We hear a lot nowadays about the need for van fleet operators to help improve their environmental credentials and cut down on noxious emissions from their vehicles. One of the ways of doing this is to choose vans which use alternative fuels instead of traditional diesel.
That's all well and good, but any moves towards a greener fleet must also be balanced by financial considerations. At the end of the day, UK plc relies heavily on vans for deliveries of all sorts of goods. And it's no use investing heavily in greener methods of transport if the cost is so great that the company ends up going down the pan because of it.
Don't get us wrong, we are strong supporters of green transport here at VansA2Z, but we also want to help operators run cost-effective fleets too. Rushing into an alternative fuel policy and getting the balance wrong can be a costly mistake; be warned!
So without further ado, let's introduce our top 10 tips for helping you step safely through the alternative fuel minefield.
1 Avoid sentimentality At the end of the day fleet operators are business managers who have a duty to protect the firm's bottom line as well as the environment, so any dewy-eyed ideas about saving the planet should be set firmly aside. Opting for greener-fuelled vehicles must be made within the context of the amount of money that your firm has to spend.
2 Be wary of figures The current official fuel economy figures for vans are obtained by running the vehicles on a rolling road in a shed, so in real life you don't stand a hope in hell of achieving them. For example, a high roof van and low roof van will have the same figure under this method, whereas plainly once you get out on the road with a stiff wind against you, the hi-roofer will fare worse than its smaller brother.
Also the vans are tested empty so once you get a couple of tonnes of cargo on board and a few steep hills to climb, the official stats go right out of the window.
It's the same with electric vans. The manufacturers will have you believe that a van will travel up to 100 miles on a full charge, but our experience is that this figure is well above the real-life one. And don't forget that if you run out of electricity, you can't just tootle off to the garage with a can and get some more. Your van and its contents will be stranded on the side of the road, with all the problems that entails.
3 Hype is hype, don't forget that! Unless you live under a stone, or maybe in Afghanistan, you will be aware that the Government — and indeed certain van manufacturers — are extolling the virtues of electric vans. There are grants to buy them, more and more points available to charge them and various tax incentives to boot, along with free drives into the London Congestion Charging zone.
But sadly, the truth is that they are unsuitable for many fleets. A few city delivery firms might find them very cost-effective and emissions free, but if your business involves thrashing up and down the M6 every day then forget it.
The other problem with electric vehicles is that most of them are small; the Renault Kangoo ZE and Nissan eNV200, for example. About the only manufacturer to offer a 3.5-tonner off the shelf is Iveco and you'll have to cough up around £65,000 for an electric Daily; around three times the price of a diesel variant. Ouch!
4 Take a wider view So far we've had a lot to say about what not to do. But, we hear you ask, what should we do then if we want to green-up our fleets with alternatively fuelled vans?
Let's say first and foremost that here at VansA2Z, we simply don't believe electric vans will provide a credible mainstream alternative and won't be taken up by van fleets in any great number. But we've looked at other alternative fuels too and we like what we see...
5 CNG is a gas and it's ultra-clean too You can't buy compressed natural gas at the pumps in the UK so it would be safe to assume it's a non-starter for fleets. But if you thought that, you'd be wrong. It's one of the cleanest fuels, coming largely from the gases emitted naturally from rubbish tips, and a number of firms will install a pump at your premises.
Meanwhile both the Iveco Daily and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter are offered in CNG variants so you can buy off-the-shelf warranted products without having to worry about getting them converted yourself.
6 LPG is still alive and kicking Despite having virtually disappeared from the world of LCVs a while back, liquid petroleum gas is still with us. Firms like Autogas will convert any petrol van for a cost of around £1,500 and with running costs at 10p per mile as opposed to 17p for diesel — with CO2 down 17 per cent and NOx down 20 per cent plus no particulate emissions — it makes a powerful case for itself. We reckon payback starts coming after 20,000 miles. After 80,000 miles a van running on LPG will save £2,800 in fuel over a diesel.
7 Petrol makes a comeback You can't buy a 3.5-tonner with a petrol engine at present, but Ford is leading the march back to petrol with its natty 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine which is now available in its smaller vans. Petrol avoids the nasty particulates that come from diesel fuel and if you don't do high mileages, the vans and the petrol to power them are cheaper to buy than diesel variants. It's only at high mileages that diesel becomes the cheaper option.
8 Don't forget those residual values Anyone who runs their vehicles by using wholelife costs — as they should do — will know the importance of residual values; ie what you get for your vans when you come to sell them. And sadly this is where most alternatively fuelled vans fall down as currently it appears that second users don't trust them and turn instead to the safer option of diesel. Electric vans particularly seem to be doing badly at selling time and LPG isn't much better. This must be factored into your decision about which green fuel to choose.
9 Beware the green meanies Don't be rushed into making hasty decisions because you think you ought to do something quickly. On many occasions small groups of very vociferous people lead us to believe that what they say is what the majority of people in the country think; but this is very rarely the case.
Those people who would like to ban commercial vehicles from city centres would be the first to complain if there was no milk for their macrobiotic cereals in the morning. Any decision you make about alternative fuels should be made in the cold light of day and only after some serious investigations into cost and other implications.
10 Employ the carrot and stick We interviewed the head honcho at a telematics company a few years back and he reckoned that all the Euro 6 emissions standards, alternative fuels, green credentials etc, were something of a smokescreen and that all these environmental problems could be solved in a trice if all vans were fitted with telematics systems to stop drivers yahooing about wasting fuel.
And we reckon he could be right there. However much you try and cut down on emissions, it all boils down to how heavy your drivers' right feet are when they get out of the yard.
Stick a speed limiter and a black box in the cab to cut down on driver abuse and you'll probably improve your green credentials as much as by paying a fortune for 'greener' vans that might not even be capable of carrying out the tasks you need them to accomplish.