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Subsidising the SUV brigade: Why it was the right call to pull the plug

There were at least 2,500 good reasons to stop the €2,500 PHEV grant, even if the luxury is beguiling 

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The Mercedes-Benz GLE 350 DE is 2.7 tonnes of premium luxury. And the seats are nice too

The Mercedes-Benz GLE 350 DE is 2.7 tonnes of premium luxury. And the seats are nice too

The Mercedes-Benz GLE 350 DE is 2.7 tonnes of premium luxury. And the seats are nice too

It was no real surprise that the €2,500 government grant for hybrid plug-in vehicles was scrapped.

Despite the bleating from the motoring industry, an awful lot of owners who availed of the grant weren’t using the electric potential of their vehicles. That was a pity, because if used properly, the benefits could be enormous.

Last year, after I wrote about the cynicism of some PHEV owners (“the plug-in idea is still a bit of a con”), a reader contacted me to say they had bought a Kia Niro PHEV and were making great savings. “Here is my status since last fill: travelled 545km for 2.5 litres of petrol,” they wrote.

Recently one of the country’s high priests, historian Diarmuid Ferriter, rode into the debate in his Irish Times column when he drew attention to TV chef Donal Skehan raving about his Land Rover Discovery Sport Plug-in Hybrid – of which he is a brand ambassador – including in a double-page spread in the following day’s Irish Times magazine.

In a piece headlined ‘Can we please stop the celebrity plug-in hybrid SUV virtue signalling?’ Ferriter referenced that the car can be driven in electric mode for 55km, and that Skehan wrote about leaving the “house here in Dublin’’ and heading to Dingle 363km away. 

“I am in the car for several hours... knowing that a portion of that has been powered electrically and not by fossil fuel is quite rewarding,” wrote Skehan.

The history professor went on to say that “are we really to believe” that the size, weight and what goes into the making of SUVs is “balanced out by the nod to a modicum of electricity?”.

It’s a good point. It’s backed up by Transport Minister Eamon Ryan saying that “the arrival of long-range, fully electric vehicles ... means that range anxiety can become a thing of the past.

“While plug-in hybrids provided a part-electric solution for motorists who took longer journeys or were concerned about EV range, they were a compromise in terms of emissions and air quality.

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“Now that range anxiety has been addressed, we will focus our Exchequer resources on fully electric vehicles.”

Julia Poliscanova, senior director for clean vehicles at the influential Transport and Environment (T&E) think-tank says: “Plug-in hybrids are fake electric cars, built for lab tests and tax breaks, not real driving. Our tests show that even in optimal conditions, with a full battery, the cars pollute more than advertised.

“Unless you drive them softly, carbon emissions can go off the charts. Governments should stop subsidising these cars with billions in taxpayer money.”

Of course there are exceptions – and like my Kia Niro-owning reader, some people are using them properly. But it would be wrong of me (and totally inconsistent) if I didn’t believe the ending of the grant was the right thing.

Yet to show the hypocrisy and conflict of the debate, one of the most comfortable cars I have enjoyed was returned last Monday after a week’s test. Not only was it a PHEV, but it had a diesel engine to boot.

Of course the Mercedes-Benz GLE 350De 4matic SUV couldn’t have availed of the €2,500 grant anyway, being above the €60k  ceiling (basic price €86,930), but other breaks, including reduced motorway tolling, are available to it.

With a 1,950cc (194hp) diesel engine and 122hp electric motor, this is a powerful beast with a 0-100kph of 6.8 seconds. It also has a realistic battery-only range of about 80kms, which proved pretty reliable when we went down to Donadea Forest Park last Sunday and then shot up to the Avoca in Dunboyne on the way home.

It was a tribute to the comfort of the car that we went at all. My wife was suffering a fair bit of neck and back pain, and only decided we would go for a decent drive after being very impressed with the car’s front seat on a trip to Phoenix Park the day before. It worked a treat, we did almost double our normal walk.

Of course you’d expect wonderful seats with four-way lumbar support in such a car, but the GLE is something special with a 4.5-star overall Autocar review. Even Which? gives it five stars for comfort and calls it “powerful and refined”.

Yet the high floor would put off some people. It’s packed with safety equipment and has a huge boot. However, despite great improvements, it is a bit unwieldy and I didn’t have full confidence in it.

You feel that the 2.7 tonnes can be working against you. Unlike other GLEs, the hybrid is only available as a five-seater. The space is enormous, though rear passengers do sit low.

As with all PHEVs, consumption depends on how you drive. We got maximum use out of the battery, but longer tests have shown that it will average around an expensive enough 8l/100km.

The AMG flares, alloys, extra sporty touches, together with metallic paint and “anthracite open-pore oak wood trimmings” added another €8.5k to the package, making for a €95,410 car.

It’s a lot – but for the joy our long forest walk gave us, I could forget it and all the PHEV controversy for a few hours.

 

Time to be thinking of new tyres for winter 

Back to reality. I had to get two new rear tyres for the family car on Tuesday. Naturally I went to Dalymount Tyres, just up the road from us.

Also getting shod was a 2000 black Toyota Celica in lovely condition which the owner told me had only done 70,000 miles. Lucky woman. And talking of older cars it was delightful to hear that my old friend Evelyn is getting her 1999 Subaru Forester back on the road.

Amazingly, after lying forlorn for a few years it immediately fired up with a new battery – and was driven on to the loader taking it off for repairs and a NCT. I can’t wait to see it on the road again.

 

Over-16 law for e-scooters is a welcome step 

It was good to see that the upcoming legislation on e-scooters will make it illegal for under 16s to possess them, and that there will be rules on speed limits, and on both careless and drunk driving.

Interestingly, a survey by AA Ireland shows that a majority of people want insurance and licences to be mandatory. A massive majority (84pc) said safety restrictions should be required – such as obligatory helmets, lights, and high-visibility clothing.


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