Nissan is targeting fleets with its new liquefied petroleum gas-powered Primera and is making sure that those who choose the car get the full manufacturer back-up. The car uses a converted 1.8-litre petrol engine, and Nissan says it qualifies for a 70% grant towards the cost of conversion through PowerShift. This is made up of 40% for the emissions improvement, plus 20% for being a manufacturer conversion and 10% for securing type approval.
According to Dave Murfitt, Nissan's fleet sales director, there is a growing market for dual-fuel cars among fleets and Nissan is keen to explore avenues, expanding the range if necessary.
He said: 'More and more fleets are looking at LPG because of its financial and environmental benefits. The LPG model combines all the benefits of the standard Primera with the addition of a full warrantied LPG conversion. We will evaluate the take-up on this model and then look at expanding our range of LPG models in the future.'
The car is available in saloon, hatchback and estate versions in SE trim and carries a full three-year/60,000-mile manufacturer warranty. We tried the five-door model. After the PowerShift grant, an LPG 1.8 SE will cost £1,047 more than a standard 1.8 petrol model. For benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax purposes, it will attract a charge of 14% of P11d price, due to a CO2 rating of 155g/km. This includes a 1% discount for LPG cars. Combined mpg on gas is 29.8mpg.
Prices start at £16,747 on-the-road, inclusive of PowerShift grant.
This means a 22% taxpayer would pay £510 in the 2003/2004 tax year, while a 40% tax-payer would have a bill of £928 for the same period, which is a couple of hundred pounds' saving over the petrol equivalent.
Because the conversion reaches Band Four on the PowerShift register, the Primera is also exempt from London's congestion charge. The 59-litre LPG tank is housed in the spare wheel well, complementing the 62-litre petrol tank.
Nissan says drivers can either have the option of a tyre repair aerosol to get home following a flat, or opt to keep the spare tyre in the boot.
The test car came replete with spare tyre, not strapped down, and it took up far too much space and clanked around like a bag of spanners in the boot. Balancing the likelihood of getting a flat with the metallic crashing every time you go round a corner, I would gamble on the spray can.
The dual-fuel conversions, using the Pharon sequential LPG system that is popular on the continent, are being carried out by MSD Special Vehicle Engineering in Bletchley, a firm that has been doing this sort of work for several years now. The conversion adds 66kgs to the weight of the vehicle. MSD is also part of the Clean Fleet Alliance. Furthermore, due to years as performance engineers building, among other things, cars for the Hyundai World Rally team, it has considerable experience in conversions.
At the moment, CAP does not have any residual value figures for the LPG Primera, but the equivalent petrol model is predicted to retain 29% of its cost new after three-years/ 60,000-miles. Following the trend of other dual-fuel vehicles, the LPG model should be a couple of points south of this.
Behind the wheel
Apart from the extra fuel cap next to the petrol tank, and a small button tucked away by the right knee of the driver, there nothing else to indicate this is an alternatively-fuelled car.
The noise and performance does indicate this is a 1.8-litre Primera though, and either burning petrol or gas, it is fairly loud in the cabin under acceleration, and the car has to be worked hard to get any of that from it.
The fuel gauge doubles up for both petrol and LPG, which in some other manufacturer's cars has caused problems with the age it takes to switch and then register accurately from one to the other, but in the Primera this takes only a few seconds.
The Primera still cruises along happily enough, although it's not a big fan of corners, wallowing as it does rather a lot, and the N-FORM console is clear and clever. The interior and exterior styling is a love it or loathe it affair.
There is nothing you will find here that is any different to a standard Primera, which is a good thing. But will strong enough residuals combine with enough miles on LPG to cover the extra cost of conversion and make it a worthwhile choice?
Model: Nissan Primera LPG SE
Power (bhp/rpm): 115/5,600
Torque (lb-ft/rpm): 120/4,000
Max speed (mph): 112
0-62mph (sec): 11.9
Fuel consumption (mpg): 29.8
CO2 emissions (g/km): 155
BIK tax 2002/03 (22%): £42.50 per month
Transmission: 5-sp manual
Fuel capacity (l): 59 (LPG), 62 (petrol)
On sale: Now. Price (OTR): £16,747