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Fuel choice: Be cautious about new technologies

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Orders for plug-in electric vehicles across the fleet market have shot up over the past 18 months, fuelled on one side by tax incentives, grants and potentially significant fuel cost savings, and on the other by the increasing availability of models from manufacturers.

With wholelife cost always front of mind, fleet managers have been early adopters of new technology and cleaner vehicles. Added to this, there is a real environmental need for fleets to buy ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs).

Increasingly both public and private sector organisations want to demonstrate a ‘hearts and minds’ approach to adopting sustainable, environmentally sensitive policies to build credibility and loyalty with customers and employees alike. A green fleet can be a key element of an on-going corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy, enabling organisations to manage carbon footprints.

However, caution is needed. A move from traditionally-fuelled vehicles to new technologies requires new thought processes. Decisions must be based on the type of driving to ensure the most appropriate vehicle technology is selected.

Pure electric cars are best suited to lower mileage urban driving conditions, although improving battery performance is changing this. Plug-in hybrids must be charged at every opportunity to maximise the amount of time driven in electric-only mode. If a plug-in hybrid is not regularly charged and just driven in the diesel or petrol mode, few potential environmental or fuel cost savings will be realised.

While battery electric cars will provide mid- to long-term fixes as ranges increase, the future will see a range of new fuel types launched to meet different transport needs, from pure electric vehicles to gaseous-powered vehicles, such as hydrogen. One of our hydrogen vehicles, a Hyundai ix35, is now used daily by the University of Birmingham.

Rather than jump on board with a new technology to reap short-term rewards, fleet managers should ask themselves what type of vehicle will best suit future needs. Raising awareness will be vital and suppliers, manufacturers and industry bodies must work together to help companies make the right decisions.

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