The future of plug-in hybrids in Europe is in doubt after the double blow of a harsh emissions reclassification and the removal of purchase subsidies in the UK, the region’s biggest market for such cars. Plug-in hybrids have always been a gamble for automakers because of the cost of fitting into a vehicle both a conventional engine and a battery pack big enough to provide satisfactory electric-only mileage.
However, subsidies in many countries had bridged the cost gap separating plug-in hybrids and conventional models, and demand had been growing. European sales of plug-in hybrids, led by the Mitsubishi Outlander midsize crossover, soared 46 percent to 94,999 in the first half of the year, according to figures from industry association ACEA.
But then came the back-to-back blows. In September, automakers had to have retested all their cars to conform to new emissions regulations known as the Worldwide harmonized Light vehicle Test Procedure. WLTP is much tougher on plug-in hybrids than the previous emissions protocol. As a consequence, many plug-in hybrids are now rated as emitting more carbon dioxide than under the old standard, known as the New European Driving Cycle or NEDC.