Fleet operators appreciate the need to act on air quality, but concern surrounds the speed of change.
Reducing emissions has always been an essential part of fleet management but with the political spotlight on air quality, fleet operators are now under much greater pressure to utilise the cleanest technology.
However, fleet operators also have to ensure alternative fuels meet their operational needs and it is cost-effective to switch to them.
Attendees at the recent Fleet News roundtable, sponsored by Shell, discussed this balancing act and raised concerns about the timescales being set for the introduction of the ultra low emission zone (ULEZ) in London and clear air zones in other UK cities, particularly for commercial vehicle fleets.
Fleet News: What challenges are you facing with your fleet?
Darren Bell, head of fleet – London, Veolia UK: The cost of ULEZ compliance. It is a significant cost to be Euro 6-compliant in London.
We finance most of our vehicles on an eight-year lease and we can’t afford to swap refuse vehicles sooner.
It’s right and proper to be doing something about air quality, particularly in London and any other urban environments, but the speed of legislation needs to be managed.
It needs to be workable. We need to consider the impact on businesses and local authorities of the huge cost of replacing vehicles to be compliant.
Fleet News: How are you looking to address ULEZ?
Darren Bell: When I worked at G4S and the congestion charge came in, it was easier to manage; I could shift vehicles around.
I can’t do that with ULEZ because we’re predominantly in London. The T-charge coming in [October 23] is an extra £10 per vehicle at pre-Euro 4.
It’s unbudgeted because it’s come about quite quickly. It wasn’t voiced last year. I can understand and accept the rationale (for the T-charge) but we need to have advanced warning.
Julie Madoui, head of fleet and transport, Skanska: Our strategy in terms of light commercial vehicles has always been three to four years for replacement so we’re fairly close to being Euro 6 all the way through.
Heavy vehicles are five and seven years because if you’ve got a project for six years you’re not going to go for three because it will be cost prohibitive to do that.
But it [ULEZ] is a big thing to think about and how that is going to expand across the rest of the UK as well.
Keith Cook, deputy financial controller, Computacenter: We’re finding even with parking permits some councils are charging more for more polluting vehicles.
Jerry Ward, manager legal operations, John Lewis Partnership: There is still uncertainty about the Direct Vision Standard as well.
That has an impact on vehicle purchase, too. Fleets not only need to buy the cleanest type of vehicle but does it fit the requirement for what Transport for London wants?
So for a lot of operators there are too many things happening too quickly with perhaps not enough thought or explanation as to what is wanted.
Fleet News: What actions are you taking to reduce emissions?
Darren Bell: We’ve just deployed 16 26-tonne CNG (compressed natural gas) vehicles but being an early adopter of the technology there have been challenges and we’ve struggled with availability (due to vehicle downtime) in the first four weeks.
We’re pushing the electrification of our fleet in London. We’ve already got six Nissan Leafs and lots of street cleaning equipment is electric or Euro 6.
Julie Madoui: We’ve got three hydrogen vehicles: one is the Toyota Mirai and then we’ve got two hydrogen conversion vans coming, as part of a Government trial.
We’re going to trial those for three years, we’ll be moving them around the business, and then we’re going to report back.
We’ve also got 11 fully electric cars, which are operated across the UK and we’ve got four or five small pure electric vans at depots.
Then, where I’ve got car drivers who live fairly close to the office, not interested in travelling lots of miles at the weekend, they have chosen electric for a company car.
About 15 months ago, we changed our car policy choice list to be based on wholelife cost so we’ve got pure electric at each grade available and plug-ins as well.
Darren Bell: We’re considering hydrogen cleaning. It claims a 75% reduction in carbon build up based on the fact hydrogen is more volatile and gives a far more intense burn.
It only takes about 25 minutes on a car and 40-45 minutes on a CVs so it could be part of the planned maintenance regime.
Marrit Dikker Hupkes-Gernaat, sales team lead, Shell: Alternative fuels are our main priority. We think as an energy company we need to change and we need to be at the forefront.
We opened a hydrogen site at Cobham and we’re opening another two this year (at Beaconsfield and Gatwick) while there are hardly any hydrogen cars yet.
We are diversifying our solutions because there is no one-size-fits-all. We’re bringing LNG (liquefied natural gas) to our UK network in 2018 and we’re piloting GTL (gas-to-liquids) in the UK following a successful pilot in the Netherlands.
Then there is electric vehicle charging, we will be introducing electric vehicle rapid charging across 10 of our UK stations by the end of 2017.
Our teams are now in the process of installing and testing these charge points and we will shortly be announcing the details of Shell’s new electric vehicle charging offer.
Fleet News: How does GTL work?
John Holford, account manager, commercial fleet, Shell: It’s an alternative fuel but there is no retrofit required on the engine. It’s just a clear liquid that will go in your diesel tank and it reduces emissions.
Marrit Dikker Hupkes-Gernaat: It’s applicable for every vehicle but we see it as a short-term solution for urban ones.
Fleet News: What role does the environment or sustainability play in tenders?
Keith Cook: We see it coming into more and more tenders but the bit that bothers me is there is almost a displacement of the pollution (with electric vehicles) because at the point of driving absolutely there is no pollution but the electricity is, typically, generated by fossil fuels.
To me, it’s that whole cradle-to-grave approach. What’s the environmental impact of manufacturing right the way through to scrappage? Not just that in-life piece which seems to be where the whole focus tends to be.
Darren Bell: The devil in disguise is NOx, but CO2 is still an issue. We seem to be turning our backs on CO2 as if it is now acceptable.
Fleet News: Is anyone using fuel cards to manage and control costs?
Chris Connors, facilities and fleet manager, Countryside Properties: We, as a business, made a decision two or three years ago to move away from fuel cards because of personal fuel and now people pay and reclaim via expenses.
Keith Cook: Our LCV fleet has cards, largely because of the drivers’ journey profile. We only have fuel cards for legacy reasons on our car fleet. We largely walked away because of historic fraud.
John Holford: I would say it’s far more compliant and less of an operational burden to manage it via a fuel card than pay and reclaim.
You can get the VRN if it’s in the driver’s name, the site name, the site code, the product categorisation, time of fuelling event.
If you then mirror that with the options in the system around purchase categories, bespoke velocities you can get control back in the fleet but it does require some management.
Marrit Dikker Hupkes-Gernaat: This is where it becomes not a commodity we are supplying.
Shell has a 24/7 team which is tracking all the transactions, picking up any foreign use.
We’ve got 12 account managers across the UK doing quarterly reviews with our customers.
We work with some of our customers on health and safety and share some of the culture changes we have made.