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LOW CO2 CARS: Fleets spoilt for choice as CO2 opportunities continue to grow

Date: 14 June 2011

The rate of improvement in the quality and quantity of cars with increasingly low CO2 emissions is making it easier than ever for fleets to limit their choice lists without limiting drivers' choices. Paul Barker reports

This is the third time BusinessCar has looked at the massive variety of models offered by car manufacturers at the various crucial CO2 points for low-emission vehicles.

And there's been a huge change in the availability of models across the key emissions categories of sub-121g/km, sub-111g/km and sub-100g/km. It's not only an increase in the number of vehicles that's impressive, but the size, branding and variety of options has rocketed.

There are now 27 different manufacturers that have at least one model offering a sub-121g/km alternative, with only Land Rover, Jaguar and Subaru not competing from the 30 biggest-selling brands into the corporate market. Drop down to below 111g/km, the capital allowance point for 100% first-year write-down, and all bar Chevrolet, Saab, Honda and Mercedes can still offer something. Even below 100g/km, a segment that had not one fleet registration as recently as five years ago, 19 different manufacturers have at least one product on sale - only BMW, Kia, Mazda and Mercedes drop out of the list and at least two of those should remedy that in the next 12 months.

At the time of writing, the number of cars under 121g/km stood at 894, 195 up on 12 months ago, while the number under 111g/km went from 209 to its current 390. The lowest emissions point more than doubled its offering too, with 101 cars on sale with emissions of less that 100g/km, up from 48 in June May 2010, according to BusinessCar's tax-calculator provider Comcar.

Take your pick

So it's clear that there's a huge amount of choice these days, which is why BusinessCar has researched a variety of different qualities important to different users, offering an easy guide to which models can best fulfil certain tasks.

The first category we looked at was a straightforward pricing issue. At the three CO2 levels, we've chosen the top five models that will cost the least to buy outright (for those looking at the ultimate in cost-saving) and also listed the five most expensive models at each emissions point (proving that there's still plenty of quality on offer). Drivers at virtually all levels will find something suitable, and there are several models topping £30,000 on the lists, that include desirable models from Lexus, BMW, Audi, Volvo and Volkswagen.

Need for speed

Also proving that lowering CO2 doesn't necessarily have to be dull, we've found the five quickest accelerating cars to 60mph within each emissions boundary. Fleet drivers still want desirability and kudos, so this is a way of proving that these things can go hand-in-hand with lowering fuel consumption and emissions.

In the interest of seeing which manufacturer offers the widest choice, the next areas examined were the top 10 manufacturers in terms of the number of individual models on their price list below each emissions point, and then the number of variants that the models had on offer. Last year, Vauxhall topped the sub-121g/km chart with 67 variants, but this year the list leader is up over 100, and the top six this year would all have beaten Renault's 50 models in 2009. It's a similar story of change in the other emissions levels, with the table-topper at sub-111g/km needing 43 different entries on its price list against 2010's 26 from Toyota.

All these figures have come courtesy of BusinessCar's online tax calculator, the excellent Comcar system that can be found through the homepage. But it's not all scientific. You will also find BusinessCar's favourite five models on sale below each boundary. There's no rational process for selecting these - it's simply the ones that jump off the page as the most appealing for a variety of reasons.


As well as the desirability issues, practicality is also vital for what's essentially a business tool, so we've also looked into the five cars with the biggest boot, both with seats up and seats down. There are new entries at the top of five of the six categories across seats up and seats down boot volume, with big steps forward in terms of load-lugging on a tax-efficient Budget. Only the Citroen Nemo Multispace and Fiat Qubo stick around from those leading last year's boot space race.

As can be expected from the rise in the quantity of models available, fleet registrations of cars in the various bands have also shot up. From a grand total of zero fleet registrations in 2006 and just 15 in 2007, last year saw more than 20,000 cars registered to fleets with emissions below 100g/km, according to the SMMT, while the sub-121g/km category has gone from 27,837 to 152,464 in five years. Where in 2006, sub-121g/km cars accounted for 3.4% of fleet registrations, that's now risen to almost a quarter by the end of last year, according to the SMMT, and will certainly sail past the 25% mark in 2011.

The quality and quantity of low-emission cars is rising by the week, and there's no excuse for not taking advantage of more desirable and practical product as a means of lowering your fleet and your driver's bills.

The electric vehicle issue

We have deliberately ignored electric vehicles from the main elements of this feature because many of the issues surrounding acquisition, let alone operation, are still up in the air. But there's no doubting the money many manufacturers have poured into EV development, which means they have to be taken seriously.

The Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i-Miev, and the latter's spin-off Citroen C-zero and Peugeot Ion twins, are already on sale and making inroads, especially in the public sector, although maybe only as pool cars rather than actual company cars at the moment.

But with Renault and Ford among those launching full electric models in the near future, both cars and vans, and with plug-in hybrids that combine a petrol engine with a rechargeable battery due from Vauxhall, Chevrolet and Toyota next year, the popularity of EVs is sure to grow.

The Government has confirmed zero benefit-in-kind taxation for full electric vehicles until the end of the 2013 tax year as a way of encouraging EV take-up, while the plug-in electric models will be the first to take advantage of the 5% BIK banding for models emitting 75g/km or below.

For full electric vehicles, range and recharging facilities are still the main stumbling blocks preventing wider implementation, but electric models seem to be gaining a foothold amid massive manufacturer investment, so they should be here to stay, and in the right circumstances can make sense for businesses.

Coming to a dealer near you - forthcoming launches set to increase competition in the low-emission market still further

The pace of change in the motor industry is as rapid as ever, despite only recently emerging from a recession.

A 229% increase in the number of models available at under 121g/km is remarkable progress in the last three years, and a number of appealing manufacturers, including Saab, Lexus and Alfa Romeo have recently entered the low-emission marketplace.

It's the lower end of emissions that will see the most dramatic change, by the time we look again at low-emission model availability a year from now. The number of hybrid models on sale will swell significantly, with Peugeot's 3008, the Citroen DS5, Audi Q5 and Toyota Yaris and seven-Seat Prius+ hybrids all expected on sale in the next 12 months.

But traditional internal combustion engine technology is still making gains, and sub-100g/km alternatives of models including the Vauxhall Astra, Ford Focus, Nissan Micra and Hyundai i30 are all on their way, while Kia is hoping to get its new Rio supermini down as low as 85g/km. New models yet to be revealed that we can expect to offer excellent emissions include the next-generation BMW 1-series and Honda Civic.

Larger models are also getting cleaner quickly, and Mercedes is to bring a sub-120g/km E-class to market in 2012, which would set a new benchmark for the executive sector. The upper medium market will see more choice at below 120g/km, with the Vauxhall Insignia and new Hyundai i40 expected to be under that marker later this year, and the new Peugeot 508 should duck below the 111g/km capital allowance boundary in the next couple of months.

Other new models that will offer another eco alternative include the new VW Beetle, and Mazda's baby 4x4 CX-5, while the launch of the first plug-in hybrids will also provide still more options to fleets that are set up to take plug-in petrol-electric models.