the vanishingly small number of PHEVs capable of travelling 70 miles on a charge.

[Image: BMW]

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