Can eco-friendly LPG cars succeed?

Lack of government support and a paucity of infrastructure investment from fuel firms is dashing the hopes of eco-friendly LPG vehicle users, says Nick Golding

If you read nothing else, read this …

  • LPG has not taken off in the popularity stakes due to limited backing by the government, manufacturers and fuel companies.
  • BP provides LPG facilities on just 160 of its 1,208 forecourts in the UK.
  • Providers are concerned that the government may withdraw tax savings on fuel costs for environmentally-friendly cars once more of these types of vehicles are on the road.

When tax breaks were introduced for drivers of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cars in March 2000, their popularity as a greener alternative for company fleets was set to increase significantly. Seven years on, however, this expected growth in the market has failed to materialise due to limited backing from both the government and manufacturers.

This hasn’t been helped by the failure of fuel companies to provide facilities for LPG drivers to refuel. BP, for example, offers such facilities on just 160 of its 1,208 forecourts in the UK.

Dean Woodward, contract services manager at DaimlerChrysler, says: “It’s a chicken and egg situation for LPG really. There are not enough vehicles on the road, so there is not enough infrastructure at the fuelling stations, which results in not enough buyer interest in the cars.”

Jim Salkeld, managing director at fleet provider Toomey Opticar, agrees: “LPG never really happened through a lack of consistent government support, and the natural reluctance of buyers to make a long-term commitment to something that may not be around in three or four years.”

However, the hybrid vehicle is emerging as a potential long-term solution for employers that wish to provide a greener fleet, along with the lesser-developed bio-ethanol vehicle and the electric car.

Manufacturers of hybrid vehicles, which have a half-battery, half-petrol engine, claim these are up to 90% cleaner than a full petrol engine. These are currently being produced by manufacturers such as Honda, Lexus, Saab and Toyota.

Yet hybrid vehicles are not being built for the mass fleet market, as popular company car models such as the Vauxhall Vectra or Ford Mondeo have yet to be adapted in the UK. “What these manufacturers are not doing is putting the technology into the mainstream,” explains Woodward who makes the point that even Lexus’ hybrid RX400 is a 4×4.

Bucking the trend
Gateshead Council is one employer which has, however, attempted to make its 340-strong fleet greener by including electric, LPG and bio-diesel vehicles. Brian Barnes, transport manager at the Council, believes it is up to fleet managers to put faith in the new technology available. “I can see the concerns, but by going out and buying these cars, organisations are providing support to the market and, in our experience, we have had few problems,” he explains.

Another concern for some fleet managers is where the lucrative tax savings will go as increasing numbers of employers switch to more environmentally-friendly cars.

Currently, drivers of hybrid, LPG or other green cars are are eligible for tax savings on fuel costs, however, many in the industry expect that these may well be removed once more drivers have switched to eco-friendly cars. Drivers are also exempt from the £8 per day London congestion charge, a tax which is likely to be imposed by other UK cities,”As manufacturers continue to adopt low to zero-emission technologies, CO2 levels in company cars will no longer be an issue for the government. It will have to find some other means of taxing company cars instead,” explains Salkeld.