Fleet News

Guest opinion: UK must take lead on fuels

GRAHAM Smith, chairman of the new Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership and managing director of Toyota (GB), explains why fleets have a duty to join the scheme.

'The Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership will not just encourage the widespread availability of low carbon vehicles, it will also ensure the UK is one of the leading markets in the take-up of these vehicles.

##GrahamSmith--right## The importance of this task is self-evident. Emissions of CO2 and other pollutants continue to rise on a global scale. International agreements such as Kyoto set ambitious targets that Government, industry and other stakeholders are committed to meet. While there are many sources of emissions, and they are a feature of an industrialised society, transport and the motor car are significant contributors.

There is no doubt a shift from private to public transport can help reduce CO2 emissions and should be encouraged. However, we have to accept that such a shift is just not feasible for the majority of the population. Issues such as remoteness, access and the sheer complexity of people's individual mobility needs, mean that the car is – and will remain – the primary source of personal transport for the overwhelming majority of the population for the foreseeable future.

The challenge for society is to reduce the environmental impact of this dependence. Automotive manufacturers have long recognised this imperative and made significant progress. However, our ability to deliver the necessary technological advances rests on our ability to remain viable and profitable.

We must also never lose sight of the fact that we are a consumer-driven business – we must produce only what the consumer wants. Car designers must square a very round circle – design a car that includes all these features while having an ever-reducing impact on the environment.

So what is the solution? For once, there is broad consensus – a shift to an industry based on hydrogen derived from sustainable resources promises the prospect of truly emission-free transport. Toyota shares that view and, like our competitors, is working towards the commercial application of that technology.

And it is the commercial application that is the key. While we – and others such as Honda – have already commenced limited marketing of some fuel cell vehicles to government and research institutions in Japan and the US, we will not be seeing these cars on our roads in any number for another 10 to 20 years. Ford, General Motors and Daimler Chrysler, to name but three companies, have similar fuel cell development programmes.

So if the fuel cell future is 10 to 20 years away, how do we deliver low carbon driving in the interim? Here the answers are more varied. Hybrids, bio-fuels, direct injection hydrogen and other fuels all have their advantages alongside continual improvements to petrol and diesel powertrains.

I am pleased the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership includes Government representatives, in particular the Department of Trade and Industry and Department for Transport. I believe the presence of Government is a demonstration not just of the importance of the issue but of the Government's determination to make this initiative succeed.

I am also delighted that the LowCVP will include representatives of consumer and environmental organisations such as Friends of the Earth.

We want the UK to be a leader in low carbon technologies. While the UK-owned motor industry has declined over the years, the skill base and technological know-how has not. The fact that eight of the world's largest motor manufacturers have facilities here is a reflection of that fact. The LowCVP offers a real opportunity for UK academic institutions to work directly with those companies.

I would encourage any party with an interest, expertise or experience of any issue pertinent to the low carbon economy to get involved. I am sure that, as the work of the partnership progresses, it will become apparent that we need the input of many groups and, indeed, of sectors that perhaps we have not yet envisaged having a bearing on the issues.'

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