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Next to Tesla, Plug-In Hybrids Are an Illusion of Eco-Consciousness

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles often have short electric ranges and do little to improve overall fuel efficiency.

By Dan Neil
Tue, Sep 7, 2021Grey Clock 4 min

AS I WAS RAGING NORTH toward Switzerland in the 735kW Ferrari SF90 Stradale in July, I was feeling pretty good about myself. After all, I was saving the Earth.

The Stradale is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV)—powered by a twin-turbo V8 (about 581kW) assisted by three electric motors and a lithium-ion battery pack. The idea is that Juan-Philippe Cliente, or his manservant, will plug in the Ferrari at night so that it may provide electric-only driving range in the morning. Notionally, the Stradale’s hybrid design will allow it to operate in European cities’ low-emission zones.

With its battery fully charged (7.9 kWH), the Stradale can achieve admirable efficiency of 4.6l per 100km, according to the EPA. But penny-pinchers need to check the fine print. That applies only to the first 13km. Practically within sight of my hotel in Maranello, Italy, the Stradale had devolved into its baser, grumbling, petrol-powered nature—albeit with a kind of Prius-of-the-gods electric torque assist.

Thirteen kilometres.

The Stradale has plenty of company in Crazytown. The PHEV version of the Bentley Bentayga can waft silently only about 29km, officially; the Jeep Wrangler 4xe, 33. Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid, 27. These short electric legs—combined with powerful internal combustion (IC) engines—do almost nothing to improve overall fuel efficiency. Why do manufacturers even bother?

Like most PHEVs—only slightly more so—the Stradale is a compliance baby, with a powertrain designed to meet soaring vehicle emissions/consumption requirements in major vehicle markets, using de minimis electrical systems added to IC powertrains. In some respects PHEVs are a technical echo of a time not long ago—2010—when such machines were being showered with public money and held to wildly unrigorous standards.

To cite but one notorious example: The Stradale (US$663,623, as tested) qualifies for $3,501 in public money meant to encourage reduced consumption. Thirteen kilometres.

That party is about to be over. Under the Biden administration, new federal PHEV standards are expected to be more “robust,” in the gentle lingo of policy makers.

How robust? In many respects the California Air Resources Board (CARB)—with authority to set its own vehicle emission standards and penalize offending automakers—is already there. For example, the state has a price cap of $60,000 for qualifying vehicles in the state’s Clean Vehicle Rebate Project. As of April 6, 2021, qualifying PHEVs must also achieve a minimum 48km of EPA-measured electric range to qualify for the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project tax credit. By dint of this one rule change, California buyers of more than a dozen new PHEV vehicles, from Bentleys to Volvos, no longer qualify.

Sacramento is now drafting the state’s Advanced Clean Car II language, applying to model-year vehicles beyond 2025. Qualifying PHEVs might then need to deliver a proposed 80km of all-electric range. The state may also put a 15% cap on what are called “historical” PHEV credits claimed by a manufacturer.

What comes next is a fight over standards and timetables, credits and penalties. Mercedes-Benz, GM, Toyota and Stellantis NV, to name four big pickup/SUV players in the U.S., need PHEVs to contribute to their bottom-line Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) and other emissions targets for the balance of the decade. They will also need consumer-facing tax credits because, with two power systems aboard, PHEVs typically cost several thousand dollars more than a conventional vehicle.

You might be wondering how it all could have gone so wrong for PHEV, a powertrain architecture that once seemed so logical as to be inevitable? In brief, there are two kinds of PHEVs: short-range and long-range. PHEVs with more than about 37 miles of EV range—like the Chevrolet Volt (2011-2019)—do meaningfully displace petrol-driven kilometres, reduce emissions and save consumers money, according to a 2019 report by UC Davis International EV Policy Council.

But short-range PHEVs—the vast preponderance on the market—don’t, except in limited conditions. Why? It’s behavioural. Studies show that the shorter a vehicle’s all-EV range, the less likely owners are to bother charging overnight. And, when owners don’t charge overnight, PHEVs calculations of efficiency go upside down in the morning. Actually, a short-range PHEV with a flat battery is lugging around a lot of useless weight.

Charging PHEVS on the go can also be comically difficult since few are capable of fast-charging.

PHEVs may yet have a bigger problem: NOX, or nitrous oxide, a hazardous smog-forming product of combustion. At a workshop in May, CARB officials raised concerns about PHEVs’ excessive NOX emissions during full-power cold starts, as when an IC engine kicks on after a period of electric driving. One probable explanation: Emission-scrubbing catalytic converters in exhaust systems only work after they are well heated by the exhaust stream, typically requiring 20 seconds or so. It’s most cars’ dirtiest seconds; PHEVs often spend them with wide-open throttles.

In November the environmental pressure group Transport & Environment published a study of the emissions of the popular BMW X5, Mitsubishi Outlander, and Volvo XC60 plugins. The study observed that, even with a fully charged battery and in optimal conditions, the emissions of these vehicles were 28-89% higher than the official value. In cases when the battery went flat, emissions jumped three to eight times higher than listed. And, as when a PHEV runs the petrol engine hard to charge the battery, the report says emissions were up to 12 times higher.

In a preamble to the report, Julia Poliscanova, senior director for vehicles and e-mobility at T&E, blasted the EU’s incentives for PHEVs and raised the spectre of emissions scandals past. “Plug-in hybrids are fake electric cars, built for lab tests and tax breaks, not real driving.”

Wait. Me first. PHEV-ilgate? That’s not right. PHEVigate? Pffffevul-gate?

The dangers of misrepresentation and misunderstanding are real. Consumers unclear on the difference between a fuel-electric hybrid (like a Toyota Prius) and a plug-in electric vehicle, might not even know to plug their cars in. Imagine the Stradale owner when it dawns on him it’s not 4.6l/100km all the time.

The manservant better have some answers.

 

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: September 3, 2021

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The waterfront residence is one of Port Stephens’ finest homes.

By Kanebridge News
Fri, Aug 12, 2022 2 min

In the coastal township of Salamander Bay — nearby to Port Stephens — comes a unique home crafted to take full advantage of unbroken ocean vistas across three levels.

With one-of-a-kind flair, the stunning 5-bedroom, 3-bathroom, 3-car garage home of 52 Randall Drive Salamander Bay is nestled on a private 577sqm plot, optimised through intelligent design to take advantage of the Port Stephens landscape and lifestyle.

Within the home sees the typically coastal textures of natural oak floor and timber feature walls take hold while stone and tiled adornments add layers of luxury.

The open plan living, kitchen and dining areas incorporate a fireplace and near floor-to-ceiling glass that opens to create a seamless indoor-to-outdoor dining and entertaining space on the home’s top floor.

The heart of this area is the kitchen, centred around a marble-topped island, state-of-the-art European appliances and an attached bar area, with built-in refrigeration, accompanied by a butler’s pantry.

Also here comes a grand outdoor spa, central to the balcony, while another outdoor entertaining area with a pizza oven is found on the middle floor.

Downstairs once again comes a second living space replete with the perfect wine cellar — cooled by the natural rock foundation of the home — offering an array of entertaining options

Of the home’s accommodation comes a private and luxurious master retreat with expansive ocean views, a walk-in wardrobe and an ensuite, here, speckled with grey terrazzo tiling and timber joinery vanities.  A further four bedrooms are found throughout the home along with two family bathrooms rounding out the offering.

Less than a five-minute walk from nearby amenities of shops, restaurants, cafes and beaches the home offers the best of the Port Stephens area.

The listing is with PRD Port Stephens’ Dane Queenan (+61 412 351 819) and Erin Sharp (+61 499 912 311) and is heading to auction; prd.com.au