The Government remains committed to pumping money into environmental initiatives, including – for now – the various bodies set up to deliver a greener future in the automotive sector.
Among fleets there is an element of confusion over the role played by the three main organisations: Energy Saving Trust (EST), Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) and the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership (LowCVP).
Are they in competition, do they cover the same ground, are they Government quangos?
The three often work closely together on projects of mutual interest, but while EST is tasked with driving down emissions by encouraging companies to buy greener cars and their staff to drive more efficiently and OLEV is concerned with encouraging the development and uptake of ultra low carbon vehicles, LowCVP has the broadest remit.
Set up in 2003, its objective is to accelerate the shift to both low carbon vehicles and low carbon fuels.
It does this via three lines of attack (see panel) and its successes to date have arguably been vastly underplayed.
The car labelling scheme, which gives every new car an efficiency rating using a chart similar to white label goods like fridges, is one of LowCVP’s initiatives.
Present in 94% of franchised dealers, it gives fleets and consumers clarity over every new car’s environmental credentials based on CO2 emissions and fuel consumption.
Related to this, LowCVP also developed a best practice guide in conjunction with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders on how carmakers can advertise their green credentials. It followed a series of rulings by the Advertising Standards Authority on false claims being made, particularly on eco brands.
Greg Archer, LowCVP director, says carmakers were making assumptions in their calculations that created an unduly positive impression.
He cites the example of a ‘best in class’ claim that actually meant ‘best diesel automatic small family car’ and another of a manufacturer using urban fuel cycles and assuming annual mileage of 18,000 to declare major savings.
“It’s misleading and not a legitimate claim to make,” Archer says.
“The public has to trust what is being said otherwise the low carbon sector will be undermined.”
The renewable transport fuels obligation, the wordy description for measuring the sustainability of biofuels, is another of LowCVP’s successes.
It traces feedstock through the system to inform fleets about just how green every source of biofuel really is.
The groundbreaking initiative is now being used as a template for European legislation and has blown wide open the debate about the use of biofuels as an legitimate alternative source of fuel.
Archer says: “In one or two countries, like the UK, the driver for biofuels is the environment. In many European countries, the driving force is supporting agriculture.”
LowCVP’s analysis shows that the way biofuel is produced has a profound impact how much CO2 is produced and how sustainable it is in the long term.
“It is pushing the industry into sustainable development of biofuels for the long term – that’s where we have influenced the debate,” Archer adds.
Critics have questioned whether Government money is being wisely invested in propping up so many eco organisations at a time of immense national debt.
And they argue that the LowCVP’s mission statement is a little woolly: what is ‘low carbon’, they ask.
Archer concedes that the Government is the major source of funding, but he points to the LowCVP’s multi-stakeholder partnership as an example of its uniqueness and importance.
Manufacturers, fleets, retailers, fuel suppliers and academics each have representation and undertake the majority of the projects via working groups and
“We leverage £1 million of industry time supporting our activities compared to the £700,000 of public money we receive,” Archer says.
“We have a track record that shows we deliver value for money. As a result of our work, we have saved three-quarters of a million tonnes of CO2.”
As to the debate about what constitutes low carbon, he says: “It is the most fuel efficient you can get for whatever type of vehicle you have to purchase.”
LowCVP encourages fleets to buy best in class – for headline grabbing reasons.
“There is a 30% difference in fuel efficiency between the best supermini and the worst,” Archer says.
“That’s a huge opportunity to save money and cut emissions just by choosing the most efficient vehicles.”
LowCVP takes an apolitical line on alternative fuels.
Each, it believes, has a role to play in an environmentally-focused future – Archer refuses to be drawn on which options will be dominant in the future.
“We suggest a portfolio of technologies,” he says.
“Our role is to ensure that as different fuels evolve to occupy different market niches, each niche has a lower carbon option that people are encouraged to take up.
“We will also ensure that fuels are compared on a like-for-like basis and that carbon savings can be illustrated on a proper lifecycle basis.”
The organisation’s focus this year is to look ahead to 2020 to understand the metrics required to compare environmental performance.
Tailpipe emissions will become irrelevant due to the rise in electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, while biodiesel is more about the performance of the fuel than the car.
The shift towards electric will change the dynamics in how emissions are calculated over the lifecycle of the vehicle. Half will come from production; today, 85% is from usage, 10% from production and 5% from disposal.
“We will have to have a lifecycle method of measuring carbon,” says Archer.
This will help fleets choose the right vehicles and help Government in deciding the incentives to give each type of fuel.
He adds: “Government can’t just pick winners; they have to develop objective measurements to tax the vehicle and fuel on its performance overall.
“They have to create a level playing field for tax and incentives so each vehicle can compete fairly on its own environmental credentials.”
LowCVP’s objective is to accelerate the shift to low carbon vehicles and fuels.
It has laid out three ways to achieve this goal:
- Develop its own practical initiatives, such as the car labelling scheme (right) in franchised dealers. The scheme is present in 94% of dealers and has now been extended to nearly new retailers, with 2,000 registered so far.
- Work with the Government on the design of policy and regulations, for example the sustainability of biofuels. Low CVP has also researched load impact on vans. It burst an industry myth that it is more fuel efficient to run a half full large van than it is a full small van. CO2 rises by around 4g/km if a van is half full – even more on urban journeys. A report has been prepared for DfT and should be published soon.
- Educate and inform the community, via conferences, webinars, website and newsletters, ensuring that new evidence is made available as soon as it is out.
A strategy for success
LowCVP has developed a new strategy for 2010 focusing on six key areas:
- Incentivising and informing lower carbon car choice – information and incentives
- Building the market for low carbon trucks and buses
- Tackling barriers to lower carbon fuels
- Facilitating the creation of a successful UK supply chain for vehicles and fuels
- Building consensus and understanding on milestones for de-carbonising transport, i.e. targets and metrics
- Enhancing stakeholder knowledge and understanding to increase their engagement