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Defra: ‘We have ditched diesel’

Dale Enyon Defra

Defra fleet chief Dale Eynon has set a bold strategy: ditch diesel and convert the entire fleet of 4,000 cars to petrol-hybrid or pure electric by 2025. 

It doesn’t take Dale Eynon long to get animated. Less than five minutes into our interview, the director of group fleet services at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) makes two huge announcements. 

First, Defra “has ditched diesel as of now for our car fleet”. Second, by 2025 the car fleet will be entirely petrol-hybrid or pure electric.

“It’s the most exciting time in fleet for a long time in terms of change,” Eynon says.

The new strategy comes in the wake of the Volkswagen emissions scandal and growing evidence of the damage caused to health by NOx and other particulate emissions.

These led to the Government announcing that from 2040 it would ban the sale of all new diesel/petrol-only cars.

Eynon was tasked with creating a “ground- breaking, extreme and challenging” strategy by Defra chief executive Sir James Bevan within the boundaries of environmental concerns, reputation and cost.

Despite Defra’s obvious vested interest in pushing the environmental agenda, it will not be ‘green at all costs’, but it is determined to be “an exemplar”, Eynon says.

He appointed Emissions Analytics, the real-world CO2, NOx and mpg testing service, to appraise the Defra car and commercial vehicle fleet.

It found Defra scored well on CO2 emissions (officially 101g/km; real world around 20% higher), but its NOx was high. 

Eynon then scoured the market to evaluate model availability. He tested numerous cars to compare the book figures with real life and did the financial modelling to build the case.

The Defra board signed off his “bold strategy” in August and he is now eager to share his learnings with other fleet operators in the hope of persuading more to consider a move away from diesel.

“By 2025, our car fleet will be all petrol-hybrid or pure electric,” Eynon says. “I think we will actually get there earlier, but this is our starting point.”

The seven-year plan is essentially two replacement changes away for the four-year cycle car fleet, which numbers 4,000 and is currently 98% diesel.

Consequently, as of now, Defra is only ordering petrol, petrol-hybrid and electric vehicles. “We have ditched diesel for cars,” Eynon says.

He anticipates reducing CO2 by 10% compared to today, while NOx will fall by a staggering 88%.

And, crucially, the financial figures add up; Eynon’s worst-case scenario is cost-neutral, but he expects to make savings.

As a public body, Defra procures cars through e-auction on the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) framework.

The existing format is to go to auction every four months, pooling vehicles with other authorities. However, to get the necessary discounts on petrol, Defra needed to boost the numbers.

It has therefore agreed with CCS to run a single annual auction with minimum and maximum numbers in each car category, although vehicles will be taken onto the fleet over the course of the year. 

Defra can do this because of the size of its fleet; other operators don’t have the same advantage.

However, Eynon believes they could link up to bring the price down: “Collaboration is the way forward.”

Defra invited tender responses on the basis that manufacturers had to confirm the vehicles they were putting forward met real-world emissions targets for NOx.

The target was based on being better than a ‘D’ real-world rating as described by Emissions Analytics, which equates to a published NOx level of Euro 4. However, Defra also specified vehicles had to be officially Euro 6.

“In effect, using real-world emissions we got Euro 6 plus,” Eynon says.

The inaugural auction recently concluded with impressive results. Every vehicle that won a category had the highest real-world ‘A’ rating for NOx – some 1,500 cars, equivalent to a 12-15-month spend.

“We saved more than £1 million on the metal price based on the min/max numbers compared to going to auction every four months,” Eynon adds. 

“We have also looked at national insurance contributions and they will reduce a bit. The real-world mpg is almost parity between petrol and diesel – it’s around a 10% difference.”

His immediate priority is to find a way to move the 700 or so Euro 5 cars off the Defra fleet.

The preference is to swap them for Euro 6 petrol, hybrids and electric vehicles, but the timescales will depend on negotiations with lenders over potential early termination lease charges.

“It may take 12-18 months because some have three years left to run.

We are discussing commercial terms, but we can’t remove them straight away,” Eynon says.

In addition to its 4,000 cars, Defra also operates 2,000 light commercial vehicles (LCVs). Here, the obstacles are greater due to a lack of viable alternatives to diesel. 

Eynon attempted a similar e-auction with the A-D ratings but had no submissions. He was forced to dilute the requirement to official Euro 6, but will repeat the auction in a year’s time.

As a result, Defra is unable to set a non-diesel/petrol target for the commercial fleet, although Eynon has implemented an average real-world NOx target of 160mg by 2020; the van fleet currently averages 198mg.

“We will continue to work on our plans for the next six months and then look to set a target,” he says.

He is hopeful talks with Arrival, the electric van and truck manufacturer which recently launched a trial with Royal Mail, will prove fruitful but he is also looking to the established van manufacturers to step up model development of alternative fuels.

As Defra races towards a plug-in car fleet by 2025, its biggest challenge will be the charging infrastructure, according to Eynon.

He is working with Energy Saving Trust on a 12-month project to assess the future of EV charging.

“We don’t want to install a load of fast chargers to find out they are redundant in a few years’ time,” Eynon says.

“Also, do we buy, lease, go into partnership or create a collective network? Can the grid cope with it and do we look at vehicle-to-grid technology?

“The model will have to change for charging. I have four or five cards in my wallet for different charging operators. We need to have one card for all the networks.

“The vehicle bit is easier; the infrastructure is much harder. We have to understand the market and that is a big piece of work.”

The other big piece of work is communicating Defra’s new strategy to drivers.

Eynon is working on advisory fuel rates for pure EVs, hybrids and mild hybrids (which he has added to the medium hatchback car category for the first time). 

“We have to understand the fuel consumption so we can set a rate that is reflective of their real-world performance,” he says. “

We don’t want staff to be out of pocket, but also some hybrids have 1.8-litre petrol engines and the rate is too high.”

Petrol cars generally sit in higher tax bands than diesel due to higher like-for-like CO2 emissions, although they are likely to move closer together when the worldwide harmonised light vehicle test figures are used for the calculation (as yet unannounced). 

“It’s a sensitive area. From a staff perspective, petrol cars might mean more cost for them in some cases but we expect the rental will be lower because of better residual values.

"We want it to be at least cost-neutral for them,” Eynon says. “However, the hybrid models are lower than some of the diesels we were buying on CO2.”

He has launched a full-scale communications programme – called internally a staff engagement plan.

It started four months ago with early messages about the fleet policy changing and the air quality issues without mentioning specific details.

This has since been followed up with the details for drivers and line managers.

Eynon ensured the fleet team and area managers were fully briefed, while Defra held a series of webinars to answer any questions online. 

“Our communications give a clear message to people that we are moving to petrol now because it’s cleaner than diesel,” Eynon says.

“There are some clean diesels out there but that becomes a confusing message if you change some but not all of them. We believe the best strategy is to change everything.”

Defra’s ultimate goal is for the entire fleet to switch across to pure electric vehicles as quickly as possible.

With manufacturers announcing a variety of product launch plans in this area over the next couple of years, the landscape is ever shifting. 

“They are saying 250-300-mile range and we can live with that,” Eynon says. He intends to set the example by committing to his own electric car.

“When we get to 2019, there will be a whole raft of new EV models, but the future will be the ones building models from the ground up rather than those converting existing chassis.

The tipping point is 200 miles for real-world range; at 250 miles, a lot of people would swap tomorrow.”

He recognises that, in the interim, there are likely to be concerns about range and suitability for a variety of personal needs, such as towing or roof bars when people go on holiday. 

To alleviate any fears, Eynon is in discussion with his leasing provider Inchcape about creating a programme under which drivers can swap their electric car for a petrol estate car for two-to-four weeks a year.

“This is about looking at the challenges to get people to accept the move across to full electric,” he explains.

“It means they don’t have to worry about holidays where they want to tow or need more range or space.”

The EV strategy will be supported by the introduction of telematics across the fleet. Light commercial vehicles already have a system installed, and Eynon is trialling an app solution for cars.

This will arm him with the data needed to be able to better fit a vehicle to a driver’s individual profile. He accepts that while the cars are provided primarily for business use, they have to be appropriate for their personal use as well.

With all the talk dominated by plug-in electric vehicles, what about hydrogen fuel cell which uses the chemical as an on-board fuel source to generate the electricity?

“We have trialled hydrogen fuel cell,” Eynon replies, “but the availability is only along the M4 corridor so it is far too restrictive. Infrastructure is the problem.”


12 organisations join Defra fleet services

Since Defra announced plans last year to bring together its 30-plus fleet operations under the control of Dale Eynon and his Environment Agency team, 12 organisations have come on-board.

In the first year, merging policies and improving purchasing processes saved the group £500,000; Eynon hopes this will encourage other parts of Defra to join up.

“Those 12 organisations account for 60-70% of the Defra Group fleet,” he says. “The biggest one we haven’t got is the Forestry Commission – that would take us to 80-85%. We are talking to them but they have lots of contracts in place we have to work through first.”

There has been some alignment of policy, with more to come. Eynon is keen to define the best form of mobility – own car, lease, rent or share – using his travel hierarchy.

“Some companies had closed their car scheme so we have reopened them,” he says. “We have done a lot of work on grey fleet and leasing contracts within our framework. Now it’s about the softer stuff with car contracts, such as damage and choices which is more variable.”


Eynon’s measures of EV success

  1. By 2025, as much of the fleet as possible will be electric.
  2. The charging infrastructure will be sustainable with energy supplied through green sources.
  3. The fleet remains cost-effective – we are using public money.
  4. We can show other people that you can run a greener fleet without it costing the business.

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  • Sage & Onion - 07/11/2017 14:50

    "To alleviate any fears, Eynon is in discussion with his leasing provider Inchcape about creating a programme under which drivers can swap their electric car for a petrol estate car for two-to-four weeks a year." The above statement makes absolute sense and is something that I have considered introducing to our fleet policy to encourage drivers to downsize into more efficient or hybrid/electric models. However, a lot of drivers still like the status of the bigger executive car and this is the biggest obstacle to overcome.

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