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Fleets risk losing government backing unless they get more serious about low-carbon

Fleets risk losing government backing unless they get more serious about low-carbon

The refusal of many company car drivers to charge their plug-in hybrid vehicles should act as a wake-up call to business fleet operators, according to Paul Hollick, managing director of vehicle mileage and fuel management experts TMC.

The company provided the real-world fuel consumption data behind last weekend’s BBC News story that revealed many fleet plug-in hybrids burnt more fuel than diesels and some drivers never charged their cars at all.

However, the claims that thousands of company drivers of plug-in electric hybrid vehicles had never recharged their cars, or even taken the recharging cable out of the boot were rebutted by fleet management and car benefit specialist Fleet Evolution.

Based on its own experiences, the Tamworth-based business said that monitoring fuel and power usage on its fleet showed that well over 90% of drivers of ultra-low emission vehicles regularly recharged their cars and used them for the purposes they were intended.

Mr Hollick, who is also chairman of ICFM, the UK’s only independent not-for-profit organisation dedicated to furthering the education, recognising the achievements and advancing the profession of car and light commercial fleet management, said manufacturers and fleets risked losing valuable government support unless corporates acted to identify and curb drivers who abused tax breaks for low-carbon cars by neglecting to use their low-emission capabilities.

“The data we gave the BBC on 1,500 plug-in hybrids showed they averaged an actual MPG of 39.3 against an average manufacture-advertised mpg of 129.7,” said Mr Hollick.

Overall, the 2,432 plug-in hybrids and non-plug-in hybrids on TMC’s fuel and mileage database averaged 49.06 mpg on the road, which is about the same as the average for diesel cars on the database.

“Our data shows that although businesses may have the best intentions when it comes to adopting plug-in hybrids, they are not being used in the way manufacturers intended,” said Mr Hollick.

“They are either not being charged; or are allocated to drivers who do a lot of long journeys, or a combination of the two. As a result, they are expensive to run and release higher greenhouse gas emissions in the real world than they would if used properly.

“Businesses need to ensure they have a strategy when adopting plug-in hybrids, to make sure they are fit for purpose and that the necessary infrastructure is there. How are they going to be charged? At the office? At home? This needs to be nailed down before any electric vehicles are ordered. Plug in hybrids can be cost-effective when drivers cover moderate miles, but only if the cars’ batteries are recharged regularly.

“On the evidence of our sample, one has to question whether some PHEVs ever see a charging cable.

“It’s no secret that there are company drivers out there who choose a plug-in hybrid for the hefty company car benefit-in-kind tax break, then waste fuel by not bothering to use it properly.

“Effective management tools are readily available to allow companies to capture MPG data and address the behaviours of offending drivers. But many don’t use them.”

Mr Hollick said manufacturers and fleets risked losing out on government incentives for low-CO2 vehicles because fleet customers continued to drag their feet over implementing best practice around plug-in cars.

He said: “It is now in everyone’s interest for fleets to get to grips with plug-in vehicle policy and practice quickly. Not least because properly-managed plug-in hybrids are and will remain crucial to running cost-effective car fleets as the transition to full zero-emission transport accelerates. Indeed, plug-in hybrids are great stepping stone towards fully electric vehicles.”

However, Andrew Leech, managing director at Fleet Evolution, whose forward order banks from customers now comprise almost 50% of electric vehicles, said that in his experience the TMC view “simply wasn’t the case”.

Mr Leech said: “In our experience, there is a very good reason why the three-pin charging cable remains in the boot. We provide free home chargers to all our ultra-=low emission vehicle drivers so that they can charge at home. “They come with a fast charge cable, which the drivers pay for, so they can recharge at rapid charge points at service stations, car parks and supermarkets. That means they never need to use the standard cable that comes with their car.

“I have a Mitsubishi Outlander as my company car, and the cable is still in the wrapper in the boot. But I charge it very day.”

Mr Leech uses his car to commute to work every day - a 21-mile journey - which is all under electric power.

He said: “When I drive longer distances - and I do around 30,000 miles a year - once the electric range has been reached, the car switches to the petrol-powered engine. But, by driving sensibly, I achieve 45-50mpg of petrol power, which is what the car was intended to achieve.

“It’s a myth that these cars are simply gas-guzzlers. And, I would contend, that this is the experience of the overwhelming number of ultra-low emission vehicle company car drivers on our fleet.”

Mr Leech continued: “We believe driver education is very important and is the key to ensuring that drivers are using their cars correctly.”

They were also helped by a growing public recharging infrastructure that made it easier for drivers to find recharging points.

He added: “Recent figures show that 50% of drivers have access to the perfect charging infrastructure - a drive or garage at home. So that means many people can charge their cars without ever visiting a public charge point.

“However, for those that need to, there were 17,701 public charge points in the UK as at September 2018, a 27% increase in the last 12 months. And some 80% of motorway service stations now have rapid charge points available on forecourts for drivers to charge their vehicles in double quick time.”

Last month the government withdrew grants of up to £4,500 towards the purchase of plug-in vehicles from plug-in hybrids designed to cover less than 70 miles on electric power alone.