ACEA has refuted claims made in an explosive report that described plug-in hybrids a “con” for producing far more emissions than officially recorded.

The report by green pressure group Transport & Environment collated evidence from a series of studies and concluded that the average overall CO2 emissions from plug-in hybrids was 117 grams per km, rather than 44g/km as claimed.

The report said plug-in hybrids were seldom recharged and often switch on the engine — even in electric-only mode.

“PHEV [plug-in hybrid electric vehicle] emissions are much more comparable to those of conventional cars than electric cars,” T&E said.

ACEA, the European auto industry’s main lobbying arm, disputed the report’s findings, saying that the studies T&E used primarily focused on company car drivers, who often use fuel cards.

“They have little incentive to save on fuel because they do not pay for it,” a spokeswoman told Automotive News Europe. “T&E completely ignores this important factor.”

Plug-in hybrid drivers are also hampered by the lack of a reliable charging infrastructure, she added.

ACEA pointed out that starting next year all new cars and vans registered in the EU will be equipped with an on-board fuel/energy consumption monitoring device to verify their real-world consumption. This will include measuring usage patterns for plug-in hybrids.

“This will give a true picture of the situation regarding the use and emissions of PHEVs,” the spokeswoman said. “The European Commission will use it to re-assess the real usage of PHEVs and potentially make the adequate legislative adaptations.”

Plug-in hybrid sales in Europe rose 134 percent in the second quarter of this year to 66,128 cars, according to ACEA. In July, monthly sales of plug-in hybrids overtook those of full-electric cars for the first time this year, according to data from analyst Matthias Schmidt.

Plug-in hybrid sales are crucial to automakers as they race to reduce their CO2 levels to bring the industry’s fleet average down to 95g/km this year to avoid fines.

The quoted ability of plug-in hybrids to travel on battery power alone for about 50 km reduces their recorded CO2 to well below 50g/km in some cases. This offsets the effect of higher CO2-emitting vehicles with only a combustion engine.

Manufacturers relying on the technology include Ford Motor, which sold 13,356 plug-in hybrid versions of the Kuga SUV through July, making it the No. 2-selling model in that sector after the Mitsubishi Outlander.

T&E took issue with the claimed electric-only range of many plug-in hybrids, saying that it took little provocation for the internal combustion engine to switch on.

“Claims PHEVs drive in zero-emissions mode are a con,” the report said. “The reality is it is almost impossible for the car to drive in zero-emissions mode even for short distances on a regular basis.”

The report highlighted the plug-in hybrid version of the Kia Niro, which it said switches on the engine when the rear-window defroster is activated, even in zero-emissions mode.

T&E aimed the report at the UK government, which the group said was thinking of reneging on a promise to include plug-in hybrids in a proposed 2035 sales ban for combustion-engine vehicles.

“T&E has learned that under intense pressure from carmakers, the government may continue to allow the sale of PHEVs after the ban on the sale on new cars with only an engine comes into force,” it wrote.

It’s not the first time the environmental credentials of plug-in hybrids have been called into question. The cars were removed from generous company-car tax subsidies in the Netherlands in 2016 after the government discovered via fuel card data that drivers were not recharging them.

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