Fleet News

Fleet panel: survey shows fleets shunning LPG vehicles

AN exclusive Fleet News' survey among more than 160 fleet decision-makers responsible for running tens of thousands of vehicles has shown that the vast majority of fleets are unconvinced that liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) has any place on their fleets.

However, even though a modest 10% says it has, such a level of take-up would mean a large increase in the alternative fuel car parc.

The results of the survey, carried out last week, came just days after the LPG industry suffered a double blow (Fleet NewsNet November 13).

Grants to help fleets buy LPG-powered vehicles have run out with five months of the financial year left and Ford has revealed it is on the verge of pulling out of the market for LPG-powered cars.

The mood of uncertainty has worsened in the past year because the Government has launched a major review of its financial support for alternative fuels, including fuel duty discounts that make them half the price of petrol or diesel.

Despite the uncertainty, demand for LPG vehicles is increasing, with more than 100,000 registered and using a record number of refuelling sites, supported by manufacturers including Vauxhall, Volvo and MG Rover.

Tom Fidell, director-general of the LP Gas Association, was due to meet Government ministers this week to try to win continued support for the industry.

In September, the LPGA launched a research document called 'A Bridge to the Future', which argued that gaseous fuels still provided environmental benefits compared to petrol and diesel, despite recent advances in engine technology that have made traditional fuel engines much cleaner (Fleet NewsNet, September 18).

The research showed that particulates, which have been linked to respiratory disease, were 120 times lower in autogas vehicles compared to diesels on the urban cycle.

But even if the Government throws its support behind the fuel, the damning views of the fleet industry suggest that even with subsidies and cheap fuel, LPG will struggle to capture more than a tiny fraction of the fleet market.

Do you think LPG has a viable future on your fleet?

Yes: 10% No: 90%

'No. The refuelling points for this fuel have not increased nearly as quickly as we all imagined, given the hype that LPG received last year. The numbers are still too low and too centralised for it to be a viable option for immediate consideration by a fleet.'

'No. There is too much uncertainty, it is too expensive (and it is too much hassle getting some of it back), not enough boot space, not enough fuel sites and not a big enough fuel price differential to make the decisive breakthrough. Pity, because it is a good idea.'
Steve Skelly
Rowley Ashworth

'Given that ours is principally a 'user-chooser' fleet, my answer has to be no. Our drivers do not see LPG as an attractive alternative to diesel (their fuel of choice), especially as none of their preferred marques offer an LPG option.'

'The future of LPG is quite hazy and unsure. First, there is the problem of availability – get away from the main city conurbations and it is almost non-existent. Second, how long will the tax advantages be allowed by the Government, when its use starts to erode revenue from other fuels? Third, the problem of the loss of boot space necessary to permit the fitting of the storage tank. And finally, the problem of queueing at refuelling times. At what stage do filling stations decide to provide more than one filling pump?'

'Without the Government subsidies and the fact that there is a major grey area on future residual values I do not feel there is a space for these in our fleet.

'Alternative fuels represent a golden opportunity for our fleet to play a major part in cleaning up the air that we all breathe. Nevertheless, hydrogen and fuel-cells are too far in the future, electric vans have no commercial range and the petrol/electric cars available are not commercially practicable. CNG is hardly available but LPG is the only practical alternative fuel in the foreseeable future. It is, however, more difficult to manage due to its still limited availability and the costs of conversion are high. We do have a few LPG vehicles but their economic future is entirely dependent upon continued duty subsidies at a rate at least equal to that currently available.'

'Having just done a project on it, the only financial gains to be made by our company are on congestion charge discount but now, with the Energy Saving Trust grants in trouble, it looks even more unattractive.'

'We contract hire most of our cars and leasing companies will only entertain manufacturer versions. The only manufacturer on our current choice list that fits the bill is Volvo. It is an expensive option for most of our drivers. One senior employee does run a Volvo LPG. We would run more if our contract hire partners supported aftermarket conversions or if more of the manufacturers on our choice list made versions available. That's unlikely with the excellent current crop of diesels, Honda's IMA principle being extended and Toyota's Prius.'
Dave Gill

'Now that diesels with Euro IV-compliant engines are available, we will, where possible, be listing these instead of Euro III diesels. We do also list an LPG vehicle in each grade, but when tax calculations are done, the new diesels win.'
Pat Marks
Fleet manager, Hilton Hotels

'We attempted to use one dual fuel van as part of a pilot scheme but it has caused nothing but problems, which has put us off ordering any more. I believe we will continue to use diesel in our commercial vehicles and many of our company car drivers are opting for diesel engines for tax purposes. With Euro IV-compliant engines now available from most manufacturers, it is a win-win situation for our company car drivers, as they can benefit from the reduced CO2 emissions and improved fuel economy.'
Joanne Hanafan
Fleet manager, King UK

'No. I do not believe the infrastructure for LPG is in place and I do not believe the general motorist will pay the additional premium for an LPG vehicle.'

'No, I do not think LPG has any future on our fleet. At the moment it appears to be a viable cost saving, but I think the Government will raise taxes on it to bring it into line with fossil fuels as soon as enough people have committed themselves.'

'At present we would have problems with outlets. Also, the actual efficiency of the fuel is considerably below normal fuels. The saving comes on taxes and I do not trust the Chancellor to start reducing the differentials at any time.'
Richard Warner
Company Secretary, Seco Tools (UK)

'The industry has completely failed to make its case and in reality has been side-lined by the push for diesel. If you ask one of our 'average' drivers where his nearest LPG pump is he won't be able to tell you – until they tackle that mind-set they are dead in the water.'

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