Fleet News

Hybrids and LPG can co-exist: DfT chief

THE Government is looking to the UK's fleet operators to prove the financial and environmental benefits of adopting clean fuel technologies for vehicles, such as gas and electric power and biodiesel.

Fleets will not be forced by the Government to choose between liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and petrol/electric hybrids, according to a senior Department for Transport official who insists the two fuels can co-exist.

It is the strongest indication so far that the Government will not adjust too heavily the current duty levels on LPG at the end of the current consultation period (Fleet NewsNet June 26).

Speaking at a Lloyds/TSB autolease-organised Green Transport 2003 conference in Birmingham, Leslie Packer, divisional manager, transport environment and taxation for the DfT, said: 'It's not either or. The two technologies, hybrid and LPG, can interlock.'

Packer added that the DfT was keen to see fleets increase the number of hybrids in use, so the department could evaluate their impact further.

He said: 'We are particularly interested in the fleet industry, because private consumers are not very analytical about their choice of vehicle but fleets are more, and therefore better placed to respond to developments like hybrids. In principle, if it proves to be cost-effective, we would like the fleet industry to move faster.'

Colin Matthews, head of customer services for TransportEnergy, added that while fuel cell cars emitting just water were the ultimate goal, they were more than 15 years away from volume production.

He said: 'There is a lot of talk about fuel cells and a lot of people have said 'I'll wait', but we are talking 2020 and beyond – and that is just the vehicle side. What do we do while we are waiting? Petrol and diesel are improving and biodiesel will come to the marketplace. It's about having a portfolio of fuels to choose from.'

Matthews claimed that in the short term fuels such as LPG, biodiesel or compressed natural gas (CNG) would not become mainstream fuels, perhaps only taking 8% to 10% of the market segment, as congestion charging and low emission zones in city centres influenced fleet decisions.

However, he advocated hybrid technology, such as that used in the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic IMA, as a viable option. He said: 'Hybrids will be a lot quicker to market than fuel cells. I've tried the Prius and it is astounding. Hybrid technology is coming on in leaps and bounds.

'Hybrid technology is ideal for vehicles that do a lot of standing starts, such as delivery vans.'

Although he admitted that the take-up of clean fuels was riddled with 'chicken and egg problems', such as refuelling infrastructure and the efficient running of a fleet, Packer urged the UK motor industry and fleets to be at the forefront of green transport, insisting that early take-up would lead to long-term benefits.

He said: 'When push comes to shove the Treasury makes decisions on tax. The British automotive industry is known for being at the 'walnut veneer' end of the industry. But by becoming the place for buying and selling of clean vehicles we can get ahead with tomorrow's vehicles.'

The LPG experience demonstrates the transition that can be made, he added.

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