Last year, the number of registrations for plug-in hybrids, or PHEV for short, plummeted. So is the drive type on the verge of extinction? Some things point to the opposite development.

At the beginning of the 2010s, the plug-in hybrid drive was considered a smart bridge technology that allowed a smooth introduction to e-mobility without fear of range in times of lack of infrastructure. In the early representatives of the genre, however, the electronic component had more of a fig leaf character and had little practical use. A few years later, thanks to generous BAFA funding and privileged company car taxation, PHEVs were in demand primarily as company cars.

Despite low standard consumption values, in practice they were often used as rather fuel-thirsty combustion engines. Charging cables were often still found in their original packaging in the trunks of lease returns. Why go through the hassle of going to the charging station when the power supply only lasts a few kilometers anyway? This is also why PHEVs came under criticism because their contribution to climate protection seemed to be as neglected as the electric driving share. New funding guidelines therefore required greater electric ranges, which the automotive industry supplied.

“News of death greatly exaggerated”

However, the end of the environmental bonus for PHEVs in Germany at the end of 2022 no longer prevented this, which caused registration numbers to collapse in 2023. While PHEVs reached a historic record in 2022 with over 362,000 new registrations in Germany, their number more than halved last year. Quite a few augurs were already whispering about the end of the PHEV. But perhaps in this country the same applies to PHEVs as Mark Twain once did: “The news of my death has been greatly exaggerated.”

There are actually several factors that speak against an imminent end to PHEVs. In 2023, plug-in hybrids achieved a market share of almost 4 percent in Germany despite the discontinued purchase premium. The 175,700 part-time electric vehicles newly registered last year are therefore not exactly a small piece of the pie, which also promises attractive sales opportunities in the coming years.

Due to the changed funding regime, many new car customers and fleet operators have increasingly decided in favor of BEVs and against PHEVs in 2023, because full-blooded electric vehicles continued to attract hefty discounts. In this regard, PHEVs were at a disadvantage. However, in view of the state subsidies for BEVs, which have also been discontinued since the end of 2023, there is now equal opportunity again.

Financially attractive in terms of company car taxation

PHEVs remain financially attractive, at least with regard to company car taxation, because the favorable 0.5 percent rule will apply to them until 2030. However, in order to benefit from this funding, electric ranges of 80 kilometers will be required from 2025, which is likely to increase the attractiveness of the category.

The fact that many car users still seem to find it difficult to say goodbye to the combustion engine also speaks in favor of a future for part-time electric vehicles, as recent surveys suggest. According to a study by Allianz Direct published at the end of 2023, 53 percent of Germans cannot imagine switching to purely electric cars. In the future, the PHEV will offer car buyers the opportunity to continue to rely on the flexibility of the combustion engine and at the same time be future-proof should driving bans on combustion engines be imposed in inner cities at some point.

Advantages in energy costs

PHEVs also promise certain advantages when it comes to energy costs. If fuel prices rise drastically due to new crises and ever-increasing CO₂ taxation, greater use of electric drives could help protect your wallet.

Finally, the range of PHEV models with long electric ranges is growing. One of the PHEV pioneers mentioned at the beginning is the Toyota Prius, which was able to travel up to 85 kilometers fast and 25 kilometers for the first time in 2010 thanks to a 4.4 kWh traction battery. At the time, Toyota defended these relationships as efficiency rightsizing. However, the part-time electrician from Japan remained a marginal phenomenon.

Nevertheless, Toyota brought the fifth generation of the hybrid icon onto the German market last year, where it is only offered as a PHEV with a 13.6 kWh traction battery, which allows an increased electric range of 86 kilometers. Smart: On sunny days, up to 9 kilometers of additional electric range can be generated with the optional solar roof.

Three-digit range regions

Other manufacturers have also recently brought new PHEV generations onto the market with battery sizes that make many electric cars green with envy. Mercedes opened the door to three-digit range regions at the end of 2021 with the new C-Class and the introduction of the C 300 e. This offers a traction battery with 28.6 kilowatt hours, which is around 5 kWh more than the battery-electric Fiat 500 Electric with a small battery. The C-Class can travel 116 kilometers with electricity and can also be supplied with supplies at fast charging stations with up to 55 kW.

The Stuttgart-based car manufacturer has already introduced PHEV drive packages with more range in several model series. The GLC 400e even has 31 kWh and 135 kilometers.

The PHEV version of the Range Rover, introduced in 2022 as the P440e and renamed the P460e in spring 2023, offers around 32 kWh and 109 kilometers of electric range, which can also recharge quickly with 43 kW. However, with a starting price of 144,600 euros, this PHEV is in the upper class and is therefore reserved for a very small group of customers.

The GWM Wey 03, a newcomer from China, offers more electric range for a comparatively low price of around 53,000 euros. It can travel 139 kilometers with its 34 kWh battery and can recharge with 50 kW. The larger Wey 05, which costs around 60,000 euros and has around 42 kWh and a purely electric range of 158 kilometers, will also be launched at the beginning of 2024. The Wey 05 can be used almost like a fully-fledged electric car and still run on petrol at any time.

Movement in the German PHEV market

The VW Group could also provide a boost for PHEVs in Germany, combining its 1.5 TSI petrol engine with an 85 kW/115 hp electric motor and a 25.7 kWh battery, which also makes the advance into three-digit E -Reach regions will allow. Traditional bestsellers such as the new Tiguan, the new Passat and the technology brother Skoda Superb are coming onto the market this year with the new eHybrid system.

There will be movement in the German PHEV market in the near future. But PHEVs are not a purely European phenomenon. This type of drive is enjoying growing popularity, especially in China, where the purchase of new PHEVs continues to be generously supported financially by the state with purchase bonuses. Instead of halving as in Germany, the number of registrations of PHEVs in China almost doubled last year. China has long been the most important car market in the world and is therefore also considered a trendsetter.

China's car manufacturers have long since responded to the PHEV boom

The Chinese auto industry, which has been preparing to flood the world market with its new energy vehicles for several years, has long since responded to the domestic PHEV boom. For example, in the summer of 2023, car giant BYD presented the SUV model Song Plus with a new PHEV drive, which can travel 150 kilometers electrically with a 27 kWh battery. At the beginning of 2024, Changang upgraded its Hunter pick-up model to a PHEV, which can travel 180 kilometers with a 31 kWh battery.

In 2023, the Geely brand Lynk & Co introduced the 08, an SUV model that offers a 400 kW/544 hp double heart and a 40 kWh battery for a range of 245 kilometers. Hunter, 08 and Song Plus are just three examples of next-generation China PHEVs with ever-increasing electric ranges.

Chinese manufacturers may be showing the automotive world where the journey in drive technology is headed: The dual technology, which combines combustion engines and electric vehicles in one vehicle in balanced proportions, could perhaps even advance the transport and energy transition more quickly on the drive side.

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