17th June 2019
Newly introduced and forthcoming plug-in hybrids ideal for fleets
Despite appreciating the reasoning behind experts’ opinions such as Arval consultant David Watts, who wrote for Fleet World1 that there’s “no need to panic over clean air and ultra-low emissions zones” on the grounds that only Birmingham’s forthcoming charges look set to include cars like London’s ULEZ, we concurrently agree with the Energy Saving Trust2 (EST) that CAZ are a “powerful motivation” and electrified vehicles “are undoubtedly the direction of travel.”
As the EST article correctly explains, hybrid cars with larger battery packs are regularly being introduced in order for the models involved to meet new WLTP testing standards and emissions regulations, which many previous plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) quickly fell foul of. We agree that this is indeed “good news for consumers” – and most certainly for company cars and other organisational fleets, we would add. We look at the latest models announced by OEMs that will likely be attractive to many operators.
BMW models graced with plug-in hybrid powertrains
Munich’s compact executive 3 Series has dominated company car leasing tables since the introduction of its very first iteration and has in recent years also garnered praise such as being voted FN50’s most reliable car for eight consecutive years3.
Next month, the 330e plug-in hybrid electric version of the new G20 model will go on sale, equipped with a four-cylinder petrol engine and electric motor pairing delivering 252bhp and 420Nm as standard and, more importantly, an all-electric driving range of 35 miles and fuel consumption of 138mpg – in theory.
For fleets requiring added versatility and carrying capacity, BMW has freshly announced that its new 3 Series Touring model will also receive plug-in hybrid power, but not until next summer 2020 despite the ‘estate’ appearing on UK roads in internal combustion guise in late September of this year. Provisional figures of 122.8-156.9mpg and 52-42g/km CO2 have been published for the hybrid ‘G21’ Touring at this stage, and BMW has wisely learnt from the mistakes of rivals like the Mercedes C-Class Estate and Volvo V60 hybrid in preventing the lithium-ion battery and fuel tank from encroaching too much into boot space.
BMW’s X1 and X3 SUVs also now offer plug-in hybrid options, which BMW is keen to emphasise will comprise its latest, fourth-generation PHEV technology as showcased in the i8, utilising high-voltage battery cells and incorporating three self-explanatory modes spanning AUTO eDRIVE, MAX eDRIVE and SAVE BATTERY. The X1 xDrive25e will enter production in March 2020, with a charging flap situated on the side. Its gross energy content of 9.7kWh should, says BMW, equip it to cover 31 miles or more on pure electricity, and will provide the xDrive all-wheel drive system with added electrical power for bonus grip.
The X3, according to Fleet News4, will commence production in hybrid guise a little earlier, towards the end of 2019. Just like the new 3 Series’ 330e unit, the X3 xDrive30e variant will incorporate an Xtraboost feature that adds 41PS to its base 252PS output at certain times. CO2 emissions from the X3 are cited as 56g/km, therefore slightly less clean than the 3 Series Touring, while the 31-mile electric range matches its more compact X1 sibling.
Audi’s PHEV offerings
Alongside the firm’s mild hybrid technology that is much more impressive in the real world than its relatively subdued promotion compared to its much-heralded e-tron models would suggest, Audi5 is also producing a growing number of plug-in hybrid cars of appeal to fleets with a suitable charging infrastructure already or with an appetite and a financial case for such.
Starting with the A6 saloon and Avant due to their greater attainability, Audi’s new PHEV variants, all badged ‘TFSI e’, will come in ‘50’ and ‘55’ form producing 295hp and 362hp respectively, the former focussed on comfort and the latter on sporty driving, complemented by an S line exterior package.
The somewhat more prestigious A7 Sportback and Q5 SUV are also now available for ordering with the same 50 and 55 TFSI e monikers and Audi is keen to highlight the aggregated economic and environmental benefits of combining electrification, Quattro and Ultra technology.
Audi promotes an EV range of 25+ miles from all these models, stating the Q5’s as precisely as ‘over 26 miles’ along with the ability to drive purely on battery power at up to 84mph, which of course is somewhat academic for UK drivers. The SUV’s combined WLTP cycle is stated as 113mpg and its CO2 emissions as 49g/km, while the lithium-ion battery stores 14.1kWh and the car uses fastidious cooling technology for optimum temperature control6. Much more impressively than the market’s older, forerunning plug-in offerings, the Q5 and other Audi PHEV models can be recharged in around six hours using a domestic electricity socket, and rapid charging at public points is unsurprisingly possible too.
At the top of Audi’s imminent PHEV range, the A8 encompasses a different powertrain and is hence badged distinctly, the 60 TFSI e mating a 3.0-litre petrol engine with a ‘permanently excited synchronous electric motor’ according to Green Car Guide, and the same battery pack as the other models described. We expect Audi’s electrified flagship saloon to achieve modest success amongst board-level company car drivers.
Mainstream plug-in estates from VAG
We wonder if Ford will perhaps regret not developing the Mondeo hybrid as a plug-in rather than a conventional ‘self-charging’ type, as the introduction of the estate version8 with tantalising CO2 emissions of 103g/km CO2 still doesn’t enable this otherwise practical and unarguable fleet favourite to qualify for the London Congestion Charge’s cleaner vehicle discount (CVD), which requires emissions below 75g/km and over 20 miles’ electric range.
Car fleet operators requiring or interested in adopting plug-in hybrid estates are now nevertheless presented with two formidable options at more affordable price-points, though, in the form of one of SKODA’s PHEV debutants, the Superb Estate/Kombi in mark iV guise, and the return of the Volkswagen Passat Estate in GTE form after WLTP and other factors resulted in the original iteration being halted.
While the silhouette of the SKODA Superb iV is largely similar9 to the current model, its updated headlights (with Matrix available), fog-lights, daytime running LEDs and taillights, complemented by SKODA lettering prominently displayed across the rear of the car, bestow it with a resolutely premium, executive aura.
Mating the marque’s 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine to an 85kW electric motor and a 13kWh/37Ah battery, the SKODA Superb PHEV will offer an electric range of up to 55km, which is just over 34 miles and therefore potentially ideal for company car drivers who commute to a fixed place of work 10-15 miles from home. Unsurprisingly, with 40g/km CO2 emissions, the plug-in version of this desirable and popular fleet model is Euro 6d-TEMP compliant, although fuel consumption figures haven’t been released yet.
Using a 3.6kW wall box, the Superb will take around 3.5 hours to charge and SKODA has positioned the flap in the front radiator grille. Remarkably, it will reportedly only take 1.5 hours longer to charge the car by plugging in to a domestic 230V socket10. The only slight shame is that the Superb Estate/Kombi’s class-leading boot space of 680 litres reduces to 510 litres in the PHEV model due to some space being taken up by the motor and battery. The Superb iV will be launched in hatchback form at the same time, with 485 litres compared to the 526 from internal combustion engine versions.
Volkswagen was one of the primary OEMs to pioneer electric and hybrid car technology and we welcome the news that the Passat GTE is returning after many manufacturers focussed on WLTP-certifying their more popular models following the tough new tests’ introduction11. With the Superb iV plug-in not arriving until early 2020 but the Passat GTE expected to be available before the end of 2019, Volkswagen may enjoy initial fleet orders that would otherwise have been shared.
With the same 1.4-litre petrol engine, albeit badged TFSI in line with VW’s nomenclature, the Passat GTE in both estate and saloon guise will likewise offer an all-electric, zero-emissions range of 35 miles. Volkswagen is renowned for technological innovation and it’s reassuring that the new Passat will offer safety systems such as Emergency Steering Assist and a semi-autonomous suite called Travel Assist, encompassing adaptive cruise control, blind spot alerts, lane keep assist and traffic sign recognition12. The new MIB3 infotainment system will include live traffic updates and enhanced connectivity, while the Touareg’s LED Matrix headlights will afford an added layer of safety for drivers able to specify them.
Vauxhall’s plugin mid-size SUV
Although now French-owned, it’s encouraging that a perceived British car brand has also announced a plug-in hybrid model that we can very much envisage appealing to company car drivers as it’s a mid-size SUV, one of the most popular body-styles in today’s car buying and leasing market.
The Vauxhall Grandland X Hybrid4 is built around a PHEV drivetrain from parent group PSA and comprises a 1.6-litre Puretech petrol engine, 13.2kWh lithium-ion battery and not just one but two electric motors producing the equivalent of 108bhp when combined, one on the front axle and the other on the rear, for on-demand all-wheel drive13. Total power is as potent as 300bhp, but of primary note to company car user-choosers and fleet managers alike is the Grandland X hybrid’s theoretical combined fuel consumption of 128mpg WLTP (although Vauxhall now states 176.5mpg on its website13b), and CO2 emissions of 49g/km.
The petrol engine has been specifically engineered for the SUV’s hybrid context and meets Euro 6d-TEMP standards. Offering up to 30 miles of electric driving, customers will be able to specify an optional 6.6kW on-board charger in lieu of the standard 3.3kW unit, and installation of a 7.4kW wallbox should equip the car with an impressive full recharging time of less than two hours. The Grandland X’s charge socket is located on the side and we can see its red and black paint scheme14 appealing to drivers desiring to highlight their environmental choice.
Away from all-electric models likely to make an impact amongst fleets, such as the Peugeot e-208 and Tesla Model 3 at both ends of the spectrum, along with conventional self-charging hybrids like the Lexus UX, it’s clear that a healthily increasing number of plug-in models are here, soon to arrive and in the pipeline, set to contribute towards cleaning up emissions from the UK’s corporate car parc.
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