Manufacturers are working overtime to increase the range of green cars available, says Ashley Martin
Company fleets are increasing the use of green cars, with business travel proving the most welcoming arena for take-up of new, more efficient models and alternative technologies.
Many manufacturers are racing to bring out new low-emission petrol and diesel models as well as alternatively-fuelled cars as they face up to legislators’ demands for countries worldwide to adopt a low-carbon economy.
European Union lawmakers have already set strict pan-European targets for average new car emissions from each manufacturer to be 130g per km of CO2 by 2015. Last year, average UK new car emissions were 158g/km, down from 164.9g/km at the end of 2007, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
A combination of the seemingly daily launches of low-emission models from all manufacturers and the fact that all motoring-related taxes in the UK are now linked to CO2 emissions means company car drivers are taking the wheel of ever-cleaner models.
Vehicle leasing and fleet management company Masterlease, which operates more than 71,000 company cars, has reported a significant shift in fleets switching to lower-emission cars – from vehicles averaging 162.4g/km of CO2 in January 2007 to 154g/km today.
ALD Automotive, which operates 50,000 vehicles, and LeasePlan, which has 130,000, have published similar figures. In the first six months of this year, the average CO2 figure for company cars added to ALD’s fleet was 146.2g/km (down from 168g/km in 2004), while LeasePlan says average emissions for new cars added to its fleet have fallen from 168g/km in 2005 to less than 150g/km this year.
David Yates, marketing director at ALD, says: “As the current generation of three- and four-year-old company cars are gradually replaced over coming months, the continuing shift away from models above 160g/km will accelerate. This trend will increase as manufacturers launch more low-emission models.”
With UK company car benefit-in-kind tax, vehicle excise duty and corporation taxes all now linked to CO2 emissions, employers and drivers can save significant sums by choosing low-emission cars, while demonstrating sound corporate social responsibility credentials by cutting their carbon footprint.
Manufacturers are using a range of technological innovations to drive down emission levels without any loss of vehicle performance. In fact, they are extracting greater performance from smaller engines.
Drivers are also becoming aware of the need for more environmentally-friendly cars. David Brennan, managing director of LeasePlan, says: “Doing business in today’s carbon-conscious environment means adopting methods that take drivers’ views into account. There is no doubt driver concern over CO2 levels will increase over time.”
In petrol and diesel cars, various developments are contributing to significant CO2 savings. These include lightweight materials, improved aerodynamics, better engine management systems, direct fuel injection, more efficient transmissions, regenerative braking technology, stop-start technology, and driver information devices such as dashboard gearchange indicators.
Many manufacturers are highlighting their emission-busting cars by branding the technology. For example, BMW’s EfficientDynamics technology, used in many of its models, has contributed to the launch of the 316d ES saloon, which emits 118g/km and has a fuel economy of 62.8mpg, making it the most fuel-efficient and cleanest in BMW’s 3 Series.
Meanwhile, Mercedes-Benz is gradually introducing BlueEfficiency technology to its models, which it claims is its solution for minimising company car operating costs.
Other manufacturers are also introducing special branding to identify their low-emission cars, typically sub 140g/km. For example, Ford brands its low-emission diesel models as Econetic and will next year introduce Ecoboost for petrol cars. Vauxhall uses ecoFlex, Renault eco2, Peugeot has Blue Lion and Volkswagen offers BlueMotion. But low-emission technology does not restrict choice to city cars or superminis. Ford, for example, has introduced the 2.0 litre turbo diesel Mondeo Econetic which, with CO2 emissions of 139g/km and an average of 54.3mpg, is billed as the “cleanest, greenest Mondeo ever”.
Ford claims to have almost 200 models with emissions below 160g/km. This figure has become critically important in the fleet sector because it is the benchmark figure set for businesses to obtain corporation tax relief on mainstream company cars. Ford’s chief rival, Vauxhall, claims to have more than 350 models with emissions below this mark.
The government’s car fuel consumption and exhaust emissions database reveals there are currently about 75 petrol and diesel cars on sale in the UK with a sub-110g/km CO2 figure. Most are small cars and will soon include Peugeot’s 207 Economique, which emits 99g/km and will go on sale in October. The list also includes Volvo’s C30, S40 and V50 1.6 diesel Drive models (104g/km).
The S40 was recently named Green Car of the Year by What Car? magazine. Its emissions-busting technology will be rolled out to other Volvo models in the future. The manufacturer’s regional president of Europe, Stuart Kerr, says: “The recent launch of the Drive range enables Volvo to offer mid-sized cars with the same fuel consumption and CO2 emissions as competitors’ small cars.”
While engineers work around-the-clock to reduce emissions and improve the performance of petrol and diesel cars, they are also developing other technologies in a bid to meet legislators’ emissions targets.
Honda, Lexus and Toyota already have hybrid petrol-electric models on sale in the UK, but other car makers are developing plug-in electric hybrids – Volvo promises such cars by 2012 – and pure electric vehicles. The choice of hybrids for company car drivers is also gradually increasing, with the all-new 1.8-litre Toyota Prius billed as the “world’s cleanest family car” with CO2 emissions of 89g/km.
In the second half of 2010, Toyota will expand its hybrid range when a version of its Auris model rolls off the production line. A company spokesman says: “This is the first step in deploying hybrid technology across Toyota’s model line-up. The obvious advantages are exceptional fuel-efficiency and low CO2 emissions.”
Toyota’s sister company, Lexus, has had three executive hybrid cars on sale for the past two years, including the GS 450h and LS 600h limousine models. Its 4×4 RX 400h has recently been replaced by the 295bhp RX 450h, offering a 28% improvement in fuel consumption (44.8mpg) and CO2 emissions of 148g/km.
Honda has expanded its hybrid range with the 1.3-litre Insight (101g/km), which joins the hybrid Civic in showrooms. Honda will increase its range with the likely 2010 UK arrival of the CR-Zsports hybrid coup» and a hybrid version of the Jazz supermini within a couple of years.
But for some manufacturers, such as PSA Peugeot Citroen and the Renault-Nissan Alliance, electric vehicles are the future. Both have nailed their colours firmly to that mast for several years and their faith has been rewarded, with the UK government seemingly also deciding that electric cars and plug-in electric hybrids are the foundations for a long-term low-carbon economy.
Although manufacturers have been developing electric vehicles for many years, the race to bring models to UK showrooms has been triggered by the availability of £25 million of government funding to run eight ‘real life’ low-carbon vehicle trials. The plan is for about 340 vehicles to begin trials on UK roads in the next six to 18 months. Manufacturers involved include Jaguar Land Rover, Mitsubishi/Colt, Mercedes-Benz/Smart, Nissan, Ford, Mini and Toyota.
In a bid to boost the sales of such vehicles, from 2011 the government plans to offer incentives of up £5,000 off the list price of zero-emission electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids with emissions below 75g/km.
From 2011/12, the models slated for launch and therefore available for company car selection will include: the Nissan Leaf, which, with a range of 100 miles, will be the first of a range of Nissan electric cars; an electric version of Renault’s Kangoo Express, plus a city car in 2011 and a compact hatch in 2012; and hybrid diesel/electric versions of the Peugeot 3008 and Citroen DS5.
Other forthcoming models in this category include the five-door, four-seat electric Vauxhall Ampera, a Ford Focus electric model, an electric Mini, the Mitsubishi i MiEV city car, plug-in electric/diesel hybrids from Volvo, a hybrid Jaguar XJ and a green Range Rover.
Smart, meanwhile, has had 100 two-seater electric cars on trial with UK fleets since 2007. A second trial will begin in 2010, with the model due for large-scale production in 2012.
With such activity, employers seeking greener fleet cars will soon have a much wider choice to help cut CO2 emissions.
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