European automakers are making the switch this year to electrified drivetrains. The pressing question is whether buyers will too.
The stakes are high: If automakers can't get their fleet carbon dioxide emissions below their targets within the EU's new 95 grams per km fleet average limit, they will be hit with fines that could total billions of euros.
Whether that will happen is now largely in the hands of consumers, who have a dizzying array of emissions-friendly powertrains to choose from, starting with mild hybrids (most of which are not an option but standard equipment on internal combustion engines), through conventional hybrids, plug-in hybrids and full electric vehicles. Many, no doubt, will instead choose familiar gasoline and diesel engines.
At Peugeot, PSA Group's largest brand and economic engine, the early signs are good, at least according to sales executives in France, which accounts for 40 percent of European sales.
With an EU-mandated emissions target of around 93 g/km of CO2, Peugeot is rolling out electrified variants of its most popular models, starting with electric versions of the 208 small hatchback and 2008 small SUV; adding a plug-in hybrid powertrain to the 3008 compact SUV (in both front-wheel and 4wd versions); and plug-in versions of the 508 midsize four-door fastback and station wagon.
There is no guarantee, of course, that PSA as a whole will meet its target. The group's brands are pooled together for emissions purposes, so while Peugeot's lineup is largely electrified, brands such as Citroen (one plug-in hybrid) and Opel (one electric vehicle and one plug-in hybrid) could push up the average.
Benoit Picandet, the head of new vehicle sales in France, Peugeot's largest market, said at a Peugeot test event in Spain that 15 percent of customer orders for the 208 since the beginning of January were for the electric version. The figure for the dealer pre-orders was even higher at 27 percent. That may not translate directly into sales, however, partly because dealers want to have electric versions available for prospective buyers to test.
Training for dealers
Peugeot dealers are being pushed to put electrified cars front and center of their displays. Salespeople have been trained to persuade buyers that the total cost of ownership (TCO) for an electric or plug-in model is similar to certain internal combustion versions. The figure takes initial purchase or lease price, maintenance, registration fees and energy costs into consideration and averages it over several years.
Those order figures are in line with what Peugeot boss Jean-Philippe Imparato told Automotive News Europe last October. If they play out for the full year, Peugeot will most likely be in good shape to meet its target, especially since vehicles with emissions of 49 g/km or less qualify for double EU "super credits." Peugeot's plug-in hybrid CO2 emissions are 29 or 30 g/km on the WLTP cycle.
Picandet said Peugeot expected that in France plug-in hybrids would account for 15 to 20 percent of 3008 sales and 20 percent of 508 sales. To put those numbers in perspective, the 208, 2008, 3008 and 508 together account for around 65 percent of the brand's sales in France.
Success in meeting emissions goals could have a downside, too: Selling too many costly to produce and low-margin electrified cars could hurt profits.
But it beats the alternative.