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Plug-in hybrids must be charged, fleets warned

Date: 26 January 2018   |   Author: Sean Keywood

Having the right car for the right driver is a key consideration for fleets looking to go electric, with costs potentially increasing if drivers move into plug-in hybrids for the wrong reasons.

That's the view of experts who attended a summit on 'Preparing for your electric vehicle future'. The summit was held by Go Ultra Low, a joint motor industry and Government campaign that encourages drivers to consider plug-in vehicles,

At the summit, Energy Saving Trust fleet advice manager Ian Featherstone said that while big savings are possible if plug-in hybrids are used properly, companies must ensure the vehicles are being charged regularly, not just run off the petrol engine. 

He said, "You need to understand the vehicle use patterns, particularly if you are looking at using a plug-in hybrid, and make sure that drivers who may wish to use one of those vehicles are willing and able to plug them in."

Delegates heard user-chooser drivers were being tempted to pick plug-in hybrids because of low BIK tax rates, but risked racking up big fuel bills if the vehicles were just run on petrol all the time.

"You need to make sure that your company policy actually states that drivers should have these vehicles only if they can charge them up and they are willing to do so," Featherstone added. "It's the right vehicle for the right driver for the right job."

Graham Kerr advises charities and corporations on electric vehicles for SG Fleet. He said, "A lot of fleet operators need to understand that the right blend could be diesel, could be petrol, could be hybrid, could be electric - and a lot of them just appear to be backed into one corner or another. 

"A lot of operators are talked into hybrids that are ideal for an individual driver, but for companies, a lot of them are haemorrhaging money now in terms of the use. We were all driven down a green route and an electric route, but I think we need a more collaborative approach in saying it's not  black or white, there is a grey area. It will apply to some, it won't apply to others."

Natasha Robinson, head of the Government's Office for Low Emission Vehicles, said, "A plug-in hybrid vehicle that's being driven as a petrol engine is not the best of either world, because you've got a petrol engine and you're also carting round a battery."

When asked if BIK bands for high-mileage drivers could be reconsidered, to encourage them to stay in more suitable vehicles, Robinson said taxation was a matter for the chancellor of the exchequer. She added that the Government was wary of introducing too much complexity into the tax system, although it was aware of the issues. 

Tom Callow, director of communication and strategy at Chargemaster, said companies should be able to easily spot if there was a problem.

He said, "For companies, if fuel costs go up, then they will notice that, and you'd assume that the company would have its own policies to say that's unacceptable and do something about it."

Demonstrating that plug-ins did make sense if they were used properly, Featherstone said that, over three years and 45,000 miles, there could be a £1,900 saving for a plug-in hybrid run on electric power 75% of the time, compared with an internal combustion engine. There could also be a £720 saving if electric power was used 25% of the time.

The summit also saw research released by Go Ultra Low that suggested businesses could save £1,440 annually with just one electric vehicle. Whole-life cost figures from Lex Autolease showed that the higher initial cost could be more than offset by significant fuel savings, tax benefits and a potential 70% reduction in service, maintenance and repair costs.