View from the experts: The road to zero
The government is mulling over plans to bring forward the end-date of new petrol and diesel vehicles to enable it to meet its 2050 net zero plans. But what needs to happen to achieve this and what challenges will this pose fleets? We ask Stuart Thomas from the AA and Dan Hawkes from Europcar Mobility Group UK for their views
The government has announced it is consulting on bringing forward the end to the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040 to 2035, or earlier if a faster transition appears feasible, as well as including hybrids for the first time.
This follows a report by the Committee on Climate Change which says that many of the government’s current plans for reaching its net zero carbon target by 2050 are insufficiently ambitious and others are proceeding too slowly, even for the current 80 per cent target. To put it bluntly, it says “2040 is too late for the phase-out of petrol and diesel cars and vans, and current plans for delivering this are too vague.”
Bringing the end date of new petrol and diesel car forward puts further pressure on the auto industry and organisations that operate vehicles.
“Clearly there is a big challenge ahead for organisations that need to keep their people and goods moving,” comments Dan Hawkes from Europcar Mobility Group UK.
“The industry reaction to the government’s latest announcement has been mixed with many manufacturers raising concerns over the accelerated timetable. There is unquestionably a lot that needs to be done to achieve the goal, not least of which improving the charging infrastructure.”
Getting people to buy electric vehicles will help the market mature and show that there is demand. But taking the plunge into what some see as a ‘risky’ technology takes support and encouragement.
“We need to offer more incentives to encourage fleets to take the next step towards zero-emission vehicles,” comments Stuart Thomas from the AA. “This could include scrapping the VAT on new EVs. Extending the plug-in grant for another three years in the Budget was a good move, however, we were disappointed that the grant was cut by £500 to £3,000. We should also be investing in building gigafactories in the UK to help improve battery supply, R&D to increase range, payloads and end of life recycling batteries.”
A flexible transport policy
The future vehicle landscape could look very different. But while things are still changing, looking at different ways of travelling could help side-step any challenges.
“The old model of long-term leasing or even outright acquisition could catch some businesses out, says Dan.
“Taking a ‘usership’ rather than ‘ownership’ approach to fleet management will, therefore, make more
and more sense. And solutions like Europcar Advantage, which provides brand new vehicles for a minimum of three months without having to make any longer-term commitment fits the bill very well.
“Indeed, in no small part prompted by the current vehicle supply delays caused by WLTP, we have seen a significant growth in uptake of Advantage, proving that it is meeting a very immediate and specific need in businesses and other organisations.”
Stuart agrees that a degree of flexibility is needed for fleets because first and foremost, vehicles have to be fit for purpose. He says: “Rather than car-makes necessarily increasing the number of EVs, fleets need more options of vehicles that are fit for purpose. For reasons of payload, range and cost, many of the zero-emission models currently on the market don’t yet meet fleet and business requirements. We can’t have organisations reliant on one or two manufacturers as it will lead to the bottlenecks in supply which we have already seen.
“As a country, the UK needs to focus on a more integrated transport policy that goes beyond just cars and vans. While the direction of travel for policy is clearly towards an electric future, we won’t solve everyone’s transport needs with electric cars and vans alone. Transition and alternative fuels, such as LPG, LNG, CNG and hydrogen, need to be supported when the circumstances are appropriate.”
Why hybrids too?
The government is also consulting on banning the sale of new hybrids for the first time, which has taken the industry by surprise. What is the argument against hybrids?
“Plug-in hybrids were put in place to help drivers transition to full EV adoption, providing the behavioural nudge to get us all used to plugging vehicles in,” explains Stuart. “However, with different types on the market – mild, self-charging and plug-in hybrids, the potential for confusion among consumers and businesses is significant. With a lack of driver knowledge and education, some of these hybrid vehicles have been used ineffectively, making them more expensive and less efficient.
“However, just because the education phase needs work doesn’t mean we should automatically label all hybrids as ‘bad’. The higher payload versus some of the zero emission vehicles currently available means hybrids may be better placed to help tackle climate change than the choice of keeping older, polluting vans on the road while waiting for zero emissions technology to catch up.”
The phase out
Regardless of when it happens, the phase out of petrol and diesel is in progress. But what does the transition look in real terms?
“We have consistently called for a phased plan which provides fleets and businesses with the incentives to switch to zero emissions vehicles,” says Stuart. “Had the Chancellor followed our calls to scrap the VAT on electric cars in the recent Budget, for example, it would have had an influential impact on drivers looking to change their car. We welcome, of course, the news of greater investment in infrastructure and the extension of the plug-in grant for another three years, but opportunities are being missed to truly engage businesses and fleets.”
Stuart continues: “If we want to see widescale adoption of zero emission alternatives, we need to provide fleet managers and businesses with a forward-looking roadmap that delivers clarity and plenty of carrots rather than sticks to make the change. To avoid unnecessary business disruption, organisations need genuine choice so they can pick the vehicles and powertrains which are fit for purpose for their individual needs, while integrated transport policies need to provide clarity about what is coming down the track.”
During the transition phase, fleets can benefit from looking at flexible travel solutions. Dan comments: “The next 12-15 years is going to see a steady transition by manufacturers. During that time it’s vital that fleet managers can stay on top of their business needs, balancing those with shifting availability of different vehicle types. And that calls for a real collaboration between fleet managers and their supply chain, whether that’s the manufacturers themselves, leasing companies or more holistic mobility providers like Europcar.
“Flexible solutions like Europcar Advantage will continue to give organisations access to the latest motoring technology – but without having to make long-term commitments. And that has to be good news, not just financially but in terms of environmental sustainability.”
The question about infrastructure
The Department for Transport has announced that government funding for the installation of chargepoints on residential streets next year will be doubled. This could fund up to another 3,600 chargepoints across the country, and make charging easier for those without an off-street parking space.
Increasing the amount of charge points will improve the charging infrastructure to an extent, but what other limitations does it have?
“Alongside more charging points, we also need a mixture of charging speeds, ease of payment, the potential to book a charging point in advance and so on,” comments Stuart. “The recent Budget announcement recognising the need for further investment in rapid charging points is welcome, but conversations need to take place to resolve the issue of drivers who don’t have dedicated off-street parking, particularly as more organisations require employees to take their work vehicles home.
“Maintenance and off-road parking are both major factors which need to be resolved,” Stuart continues. “There are lots of open questions around Induction Charging; can it be embedded into the UK streets? What about vandalism? Can we align this with adequate street lighting and safety for drivers? One of the main issues around on-street charging is the requirement to get power from substation to pavement. The conversation between regional electric companies, local authorities and infrastructure providers needs to happen quickly.”
Stuart adds: “We need clear policy, to harness the latest technologies, and take note from other countries who have started on this path already, including Holland which is well ahead of the UK on this. The UK needs to invest: Build it and they will come.”
A chance to test the vehicles
Giving vehicle users the confidence that they will be able to get where they need to be in an EV is a challenge that has to be addressed.
Europcar Mobility Group UK believes that giving fleet managers the ability to ‘test’ how electric works in real-world conditions is a vital step in addressing that challenge.
Dan explains: “We are working with a number of different manufacturer partners and vehicle users to put electric to the test. For example, we have recently joined forces with Mercedes-Benz Vans to give several businesses that use vans as an integral part of their operating model the opportunity to trial the Mercedes-Benz eVito panel van to help them understand the types of journeys and user applications that are best suited to electric motoring.”
Geotab telematics units including purpose-built EV reporting and Sure-Cam in-car dash cam technology have been integrated into the vehicles to ensure Europcar, Mercedes-Benz and the eVito users can gain the best possible insight from the trials.
Dan continues: “Many businesses are eager to adopt the most sustainable fleet solutions but still need to understand how these will work for their operational models and by offering this simple ‘test drive’ facility, in partnership with Mercedes-Benz, we are enabling businesses to try out an electric van on a day to day basis to see if it will work for them.
“In the longer term, we believe renting electric will prove a massive benefit to businesses that are working in low emissions zones on a short term basis, or simply want to temporarily integrate an electric van into their existing fleet for ‘on demand’ environmentally friendly motoring. The learnings from the trials will, therefore, help us shape our electric van rental solutions for the future, as well as provide Mercedes-Benz with valuable customer feedback.”