GUL LogoFleets in the UK will be “critical in getting the market for electric vehicles going”, having accounted for more than half of the biggest plug-in market in Europe last year, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders’ director of policy, Konstanze Scharring.

Scharring was speaking at the annual Go Ultra Low summit last month, an event held by the Government-funded organisation tasked with increasing the popularity of ultra-low-emission vehicles (ULEVs). The conference was entitled Preparing For Your Electric Vehicle Future and was attended by more than 70 fleet decision-makers.

Konstanze Scharring - SMMTScharring (pictured right) said 47,000 plug-in vehicles were registered last year, and declared the 2020s as “a key decade of change – where we see if these vehicles can fly in the market, if fleets will take them and if such cars can become competitive with conventional vehicles”.

However, the SMMT policy director also called for the continuation of the financial incentives to ensure the sector’s growth doesn’t slow. “We want to see consistent policy in this area, we want the UK to have a world-beating package of consistent incentives and make sure the infrastructure is where it needs to be,” she declared. “We’re pleased the market has grown but it is small; we are very much saying that the incentivisation needs to continue.”

The incentives for buying an ULEV sit at £2,500 off the price of a plug-in hybrid that meets certain criteria (see p33 for details), and £4,500 for a full-electric model, although the Office for Low Emissions Vehicles’ deputy head, Phil Killingley, admitted the rates are under review, with an announcement due “shortly”. He also outlined the other incentives on offer for ULEVs, including reduced VED and benefit-in-kind tax, congestion charge discounts, access to future clean air zones and grants towards workplace and home charging points.

“By the end of 2022, 25% of central Government department vehicles will be ULEVs, and that’s of fleet, not new purchases,” he said. “This is a wave that will envelope us all and many analysts see 2018 as the year it all kicks off.”

ICFM director Peter EldridgeEnvironmental change was branded as a “key challenge for fleet operators” by Peter Eldridge (pictured left), sales and marketing director of the fleet industry training body the ICFM. However, he warned against the inappropriate deployment of plug-in tech. “For many fleet operators, plug-in hybrids have become the proverbial duck out of water due to being operated predominantly outside of their economical efficiency zone,” he said, pushing the message that vehicles must be fit for purpose rather than what he called the “crazy” method of allocating “tax loophole vehicles to everybody”.

He said: “This is driving forecast increased fleet operating costs compared with diesels. We have to do things differently and blending the fleet is the right message.”

A new approach of bringing together different areas of the business is key to the successful adoption of plug-in vehicles, he continued.

“All departments have fleet responsibility and if only they would sit down together and plan the objectives it would be good,” said Eldridge. “HR, fleet manager, business operations, procurement, finance, they need to develop a robust EV strategy and bring the financial benefit message to the board.”

Poppy Welch (pictured left), Head of Go Ultra Low with Rt Hon Claire Perry MP, Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Poppy Welch (left), Head of Go Ultra Low with Rt Hon Claire Perry MP, Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Go Ultra Low revealed research alongside the event that showed there are around 435,000 SME fleets with at least five cars that are not yet running any plug-in vehicles, and claimed they could save up to £1440 per year on whole-life running costs by switching to a ULEV, based on Lex Autolease comparative data of Hyundai Ioniq hybrid and plug-in hybrid models.

“With an ever-increasing number of plug-in models now available, it’s even easier for businesses to identify an ultra low emission vehicle that suits their needs,” said Go Ultra Low head Poppy Welch.

The event was closed by MP Claire Perry, minister of state at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, who highlighted the important role of the business sector. “Ultimately it comes down to corporate investment, vision and leadership,” she said. “Government is committed to a regime of buyer support and charging points going forward. There is an awful lot of momentum and investment and we want to continue.”

Paul Barker