Trying to make light of developments such as recent cash crises at the Energy Saving Trust – which provides conversion grants for fleet operators – and Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown's Budget announcement that duty levels on the green fuel would steadily rise from now on, the LP Gas Association was promoting the fact that LPG is still much cheaper than petrol or diesel.
This year's event at the Royal Agricultural Showground at Stoneleigh, Warwickshire – the latest in a series of bi-annual shows held for the LP Gas trade since 1976 – saw a number of new developments and a good deal of enthusiasm for the future despite the recent knocks.
LP Gas 2004 saw some 800 visitors from the trade, both in the UK and Europe, attend.
It was supported by all the leading LP Gas suppliers such as British Gas, Shell, Calor Gas and Flogas.
Andrew Ford, chairman of the association's Autogas/LPG development group, told Fleet News: 'I was pleasantly surprised to see so many innovations and a general feeling of confidence in Autogas.
'During the consultation period last year, when the Government seemed to be wavering over future support for cleaner fuels, it was a difficult time and things were at a really low ebb. Now there's a new feeling of confidence.
'Evidence of that is all around us. The industry is producing new engine management systems to make engines run smoother and give even better environmental performance on LPG.'
Developments being shown included an LPG-powered smart car, and a forecourt pump which can dispense petrol or diesel and LPG at a single location, saving drivers of bi-fuel vehicles having to move to another pump.
Ford added: 'We've told the Government we can do it and it's great to see people starting to deliver on those promises. This group is much more market focused than ever.
'Traditionally, this event has always been held more for the industry itself than for fleet operators. But there have been far more converters here than for many years. It's still early days following the Budget, but we're up and running and starting to build confidence outside and within. To do that you need a confident industry – and I think we're getting there.'
Ford was encouraged to see the number of visitors from the LPG industry in Europe.
He added: 'The fact that we've had representatives from equipment manufacturers around Europe here is very encouraging and shows confidence in Autogas.
'When the consultation process was under way it would have been understandable to see loss of confidence, but to see them here in force is really heartening.'
LPG smart claims to be cleanest car on the road
Conversion specialist Nicholson McLaren has created a smart car that can run on LPG and has been labelled the cleanest car on the road.
John Waghorn, alternative fuels manager at the company – a division of the McLaren racing and sports car company – said: 'The smart and the system fitted to it are being shown for the first time.
'This will be the first liquefied petroleum gas injection system on the market, marking a new ultra-efficient direction for LPG.
'We've got a lot of patents on the design, though we do expect other manufacturers to follow in our footsteps with injection, as it's far more efficient.'
As to exactly how much more efficient, Waghorn was unable to say, as it's still early days.
He said: 'I can't say yet until we've done more tests. Our next stage is to get Band 4 PowerShift grant approval, which is the maximum that is available. However because of the characteristics of the engine, we expect it to be about 15% more efficient in terms of fuel consumption.'
The car will be on the market this month.
Andrew Ford, chairman of the LP Gas Association, said: 'I think this smart will be the cleanest car on the road and that includes hybrids.
'As soon as you refuel any petrol car, you shove 60 litres of petrol vapour into the atmosphere. Millions of litres of petrol fumes are released in this way, which is avoided when you drive on LPG, because of the way cars are refueled.
'As a car being marketed to the fleet sector, I think it'll be a winner. Congestion charging in London is very important as a way of reducing not just traffic flows, but also pollution.
'On hot days such as those we've had recently, Londoners are worried about the increased levels of pollution.'
A recent article in the London Evening Standard suggested residents could have 10 years knocked off their lives due to pollution.
He added: 'For fleets wishing to avoid congestion charges, these are perfect delivery and errand vehicles, and could well be bought by executives as well.
'The injection engine has been under development for 18 months,' said Waghorn.
'We've done it all ourselves on a car which belongs to the wife of one of our employees. It was finished just before the show. It'll be used for more testing before we give it back – with her approval of course!'
No price has been set so far. The Nicholson McLaren Smart is a true dual-fuel vehicle with the original tank still in place. Drivers start it on petrol and it switches over automatically after 55 seconds. If it runs out of gas it goes back to petrol.
'We're very interested in fleet sales in London and anywhere else where they are thinking about adopting congestion charging. We hear that the city of Edinburgh may well be next.'
Combination pumps will bring greater convenience
A COMBINED re-fuelling pump capable of dispensing both petrol or diesel and LPG has been revealed.
Pumptronics Europe believes the pump is much more convenient because drivers of dual-fuel cars will not have to move between pumps to fill up both tanks.
The DFR (Dual Fuel Retail) pump has already received a positive reaction.
Sales manager Charles Marshall said: 'Two oil companies have taken a great interest, as allowing drivers to fill up at one point means they won't have to keep shifting around at garages, and will be able to get petrol or diesel and LPG from a single point. At the moment the oil companies seem more interested in truck refuelling than facilities for car drivers.
'Another potential problem is that companies such as Shell have separate divisions for petrol and Autogas.
'However we're confident that the added convenience could boost the take up and sales of LPG by making a more compact and reliable single pump available.'
Pumptronics has one of its pumps installed in Hull in a Shell gas-supplied truck site.
He added: 'The operator there is reaping the benefits of quite large fuel savings. With diesel vehicles you blend up to 30% LPG with the diesel before the common rail accumulator stage in the engine.
'He gets huge extra mileage, better than 10%. If you make that kind of saving on a several million pound annual spend on fuel, that's a lot of money saved.'