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Ready to evolve

Date: 06 April 2018   |   Author: Sean Keywood

Fleet managers planning which fuels to use in the future should start by focusing on one or two changes, and could use some more clarity from the UK Government.

Those were a couple of the views  expressed at fleet training organisation ICFM's Annual Members' Conference.

The subject of the conference, held at the British Motor Museum, was 'Fuel for the Future: The Emissions Dilemma'.

Introducing the topic, ICFM director Peter Eldridge said, "I can't remember any time in the past 25 years of the ICFM that we have had challenges quite like this. The evolution of the fleet sector is becoming more rapid and complex.

"In 2018 and beyond, there is no single challenge, but a whole plethora of major issues that must be tackled."

Among the speakers was Dale Eynon, director of Defra's group fleet services for the Environment Agency. He talked about his efforts to increase electrification in his fleet, which has set a target of fully transitioning to petrol hybrid or pure electric vehicles by 2025.

He said, "I think we're at a really exciting time and feel we're at a tipping point.

"More hybrids and electric vehicles are coming onto the market and range is getting bigger. I think in three or four years, we'll be sat here wondering why we thought it would be so hard."

Eynon said a key aspect to electrification is winning over the "hearts and minds" of drivers, and making sure they have all the information available to be properly informed about electric vehicles.

When asked how fleet managers should go about selling change to their employers, Eynon advised keeping things simple.

He said, "I would say focus on one change to start with. Whether it's just, say, to increase the number of plug-in hybrids, just do one thing and then focus on what that might mean for your organisation. Think about the infrastructure, vehicle costs, vehicle choice.

"I think the danger is there's so much stuff out there that if you don't focus on one or two smaller things, it becomes almost an excuse not to do anything. Even if you only have a couple of ultra-low-emission vehicles on your fleet, just see how you get on with it."

Another speaker at the event was Paul Tate, commodity manager for Siemens, who said fleet professionals face a difficult environment in which to make sure they have the right vehicles to suit their requirements.

He said, "The government has set a target of reducing the carbon footprint by 2040, but how do we get there? 

"What is the right strategy for us, the fleet professionals, to be able to meet our operational obligations? Is it petrol? Is it diesel? Is it alternative fuels? 

"It doesn't make our jobs any easier when there's a lot of misguided comments in the industry. Policies are made based on inaccurate statements."

Highlighting how CO2 emissions from new cars rose in 2017, Eynon added, "People are making the wrong decisions and going for the wrong types of vehicle, so as fleet professionals we need to ensure we have the right tools for the job." 

When asked if government could be doing more to help, Eynon said it could.

"We need clear guidance from the government on what is the strategy," he said. 

"Somebody needs to step up to the plate and make a decision - something we can all hang our hat on and know where we're going in the future."

Eldridge said, "We all want to do the right thing, but it is a fact that the government position at the moment is far from clear. 

"It's not encouraging investment and it's not encouraging people to take long-term decisions."

ICFM now has more than 900 members, and 250 fleet professionals attended the conference.

Addressing them, chairman Paul Hollick said the organisation would be ready for whatever the future held.

Referencing how company car benefit-in-kind tax rates are due to rise for the next three financial years, and are yet to be announced beyond 2020-21, he said, "Is the government on a mission to tax the company car out of existence? I hope not, but, at the moment, I don't know.

"But the ICFM is incredibly well placed to support this changing climate - we will always adapt to ensure our members and students are the most equipped, most specialised and most informed from whatever area they come from."