Not long ago Germany's vaunted auto engineers were accused of being behind the times for stubbornly clinging to their old-fashioned diesels while Toyota was held up as a technology leader and savior of the environment because of its revolutionary Prius hybrid. Today, Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche, BMW and Mercedes are embracing plug-in hybrids as "the best of both worlds."
Models such as the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron, BMW i8 and Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid allow drivers to commute emissions-free to work during the week without stopping them from heading to the Alps on the weekend because the downsized combustion engine under the hood eliminates the range anxiety that has hindered the purchase of full-electric cars. A plug-in's electric motor delivers maximum torque instantly, which means there is no sacrifice of performance. Carmakers also benefit because plug-ins are given preferential treatment by regulators when it comes to determining the car’s so-called “certified” CO2 emissions.
“Future mobility must be environmentally friendly and conserve resources. Our answer to this challenge is the plug-in hybrid technology -- for us the best synthesis of sportiness and sustainability,” Porsche CEO Matthias Mueller told journalists at the Paris auto show in October, adding that his carmaker is the first in the world with three plug-in hybrids (the 918 as well as variants of the Panamera and Cayenne).
Audi CEO Rupert Stadler says the A3 e-tron won’t be his company’s only plug-in for long. “We will add a new model each year, beginning with the Q7 next year, followed by the A6 long-wheelbase sedan for China and the A8,” Stadler told Automotive News Europe.
Currently 10 out of the 17 plug-in hybrids on sale in Europe have a German brand’s logo on the hood. The three big German premium brands have all identified plug-ins as a strategic priority heading toward 2025, which is when even tougher EU CO2 emissions regulations may take effect.