Last month, I drove the first ever BMW PHEV vehicle, and the first ever Mercedes-Benz SUV PHEV, in two consecutive days.
This was no coincidence. The Germans, who dominate the European automotive industry and set the pace in two of the most relevant categories, are recognized globally for technology and quality, and are embracing electricity with a tidal wave of PHEV vehicles. This trend will both cause, and benefit from, the price decrease in battery technology, to make it a mainstream propulsion system before the end of this decade.
BMW´s effort in democratizing PHEVs is quite remarkable, as the X5 eDrive is priced below the X5 40d, if we consider the extra standard equipment included in the partially-electrically-driven version. And if we consider the total cost of ownership of the X5 eDrive — which benefits from lower annual taxes in Europe´s largest market, and the lower cost of electricity compared to diesel — then the advantage of the first ever BMW plug-in hybrid vehicle is even greater.
Europe seems to be heading toward the extermination of diesel. France is paving the road by announcing incentives to EVs, and by creating new taxes to discourage consumers from buying diesel in diesel's largest European market, percentage-wise. And in diesel's biggest European market by volume, the government is finally showing signs of supporting electricity as a means to propel passenger cars, with the aim to have 1 million EVs on the road by the end of the decade, with new legislation expected to be announced before the end of 2015. The reaction from manufacturers ranges from disbelief (Nissan-Renault's Carlos Ghosn is criticizing the new trend, after the heavy investments by the industry to make Diesel Euro 6 compliant) to supportive (Daimler´s boss, Dieter Zetsche, just reminded Chancellor Merkel that, without incentives, there is no chance to grow from the 19,000 annual sales of EVs last year in Germany, to the projected goal by 2020, which will be vital to cut average vehicle fleet emissions to 95 g/km by 2021). Since they are "partners in crime" (in the context of Renault-Nissan and Daimler, it is a profound cooperation) I hope to find a common line of speech regarding this touchy subject in the now-traditional annual "Carlos & Dieter show." Stay tuned for the press conference day of the Frankfurt motor show, this coming September...
As the offer of PHEV grows in Europe, OEMs may regard it as a chance for more consistency of technology needs around the globe, shifting towards petrol and electricity. The reason why not even the PSA seems to believe in Diesel PHEV (like the DS5 or the Peugeot 508) is that China has become the company´s number one market and, there, gasoline reigns, just as it does in the USA. If to these two largest world markets we add Europe shifting to gas, we are probably on the verge of seeing diesel as an endangered species.
A more consistent approach, in terms of passenger car propulsion systems, would also be beneficial to the harmonization of regulations. Ideally, the more real-world representative test cycle, referred to as World Harmonized Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP), would replace the current New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) test before 2020, and this could also work as a piéce de resistance towards the much-needed consolidation of emissions legislation worldwide.
European Car of the Year Jury Member