Taking a gamble and turning its back on LPG to concentrate on hybrid technology has paid off for alternative fuel pioneer Ashwoods, which has seen its turnover increase by 750% since 2008.
The company was formed in 2003 as an LPG conversion centre to take advantage of the newly-introduced London congestion charge, from which LPG vehicles are exempt.
However, issues with integrating the technology, combined with concerns about manufacturer warranties and residual values, hindered the company’s success.
In 2006, Ashwoods began to develop hybrid technology. It decided to abandon LPG, but Mark Roberts, Ashwoods managing director, believes the company owes its current success to those early days.
“We managed to get off the ground with hybrid technology because we were aware of the challenges in the market,” he says.
“We learned a great deal from our LPG days which proved crucial to our hybrid technology development.”
He adds: “The LPG market was very competitive and there were too many companies offering cheaper solutions than us at the expense of quality.
"We were not prepared to sacrifice quality and that was a big reason for us moving out.”
One of the major challenges for full-electric and hybrid vehicles is acceptance by the market.
For fleet managers, there are too many unanswered questions around range, cost, battery life and warranty.
However, Ashwoods believes it has the answer. It has developed a complete hybrid system that can be installed in a diesel Ford Transit in less than three hours and then, at the end of the van’s fleet life, removed so it can be sold as a standard Transit.
“Our product needs no holes or permanent fixtures in the van which solves the warranty issue and because it can be de-fleeted as a normal Transit, it is easier to finance because it has a residual benchmark,” says Roberts.
“We’ve managed to make a market-acceptable product that answers all the questions.”