Pleas to save the planet are normally reserved for superheroes and presidents in films. But TransportEnergy is behind a direct call for fleets to follow in their footsteps for real.
TransportEnergy is run by the Energy Saving Trust and has been mainly funded by the Department for Transport and the Scottish Executive since its first incarnation in 1996.
It is the umbrella brand for a series of initiatives, including PowerShift, CleanUp and the Best Practice scheme (see below), that encourage and fund firms and individuals to cut car use, adopt cleaner fuels to reduce emissions, halt global warming and, it is hoped, help save the planet from destructive change.
The challenge is immense, in particular because it has to be achieved with a limited budget – last year it had a total budget of about £35m for all its campaigns. But the cash has been put to good use, helping kickstart a market for clean fuel vehicles that has in turn prompted oil companies to invest in a network of more than 1,100 clean fuel refuelling sites, mainly for liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).
There are an estimated 50,000 clean fuel vehicles on the road today, compared to just 3,500 six years ago, and the Government has set its own target of 250,000 sales of low emission vehicles annually within the next decade.
Fleets have been the driving force behind this rapid growth. They have been encouraged by massive fuel duty incentives that currently make alternative fuels such as LPG half the price of petrol and diesel.
TransportEnergy PowerShift targets fleets, offering grants to off-set up to 70% of the additional cost of acquiring a green fuel vehicle, along with detailed lists of approved converters and manufacturers.
To help speed up demand, it has launched a block grant system which makes it quicker and easier to access funds.
Manufacturers, contract hire and leasing companies, short- term rental companies and some vehicle manufacturers and converters will be able to apply for a block of vehicle grants and pass these directly on to customers in the form of reduced prices or lower lease rentals.
For example, a contract hire company could apply for a grant for 250 vehicles and then use this to cut the cost of alternatively-fuelled lease cars for customers.
The block grant initiative answers complaints from fleets that red tape was tying up their attempts to acquire clean fuel vehicles. The solution clinched TransportEnergy the 2002 Fleet News Environmental Initiative of the Year Award.
The judges said: 'The new block grant scheme overcame one of the traditional obstacles to fleet uptake of 'green' cars – namely the slow and uncertain award of subsidies, and encourages the contract hire sector to become more involved in promoting alternatively-fuelled vehicles.
'The judges praise the organisation for recognising the needs of fleet customers and developing a well-constructed solution to increase the appeal of clean vehicles.'
For Jonathan Murray, director of TransportEnergy, which was rebranded from TransportAction last month, this is the latest step towards making alternative fuels a permanent fixture on fleet choice lists. He said: 'Our key target now is to maintain the momentum we have achieved on the take-up of clean fuel vehicles that can deliver air quality benefits in the short-term.
'Despite our success, alternative fuel vehicles have not made the in-roads they should have when the benefits of running them are considered. Although there is significant evidence to show the environmental and financial benefits of using fuels such as liquefied petroleum gas, corporate fleets have not yet taken vehicles on in large enough numbers.
'One of our main objectives is to make the benefits of running clean fuel vehicles much more clear to the corporate sector.'
Under the new name of TransportEnergy, an action plan to increase the number of clean fuel vehicle drivers has been launched. Last week, it announced the impending launch of a series of new best practice programmes targeting fleets.
Initiatives will include helping firms introduce travel plans, offering advice on green fleet management and showing how companies can reduce their impact on the environment.
At the launch, Murray said: 'The emphasis on energy in our new name underlines our expanding remit to look not just at vehicle emissions and their impact on air quality but also on development and exploration of new technologies.'
PowerShift has already directly funded about 20,000 alternative fuel vehicles and it expects the total green vehicle car parc to reach 100,000 in the next two years. This will be helped by the arrival of congestion charging in London, as the cleanest Euro IV standard clean fuel vehicles receive a 100% discount on the £5 a day charge, which is introduced in February.
Drivers will be able to choose from a growing array of cars, as the number of manufacturers has grown from none to 10 in a decade.
Murray said: 'PowerShift is still the backbone of what TransportEnergy is about, but we have a broad spectrum of initiatives. The number of staff has grown from eight people two years ago to 24 today, which reflects the wider nature of the transport division as it encompasses new activities beyond its core role of focusing on vehicle emissions and poor air quality.
'We have funding until 2004 and we still need to continue to tackle air quality issues, so we have to look beyond that and become very focused on the need for energy efficiency.
'It is glaringly obvious that fuels such as LPG are much cleaner and cheaper than petrol or diesel, but there are still fleets that need to learn that.'
Website offers impartial information to fleets
ONE of TransportEnergy's biggest initiatives is the creation of the PowerShift Register, a national list of approved manufacturers and converters of clean-fuelled vehicles.
The register, which is available at www.powershift.org.uk and is also accessible through www.fleetnewsnet.co.uk (in the Buyers Guide section under Associations and Official Bodies), is a guide to clean fuel vehicles. Its aim is to allow buyers to make informed choices about the merits of the different clean fuel vehicles on offer.
Details include in-depth emissions test results, showing the improvement achieved using alternative fuels compared to a petrol or diesel equivalent.
It also offers and provides the basis on which PowerShift grants are offered. Vehicles on the register which are listed as grant-eligible must be:
Only vehicles listed on the register are eligible for a grant, which can cut 70% from the additional cost of acquiring a clean fuel vehicle.
PowerShift – Provides grants to those alternative fuels and clean fuel vehicles which are viable in the UK today and are proven to offer an environmental benefit over traditional fuels.
CleanUp – Provides grant assistance for the fitting of equipment to reduce exhaust emissions from diesel engines. At present, it is only applicable to vehicles with a gross vehicle weight of more than 3.5 tonnes and also to some models of black cab.
Best Practice Programme – Advice on travel plans and green fleet management, including practical help on encouraging staff to share their journeys to work. Encourages local authorities and schools to develop travel plans and shows car and van fleets how to reduce their impact on the environment.