But over the past eight years, it has been at the heart of one fleet manager's determined campaign to help the environment and slash his running costs. Alan Hocking, fleet and supplies manager at Humberside Police has put Proton Personas in the front line of policing and his environmental battle.
His steadfast approach started back in 1997 when the first batch of 20 vehicles joined the fleet and now he runs one of the country's largest green fleets, with about 300 vehicles running on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).
His commitment has earned him the latest Fleet News Environmental Star Award, sponsored by BP, which recognises outstanding efforts among fleets to reduce their impact on the climate. During his work, Hocking's fleet has become a guiding light for companies and organisations wanting to 'go green' following the runaway success of its own scheme.
As part of his efforts, a network of refuelling sites has been installed around the force's area, while he has also helped educate local authorities about the fuel.
One area to particularly focus on was the safety of filling stations providing alternative fuels, after a local newspaper reported residents' concerns about the possibility of a 'James Bond-style explosion'.
His work ensured faster planning approval for new refuelling sites and overcame public fears.
Proton became the heart of Hocking's plans for a green fleet after the force took delivery of 20 LPG-powered Personas as part of extensive trials in 1997, which was the precursor to the majority of the fleet switching to gas power. Some of the funding came from the Government's PowerShift programme.
Proton was chosen because it had the boot space to take an extra fuel tank and all the equipment officers needed.
There are now 220 Proton cars on the fleet, including a small number of Impians, which will replace the Persona with time. Other LPG vehicles include Vauxhall Astras.
Hocking said: 'We went to the European market with an open tender and at the time, there was nothing in the country that could meet our requirements. Now we have moved to the new Impians, they are going really well.'
At the time, Hocking said lower running costs and environmental considerations had driven the switch to gas.
The Proton deal followed 18 months of research into gas and a preliminary trial involving LPG-powered Vauxhall Astras and Ford Escorts.
In 2000, his early efforts were rewarded with a Fleet News Environmental Award when the fleet had reached nearly 200 LPG vehicles.
And by March 2003, Hocking was reporting that his green-minded efforts had slashed the force's fuel costs by £100,000 a year.
During 2003, Hocking estimates this saving grew to £200,000 year-on-year and during the life of the scheme, could well have hit £1 million in total.
This was through a combination of reduced fuel costs and lower mileage, difficult to achieve with police vehicles that have to be patrolling roads every day.
In 2001, its 450-vehicle fleet covered nearly 10 million miles and used 1.8 million litres of fuel.
By 2003 it had slashed its business mileage by 921,692 miles. Fuel use only fell 9,869 litres, as the fleet transferred more vehicles to liquefied petroleum gas power.
These are traditionally much less fuel efficient than diesel vehicles, which they replaced, but their emissions are cleaner.
Humberside Police is one of a growing number of fleets taking part in the Motorvate scheme, which awards certificates to members that meet stringent targets to cut emissions over several years.
As a member of Motorvate, companies and organisations must cut carbon dioxide emissions by 12% over a three-year period, with 3% of this being through a reduction in fleet mileage.
But the force's efforts have gone much further and early estimates suggest it could cut a further 251,000 from its mileage over the next year and save 40,000 litres of fuel.
And its efforts don't just stop at LPG, as all its diesel vehicles are currently running on bio-diesel – an environmentally-friendly form of diesel, provided by a local supplier.
Recent decisions by Government to increase duty on alternative fuels have dented confidence in LPG among fleets, but Hocking still insists there are benefits.
He said: 'We made the move for environmental reasons and the reduction in fuel costs was an additional benefit. We are still committed to the fuel. Also, every penny that we save from the budget can go directly to supporting front line policing for the community.'
His support has also proved that LPG vehicles can be reliable in even the most demanding of environments, with vehicles covering more than 140,000 miles before they are replaced.
He added: 'We use a local garage for the conversions and over the past seven years, they have done more than 500.
'We sell the vehicles with the conversions on, because technology in this area moves so fast, the equipment is out of date when vehicles come to be replaced, so we can't transfer kits to new cars joining the fleet.'
His office now takes regular calls for advice on using alternative fuels, while Hocking is considering what initiatives he can introduce in the future.
He said: 'We are getting to the stage where we can't get much further with savings on converting the fleet, but when someone starts providing hydrogen vehicles for the market, we can start all over again.'
Powers of persuasion fuelled positive alternative argument
MAKING the switch to alternative fuels is not simply a complicated decision about vehicles, but involves issues ranging from public relations to political analysis that puts fleet managers to the test.
Alan Hocking has become one of the pioneers of making the switch to alternative fuels and in the process he has learnt valuable lessons about the skills needed to make sure the process goes smoothly.
Not only did it require careful research into the cost benefits of using LPG, but it also demanded careful consideration of whether the fuel was suited to the demanding life of a police vehicle, and how to implement such a large programme.
Tests proved there was no loss of performance to the petrol equivalent vehicles, so he began the lengthy process of investigating the conversion companies, fuel suppliers and their related costs. He also had to persuade the public and press there would be no risk from LPG bunkering sites throughout the district set up to refuel cars.
Senior officers' backing was vital to Hocking's move and their support was gained with a detailed presentation of the pros and cons of the fuel.
Humberside Police fact file
Total fleet size: 488 – rising to 508 shortly
Split: Cars, 332; 14 4x4; Vans 70; Motorbikes 20; Others 49; mix of diesel, petrol and LPG
LPG fleet: Cars 316; Vans 54 (est.)
Acquisition method: Outright purchase
Replacement cycle: Diesel cars five years 120,000 miles; petrol/LPG six years/145,000; vans eight years 120,000-150,000 miles
Alan Hocking fact file
Name: Alan Hocking
Title: Fleet and supplies manager
Career: 1960-1974, Royal Navy, chief petty officer
1974-1978: Engineer for desalination company travelling worldwide 1978-1980: United Arab Emirates plant manager for construction company – included looking after vehicle fleet
1980-1988: Mat Fleet Services, haulage company, fleet manager
1988-present: Fleet manager, later fleet and supplies manager for Humberside Constabulary