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INSIDER: Runaway prices make fleet managers step on the gas

Date: 15 September 2008

The Insider is a fleet manager with years of invaluable experience

Stories of fleets taking advantage of the huge gulf between petrol and LPG prices are intriguing.

Fleet managers are once more mentioning a fuel we'd all thought had pretty much died a death.

I'm talking about LPG of course, whose half-price charms have blossomed again now that petrol and diesel are eating so voraciously into the business budget.

It's not exactly mainstream, but I am hearing about fleets choosing the 2.3-litre petrol versions of Transits to convert over to the fuel. Makes some sense too. Half of £1.15 a litre saves that much more than half of 78p, so it's less of a problem there's no Powershift grant to slash the cost of the conversion. Sure, there are no factory Vauxhall or Ford versions this time around, but the cowboy convertors should have been weeded out by now.

There's another good reasons for choosing LPG, according to colleagues in the know.

When new London Mayor Boris Johnson put the kibosh on Ken Livingstone's proposal to allow in all cars emitting under 120g/km for free, he also kept the status quo on battery cars, hybrids and LPG. So the planned shelving of the LPG congestion charge exemption has been itself shelved and we're back as we were.

Of course, the reason the Government originally froze duty on LPG (aka Autogas) remains. It burns a lot cleaner than the equivalent petrol and diesels, and should emit 15% less CO2 than petrol. It can't hold a candle to diesel economy, I remember that clearly from the old days, but the extra fuel it uses over petrol is more than offset by the price. It's also half the price of petrol, not diesel, which remains a good deal more expensive. There's even word of residuals hardening again as private punters latch onto the savings.

With the Government now fat on the extra VAT takings from fuel, you'd think they might not care about a few more defections to LPG. Don't bank on it. The original fall of LPG was due to the Government's sudden chilliness towards what was after all a fossil fuel, even if some of it did come from the North Sea. After the duty freeze ended, the Government pledged to bridge the gap to petrol by 1p a litre every year, with a review due next year.

I remember that as clearly as all the stress involved in getting drivers to fill up with the damn stuff in the first place, and not just lazily use petrol "because we couldn't find a filling" station. The station count has meant to have risen to 1300, compared to dwindling forecourts for the expensive stuff, but frankly I'm not sure I could be bothered with LPG all over again. I'd love to be pumping fuel in 2008 at 1990s prices, but nothing seems to stay cheap for long these days.