Fleets face tougher new rules on tailpipe emissions after London signalled changes to improve air quality standards in the capital.
In a move that also aims to boost the take up of electric vehicles, Isabel Dedring, the London Mayor’s environment advisor, has suggested that all new cars with emissions above 80g/km of CO2 could be liable for congestion charge zone fees from 2013.
She told delegates at a recent conference held by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) that the Mayor of London Boris Johnson is considering reducing the current 100g/km threshold to 80g/km for discount on the daily charge.
Currently, fleets have to pay £10 per vehicle per day (£9 if registered for Congestion Charging Auto Pay), but qualify for the Greener Vehicle Dicount (GVD) if a car emits 100g/km or less of CO2 and meets the Euro 5 standard for air quality. A fleet registers the vehicle with Transport for London (TfL) for the discount and pays £10 a year per vehicle.
Orginally, TfL allowed an Alternative Fuel Discount which gave alternatively fuelled vehicles, including LPG natural gas and petrol-electric hybrid vehicles, the right to travel into the capital for free.
However, in October, 2010, it admitted that some new vehicles that did not qualify for this discount had better environmental performance than those that did.
The anomaly, which had been highlighted by Volvo’s Emissions Equality campaign, was scrapped from December 24, 2010, and the existing rules were introduced.
However, an 80g/km limit from 2013 would result in a large number of sub-100g/km vehicles, currently popular with fleets, falling foul of the new rules, including the Toyota Prius, with emissions from 89g/km, and the 99g/km Volkswagen Golf Blue Motion.
In fact, there are only a handful of pure electric, plug in hybrids and range extended vehicles that would qualify. Industry estimates suggest that it currently equates to six vehicles, with a further 10 available from 2012.
A TfL spokesman said: “Over the course of the next 12 to 18 months it is anticipated that new electric and hybrid electric plug-in vehicles will be brought to market with significantly lower emission levels.
“TfL will monitor developments in the market and keep discount criteria under review, with the intention of reducing the discount levels to 80g/km or lower when the time is right. The review of exemption criteria will be carried out in 2012.”
However, even with a sub-100g/km limit there’s an issue for fleets, according to Danny Alborough, fleet manager at Gratte Brothers.
“Manufacturers are trying their best, but it’s still not easy for companies to operate an environmentally-friendly fleet,” he said.
Alborough runs a fleet of 200 vehicles in London, which includes 100 vans and a car fleet that mainly consists of Skoda Octavia estates with emissions of 119g/km.
“It is difficult enough to find a suitable vehicle to adhere to the sub-100g/km limit, but an 80g/km threshold would make it even harder to qualify for the discount,” said Alborough.
“There are some electric vans and cars available, but range remains an issue which rules it out as a realistic option for the vast majority of fleets.
“For example, the cars we run cost around £20,000 per vehicle, but the additional £10,000 for an EV, or even an extra £5,000 taking into account the Government’s subsidy, still does not make it viable for us.”
Dedring admitted that the pricing structure for EVs “is proving to be problematic”.
She added: “People simply do not have the cash to pay for them. We are looking to manufacturers to put together an affordable structure in place, so take up in electric vehicles can increase.”
Changes to the Low Emission Zone (LEZ)
For the first time from January 3, 2012, around 72,000 vans and minibuses will have to meet emissions standards in London.
Rules will also be tightened for around 75,000 heavy goods vehicles (HGVs), buses and coaches.
At the moment, HGVs, buses and coaches need to meet the Euro 3 standard for particulate matter (PM), but from next year that will be changed to Euro 4.
And, for the first time, vans and minibuses that do not meet the Euro 3 standard for PM will also be included.
They were originally due to be included in the LEZ from October 2010, however TfL decided to postpone the decision to give owners and operators of the estimated 75,000 non-compliant vehicles more time to make the necessary changes.
Vans registered after January 1, 2002, will meet the Euro 3 emissions standard, which effectively means fleets will not be caught up with the new threshold.
However, there is concern that this latest tightening of the rules may pave the way for further changes in the future.
Natalie Chapman, the Freight Transport Association’s head of policy for London, said: “There is talk that the LEZ will one day include NOx - Nitrogen Oxide - emissions, which has been identified by the Mayor as a more serious problem in London.
“It is unclear how this might be addressed as it would necessitate a national certification scheme.
“But whatever happens, the industry requires a good deal of notice, especially when there is not a lot of money available to invest in ‘greener’ engines at the moment.”