The progress electric cars have made in the last decade is, frankly, staggering. As recently as 2008, in fact, you could win engineering awards at SEMA for building a “hybrid” concept car that was basically a normal car with eight extra car batteries stuffed into the trunk. You can trust me on that, since building that very car is what got me started writing about “green speed”. Back then, the Toyota Prius– which was already several years old— was still considered fringe, but it worked in a time that getting Tesla off the ground seemed like an impossibility. That was then, though, and EVs have gotten so good that it kind of begs the question: are hybrids going extinct?

The short answer seems to be: yes. More and more automakers seem to be skipping the “hybrid” step and going straight to full electric cars than ever. And that’s too bad, because hybrid electric cars are 1400% better (that’s 14x better) at reducing real-world carbon dioxide emissions than their battery electric counterparts. Really. Keep in mind, that’s not “my” number. That figures from a company called Emissions Analytics, “the leading independent global testing and data specialist for the scientific measurement of real-world emissions and fuel efficiency.”

One of the points the study brought up that I thought was best was deceptively simple. It goes like this: the point of electrification is, ostensibly, CO2 (or carbon emissions) reduction. More to the point, it’s the question of how to achieve the largest reduction in carbon emissions as cost-efficiently and quickly as possible. Almost everyone agrees that the best way to do this is to transition to “pure” electric vehicles (BEVs) as quickly as possible– but what if that’s wrong?

To find out what the best course of action might actually be, Emissions Analytics (EA) considered 153 cars– 59 conventional hybrids, 7 mild hybrids, and 57 plug-in hybrids– then compared them to a theoretical electric car with a 60-kwh battery pack and “average” internal combustion engined vehicle. They calculated the grams of carbon-dioxide saved per kilometer of driving, per kilowatt-hour of battery installed in the car, and they found that hybrids– NOT EVs— showed the greatest overall benefit.

“The table above shows that mild hybrids are clearly the most efficient method of CO2 reduction, followed by full hybrids, given scarce battery production capacity,” reads the EA study, which makes the case that today’s hybrids’ 30% reduction in C02 emissions would get us three-quarters of the way towards the EU’s post-2021 CO2 reduction target if they were simply in wider use. (!) “Plug-in hybrids are the next most effective after that, but only if they are operated entirely on battery, which is hard to enforce in practice,” it continues. “BEVs have the lowest efficiency, primarily due to requiring disproportionately large batteries to accommodate relatively infrequent, extreme usage cases where the driver will otherwise suffer range anxiety.”

Keep in mind, also, that these studies are using a theoretical EV with a 60-kwh battery pack. The larger 75 and 100 kWh batteries would be even less efficient at reducing overall emissions per kWh. That’s important to understand, because it’s really, really hard to find and mine the materials necessary to make EV batteries. As such, the efficient deployment of available battery capacity between competing technologies is a (if not “the”) key factor in reducing the global vehicle fleet’s CO2 emissions. “So long as this scarcity remains, a major concern is that the push to pure battery electric vehicles (BEVs) will crowd out a more effective program of mass hybridization,” explaines EA. “Put another way, given the urgency of the need to reduce CO2, paradoxically BEVs may not be the best way to achieve it with their supply chain, production capacity, infrastructure and customer acceptance challenges. The assertion that BEVs are required to solve air quality problems is confusing the argument – cities in Europe can be brought into compliance with conventional internal combustion engines, with technology on the market today.”

You can check out the original study from Emissions Analytics here, but be warned that it’s kind of a slog. Your best bet, then, might be to do what everyone else seems to do on the internet: go down to the comments and shout your opinions as loudly as possible! Be sure to include links to the source material that backs up your counter arguments as you find them, be respectful, and have fun!


Sources: Green Car Reports; Kevin Brown, via Emissions Analytics.