Paul Barker grabs a cuppa and a chat with one of fleet’s most influential figures – Tim Anderson, Senior Programme Manager, Energy Saving Trust.
The Energy Saving Trust has long been helping fleets to find ways to be more efficient, but its advice is more in demand than ever as businesses seek to electrify their operations.
QWhat is the EST’s role as far as fleets are concerned, and how you can help?
We’ve been offering fleet reviews for about 15 years; a one-to-one tailored review of the fleet based on where it is now. Which means looking at the actual vehicles involved, doing a check on whether they are compliant for things such as clean-airzones, and looking at opportunities for electrification. And also some of the more traditional aspects of running a fleet efficiently: is everything as efficient as it can be, are the vehicles the right vehicles, are they the right size?
What we tend to do is offer those fleet reviews in the way that meets the needs of the fleet organisation themselves, so
if for example they are interested in electrification and e-mobility then we will concentrate on that area and look for opportunities for them. If they’re more interested in the implications of a clean-air zone then we’ll go down that route. It’s very much a tailored service that we offer, delivered by a team of five in-house fleet support managers around the country.
The Energy Saving Trust’s advice to fleets looks at the most efficient ways to operate, and senior programme manager Tim Anderson is increasingly concerned about the number of businesses moving out of company cars.
“One of the worrying trends is the decline of the company car, and although we are an environmental organisation we have always seen the company car as a preferable solution to people using their own vehicles,” he tells Company Car Today. “It is a concern to see CO2 in registrations of new cars on the increase. We think that is a lot to do with people coming out of their company cars, where the policy has been tight in terms of CO2 caps, and funding their own vehicle. That is one of the things we would advise fleets to think about – whether they should keep people in their company cars.
“One of the hidden costs is going to be fuel, and driving an efficient company vehicle is probably going to be more fuel efficient than a grey fleet vehicle,” he continues. “And the grey fleet driver is probably claiming at 45p per mile, so the actual cost is debatable whether opting out of company cars will save the company money if drivers are doing a significant mileage.
“Grey fleet is one area where we haven’t really seen a sea change in terms of organisations biting the bullet,” says Anderson. “Generally, the vehicles are older, generally, they are more polluting and of course there are all the risk issues that go with the operation of grey fleet. It’s a little disappointing that we haven’t made more headway in helping organisations reduce the number of grey fleet miles that are driven every year. That is one area we would always suggest is a good place to start when improving environmental performance.”
QHow many fleets have you helped in the time EST has been advising?
It’s roughly 100 fleets a year; it goes up and down. With one fleet we might do a light-touch piece of advice and with another we might take them on the journey through to implementation, so it is a little more involved. The way that the fleet reviews are funded by DfT offers us the flexibility to help fleets who are a little bit more proactive that want to go ahead and do things. We might spend a little bit more time with an organisation that is in that category, rather than a fleet that is putting a toe in the water and testing out what opportunities it has to do something differently; that might be a more light-touch piece of advice or support.
QDoes the service you provide cost the fleet anything?
No, this is a fully funded service. It’s the flagship project and the core of what we have done as the EST ever since I have been here, which is 13 years. It’s a real bonus and the benefit for government is to show it is keen on supporting business. It’s not just business fleet, we are supporting public sector fleets as well. Essentially, it’s around Government supporting organisations to take the more sustainable route and in particular in more recent years to look at electric vehicles as part of the Government strategy to head to zero-emission vehicles by 2040.
QIs there any pattern in terms of the size or type of business?
We get a lot of enquiries from the public sector. The public sector generally don’t have large fleet departments so they are ready and willing to accept our support and advice. And then often it’s small fleets or SMEs that are contacting us because they don’t get the benefit of having their own fleet department or support from their leasing company for example. Having said that we do work with large fleets and quite often that is in a verification or validation role so we come alongside significant fleet operators and will give them a stamp of approval that they are doing a good job here, or you could be thinking about other things here, or there are some interesting solutions that you’ve not thought of.
QDo you always point companies towards electric solutions?
We will look for every opportunity to promote electric vehicles because clearly there is a saving in terms of CO2 emissions but also in terms of NOx emissions in urban areas so there is an environmental benefit, but the EST also takes a pragmatic approach; we try and give advice that is going to make sense from a commercial point of view. Sometimes we will offer advice and the implementation of that will cost more, but those fleets may decide to do that because it is the right thing to do, or because it meets other objectives which might be around sustainability, clean air or reducing carbon emissions. For a lot of organisations, it is the cost savings that they are interested in, so we will always highlight that and give them a fair assessment based on whole-life cost analysis of whether they will save money, it will be cost-neutral or whether it may even cost them a little bit more.
QDo you see the EST’s work becoming even more relevant with moves to clean-air zones and increased electrification?
I don’t think we’ve been any more relevant than we are today and that journey is part of government policy to deliver net zero emissions by 2050. That’s one issue around carbon emissions. The other issue is around air quality, which is a problem that’s not going to go away.
So, on both fronts, fleets and individuals need to be thinking about what vehicles are they going to purchase or lease next time around, and I think for that reason the advice we provide with the experience we gain from working with fleets and local authorities up and down the country can really help organisations make the right decisions at the right time.
It is possible to buy a diesel that is compliant in all potential clean-air zones or the ultra-low emissions zone in London, but the question is, will that always be the standard? At the moment that is very much Government policy so I’m not suggesting there will be anything other than that, but to future-proof against legislation that will make it more expensive or more difficult to run fossil fuel powered vehicles, we feel it is better to accelerate towards electrification where possible as it provides that key benefit for clean air and climate change.
QWhat do you make of the way the Government has approached company car taxation?
There is hope for electric vehicles with the recent announcement on benefit-in-kind; hopefully that will create a real long-term benefit for drivers to stay in a company car and benefit from favourable tax.
I think there is quite a lot of misinformation out there and it is surprising to us that quite so many myths have not yet been busted when it comes to fleets.
There is quite a lot of work to do to be able to sell the benefit of sustainable fleet management, particularly at the small fleet end of the spectrum, and I think we still have a role. It’s come at a time when there are lots of things buzzing around that have made it quite confusing – is diesel the right fuel, how does WLTP work, what are the implications of clean air zones. We’re in this increasingly confusing marketplace where there is a lot of things changing at a very rapid rate all at once.
In my opinion, the wider political sphere and business confidence is having a big impact on fleet buying decisions and that is unfortunate at a time when we need to be thinking about adopting the next round of technology, whether it’s very clean diesel vehicles or preferably electric vehicles.
There is a lot of misinformation out there at the moment around what compliance needs to look like and what it is. For example, some organisations contact us panicking that they need an all-electric fleet when they could be compliant already because they meet the criteria for a clean-air zone in terms of Euro6 diesels.