It doesn't sound right at first blush, but former Fiat executive and noted diesel-powertrain expert Rinaldo Rinolfi thinks that plug-in hybrid sales may be more impacted by the VW diesel-emissions scandal than diesel sales. Rinolfi, who worked for Fiat for 40 years, told Automotive News Europe, said that the Euro 6 emissions rules that went into effect in 2015 have already increased diesel-engine production costs enough to raise prices and ultimately flatten demand. By the end of the decade, diesel-vehicle sales will settle in at a 40-percent market share of new European vehicles, and that was going to happen with or without the scandal.

"Every carmaker has found ways to achieve fuel consumption and emissions results that have progressively diverged from the real driving conditions." - Rinaldo Rinolfi

Makers of plug-in hybrids have more to lose, though, because every PHEV maker has figured out a way to keep emissions figures artificially low, Rinolfi said. Under New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) standards, PHEVs can be tested part of the time with the electric motor in action, meaning emissions get driven down to 30 percent to 40 percent less than real-world figures. With the VW scandal pushing regulators to use real-world figures, those PHEV emissions numbers are expected to rise substantially. To a lesser extent, hybrid emissions figures are also tested as artificially low.

"Over the years, even without defeat devices, every carmaker has found ways to achieve fuel consumption and emissions results that have progressively diverged from the real driving conditions the customer experiences," Rinolfi said in the Automotive News Europe interview.

Rinolfi is a little sunnier about compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles, estimating that CNG emissions are as much as 25 percent lower compared to conventional vehicles. As for battery-electrics, he's not so optimistic, estimating that there needs to be at least a tenfold improvement in energy efficiency for EVs to be truly competitive with conventional vehicles.

"I've been waiting for a true breakthrough for the past 25 years, but I've not seen it yet," Rinolfi said about EVs in the Automotive News Europe interview.

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