Can hybrid electric vehicles beat diesels on mpg?

Hybrids have always had a miles-per-gallon advantage in urban driving but new EQUA Index data shows that they are gaining on diesels in motoway or highway driving and, if current trends persist, hybrid electric vehicles (excluding plug-in hybrid electric vehicles) are set to take the lead in 2017.

The dotted trend lines in the above graph, representing motorway mpg for diesel vehicles and gasoline hybrids tested by Emissions Analytics, are converging. While the downturn in diesel mpg may be due to a change in manufacturers’ focus from fuel economy to NOx emissions, what is more striking is the improvement in gasoline hybrid performance on the motorway as a result of technological advances.

The step change in technology is even more noticeable when European EQUA data is compared to North American EQUA results. The graph below shows gasoline hybrid performance in the US is particularly impressive on our combined cycles. With this level of fuel economy it seems unlikely that diesel vehicles will ever make a significant impact on market share in the US. With the mpg penalty of some NOx aftertreatment systems, perhaps it was to gain a fuel advantage over hybrids that Volkswagen resorted to using a defeat device when bringing their diesel models to the US market.

Another noticeable effect of the different product mix in the US is the level of carbon monoxide emissions. Both regular gasoline cars and gasoline hybrids have much lower CO emissions than their European equivalents, with regular gasolines 30% lower and gasoline hybrids 64% lower. This is despite the fact that the US have a less strict limit, at 2.1g/km, than the EU’s, 1.0g/km limit.

When we last wrote about hybrid vehicles back in October 2014, we concluded they were delivering “good but not best-in-class fuel economy, but [were] typically the cleanest, and if you are a light-footed, congested town driver, they are ideal.” Two years on hybrids, particularly in the US, have really upped their game. They are still a cleaner drive than a diesel and may soon offer better fuel economy wherever you drive them but heavy-footed drivers should still exercise caution.

EQUA INDEX