PHEVs are not the future they are the now

An active research project by the Alternatively Fuelled Vehicles (AFVs) champion and Go Ultra Low Company, ALD Automotive, has proved that Plug-In Hybrid Vehicles (PHEVs) can be a viable alternative for many company cars on the roads today.

The findings clearly show that fleets do not need to wait for ‘improved models’ or ‘more public charging points’ because, for many drivers, PHEVs already work right now.

The many benefits of PHEVs are widely recognised (lower fuel and tax bills and lower emissions) but they are still met with some scepticism from drivers, largely due to the assumption that in practical terms their suitability is still some way off. As well as measuring real world MPG figures, the ALD trial aimed to test those assumptions.

During the in-depth, six-month trial, ALD allocated a fleet of 20 Mercedes C350e PHEVs to a team of company car drivers with varying driving profiles. The miles per gallon figures were impressive, with an average of 54.48 MPG overall, which rose to 56.44 after the first month. The best MPG achieved was 110.54 by a driver averaging 7,000 miles per annum (MPA); which equates to an annual fuel saving of over £200. The best MPG by a driver covering over 10,000 miles per year was 84.67mpg by a driver who does 14,000 MPA, saving over £500 in fuel per annum.

In order to accurately monitor the performance of the 20 Mercedes PHEVs the vehicles were fitted with ALD’s ProFleet telematics device. The drivers were chosen because of their unique daily journeys, driving styles and weekly mileages that were reflective of a typical company car fleet, so that ALD could fully assess the capability of the vehicles across a range of driving conditions.

The real-world analysis found that the PHEV alternatives performed well at a range of mileages reflective of a typical modern company car fleet. Whilst driver behaviour and vehicle awareness were found to play a large role in the performance of the vehicles, the research confirmed that, if charged regularly and sufficiently, PHEVs can make a practical alternative right now.

The drivers had access to vehicle chargers at ALD’s head office and many installed home chargers with the help of the Government’s Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme. Training was also provided to enable drivers to get the most out of their vehicle. This included information on how to charge the vehicle and efficient driving techniques such as regenerative braking.

Matt Dale, Consultancy Services Manager, commented: “The results of our trial are compelling. We were able to show that, when used correctly through regular charging, PHEVs can be more efficient than diesel or petrol vehicles. While the PHEVs performed well across varying mileages, we found that driver input proved to be just as important as the performance of the car itself.

“To get the best out of this type of vehicle it is essential that drivers know how to use them and also that they adopt the right attitude. We found that introducing an element of competition by establishing leader boards to record MPG galvanised our drivers to get the best performance out of their vehicle. This meant they charged their vehicles regularly and applied more efficient driving techniques. In doing so they were able to experience the full benefits of their PHEV.”

David Martell, Chief Executive of Chargemaster, agrees: "Despite the great choice of models now available and the extensive UK charging network, the results of the ALD survey show that it is still a challenge to change some firmly held driver assumptions that these vehicles won’t work for them. However, with a bit of forward planning, operating and charging an EV or a PHEV is actually very easy, and is well worth it for all the benefits these vehicles have to offer."

Alongside the real-world trial, ALD conducted cost-based analysis and found that by making a straight switch to a Plug-In Hybrid (PHEV) version of a popular company car model, both fleets and drivers stand to make significant cost savings.

ALD calculated that drivers of a C220d 2.1 Sport Premium Auto (diesel) could make around £6,000 in Benefit in Kind (BIK) tax savings by switching to the comparable C350e PHEV. Studying the whole life cost to a fleet, running these vehicles for 15,000 miles a year for either 3 or 4 years, ALD found that businesses could save up to £2,000 for every vehicle replaced by the PHEV version.

Dale continues: “While the trial has proved that the benefits can outweigh that of diesel and petrol vehicles at certain annual mileages, driver suitability remains key. It is essential for fleets to apply PHEVs to the right driving profiles. We found that for drivers doing more than 20,000 miles per annum the fuel cost benefits begin to diminish due to a lower MPG. At lower annual mileages the PHEVs’ MPG was considerably higher when compared to the equivalent petrol and diesel model.”

Chargemaster’s Martell comments: “Charging an EV typically works out at about 4-5p per mile.  It is convenient too. A compact public charging cable, which you can keep in the boot of the car, provides access to standard and fast public charging points. The charging points are usually accessed via a convenient RFID card, which works just like a fuel card, with a subscription to the POLAR network - the UK's largest public charging network. They can also be accessed via a mobile app.”

The environmental benefits were also compelling. 145,000 miles were covered by drivers over the course of the trial. Across the final 68,000 miles, over 50% of journeys were found to be completed in ‘engine off mode’ in which the petrol engine was disengaged. ALD calculated a total reduction in CO2 emissions of 14.8 tonnes across the PHEV fleet versus the diesel equivalent.

Dale continues: “The results of the trial show that PHEVs aren’t just a future concept. The technology available to us now is suitable for a range of current driver profiles and fleets can start reaping the benefits today. We’ve also proved that the financial benefits are significant for drivers if they use their vehicle correctly through regular charging and efficient driving techniques.

“As the technology improves and the electric range increases, this will open PHEVs up to drivers with higher annual mileages and a greater number of fleets will stand to benefit. But our research shows that fleets may well find that a high proportion of their drivers are suitably placed for a PHEV now. The Government’s announcement in the Autumn Budget that they will invest £100m to ensure the continuation of the Plug-In Car Grant, in addition to other grants currently available, mean that the current cost benefits may actually be higher than companies realise.”

Robert Llewellyn, electric vehicle enthusiast and founder of the ‘Fully Charged Show’, comments: “I’ve been an advocate of electric vehicles for personal use for some time now. ALD’s landmark trial reveals how such vehicles can actually make a practical, low-cost alternative to standard petrol and diesel models for company car drivers who are likely do the most driving of us all! With clean air zones just around the corner and changes to the taxation of diesels, businesses and their employees will be increasingly looking for accurate and reliable information about the different types of EVs to help them decide if they can make the switch. The results of ALD’s trials will be an incredibly useful tool for this purpose.”

ALD has worked closely with clients over the last few years to highlight the benefits of PHEVs. While the total number of UK PHEV registrations in Q1 – Q3 increased by 9.19% in 2017 when compared with the previous year*, PHEV deliveries among ALD customers far outstrips this, increasing by 60.92% in the same period.

As part of ALD’s wider ‘Get Future Ready’ initiative, ALD has published a white paper based on the results of the trial. This includes a step-by-step guide for businesses looking to assess the suitability of PHEVs for their fleet. The guide is available to download for free here.

*Table VEH0253 - Cars registered for the first time by propulsion or fuel type: Great Britain and United Kingdom


Notes to editors
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