New Volvo XC40 T5 plug-in hybrid

To gain the full benefit of driving a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), it is best to start with a full battery charge.

This is because many PHEVs have ‘electric-only’ ranges which are comparatively short, but still greater than the average daily commute, and that means the majority of their annual kilometres can be electric-only ones.

However, for the plug-in hybrid owner it can also be hard for them to prioritise plugging it, in as most PHEVs work perfectly fine with a flat battery. But the benefits of being able to run on electricity alone for the majority of the PHEVs travel has been lost if the battery is largely left to work like an ordinary (non-plug-in) hybrid.

One could argue that when it comes to plug-in EVs (be they full battery EVs or plug-in hybrid EVs) the biggest mindset change is the move from a ‘pump-attendant’ model of vehicle refuelling to a ‘mobile phone charging’ one.

If you own a plug-in EV, you are no longer tied to being the pump attendant standing at the fuel pump waiting for your vehicle to refill.

In fact the whole process of detouring to pull into a fuel station, get out to refuel, pay, restart, merge into traffic once again and return to your intended path can de dropped. (Only that 10% or less of yearly travel exceeding the normal daily commuting distance will need some form of public refuelling).

For full-battery EVs (BEVs) this change happens quickly, as the only means of refuelling is via an electrical outlet (be that a dedicated EV charger, or the humble power point).

New Volvo XC40 T5 plug-in hybrid

It is therefore easy for a BEV (battery electric vehicle) owner to make the switch as the fuel pump has been eliminated from their thinking.

For PHEV owners, the imperative to plug-in is not necessarily as great, and old habits are hard to kill off without strong incentives to do so.

This is where Volvo UK comes in. It have come up with a plan to promote that switch in mindset – it will pay the first year’s electricity consumption (for charging) for all new Volvo PHEVs sold in the UK until June, 2020.

The choice then becomes paying for the travel yourself (via the petrol pump), or let Volvo do it via their paying for the electricity.

By the end of that 12 months, it would be safe to assume that new Volvo PHEV owners will have absorbed the mobile-phone charging mentality for most of their vehicle travels (and the time, cost, climate and health benefits the switch assists).

The scheme works via the Volvo On Call app. This app logs how much power the car consumes (plus it allows the customer to monitor the charge status of their car’s battery via their mobile device).

Reimbursement will be made at the end of the 12-month period, with the amount based on the average price of electricity in the UK.

By doing so – it will provide a significant incentive to prioritise electric-only kilometres over fossil fuelled ones – or as Volvo put it, the aim is to

“… maximise the fuel- and emissions-saving potential of its hybrid technology by encouraging people to plug in their car and keep the hybrid system’s high-voltage battery charged. This will ensure their car can make full use of electric power, reducing tailpipe emissions and fuel consumption on any journey.”

It is also worth noting that this free electricity initiative is just one part of a larger plan by Volvo to achieve a substantial reduction in the lifecycle carbon footprint of all its new cars.

The company recently announced its intention to achieve a cut of 40% between 2018 and 2025 as a key step towards its goal of becoming a climate-neutral business by 2040.

With an expansion of electrified powertrain options across all of the Volvo range, it plans to bring down the overall tailpipe emissions of all new Volvos sold by 50% by 2025, while also working to significantly reduce the environmental impact of its manufacturing, supply chain, logistics and other operations, targeting a 25% reduction by 2025.

So kudos to Volvo for coming up with a very nice positive incentive scheme to assist the adoption of EVs. It will also be interesting to see if Volvo introduce it here in Australia.

Given the low cost per car for such a scheme*, it would provide an excellent signal of corporate environmental leadership and add yet another voice to the growing clamour from business and the public for positive federal governmental climate action.

* Notes:

For 10,000km of electric travel at 30c/kWh, Volvo would only be up for around $450 per PHEV – but saving the owner over $1500 in fuel costs.

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