Switching from diesel to petrol is only part of the story for Shropshire businesses.

16-May-2017
  Author: Steve Johnson

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The recent press activity about diesel engines is certainly causing a few ripples across the automotive industry and the marketplace generally. The negativity, if you can call it that, is not going to result in a sudden reduction in the number of diesels on our roads, but business leaders and fleet managers in particular, will or should be increasingly aware of the issues and how they are being addressed. Vehicle choice is one component, but how proposed measures might impact on transport and getting around also need to be on the agenda.

Number one is health

It is important to appreciate that it’s not just a diesel car problem per se; emissions and air quality are an increasingly worrying topic on health and environmental fronts with a long-term impact as yet unknown. Trucks and vans are also in the mix to deal with along with arguments to suggest that traffic management is a major factor in the air quality stakes. Investing in ways for our roads run to smoother with less starting and stopping would certainly be a good thing. Every little way to improve traffic light phasing and more.

Support for zero emission vehicles

Before we talk more about company car policies, we cannot escape the fact that vehicle exhausts; diesel fumes in particular do make up a significant part of the UK’s national air quality concerns.

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) states its air quality policy as a “National regulation to achieve a shift towards zero emission vehicles, for example setting minimum standards for bus, truck and taxi emissions – removing more polluting vehicles from the roads and the development of a national infrastructure to support zero emission vehicles and achieve national objective levels.” Fixing the ‘diesel car’ problem is worth doing, but it may only be scratching the surface and besides newer diesels’ (Euro V and VI) aren’t the problem.

It’s the ‘old diesels’ whose days should be numbered. The fact that Unite; the UK’s largest trade union, has launched an emissions’ register to protect workers against the ‘ticking time bomb’ of diesel fumes suggests that this subject is heading up the profile scale. The union’s own study has reported short-term health concerns that included: respiratory problems, eye irritation, headaches and nausea. Long term problems recorded by Unite members included effects on lung capacity, breathlessness, asthma as well as being more prone to colds and flu. Some ticking time bomb; potentially.

Shropshire air quality

Whilst it’s important to appreciate the national picture, it’s clear – no pun intended - that in Shropshire we don’t have anything like the same pollution and air quality issues as larger cities and population centres.

Matthew Clark, Shropshire Council public protection officer – environmental resilience, said: “Nationally there is a Local Air Quality Management regime which requires councils to take action where there is pollution at levels that exceed objective levels. I am pleased to say that Shropshire’s air quality is generally very good; however there are hotspots where significant reductions in air pollutants are required. Work is ongoing across many council services to bring about betterments where possible through a broad range of local actions.”

Telford and Wrekin Council monitor Nitrogen levels (Nox) at 20 stations across the borough and at present does not have any Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs). Russell Griffin, media and PR specialist said: Given the importance of air quality within Telford and Wrekin, officers assess all planning applications for their impact on air quality. 

New air quality initiatives

As for the latest position about changes that are in store, the recently published consultation document by the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs gives some strong indicators.

Outlining measures that range from Clear Air Zones with the possibility of charging schemes to selective scrappage and excise duty adjustments; It’s fair to say the ‘ripples’ mentioned earlier could well become a bit more ‘tidal’. Support for low and ultra-low emission vehicles is also likely to be given a boost; local authorities in the ‘target’ areas being encouraged to ‘go low’ as well as improve charging networks.

Market trends

What’s interesting is that the market might already be beginning to set out the stall; early days yes, but small acorns and all that. April 2017 and year-to-date diesel car registrations represented 44.9% and 44.1% of the market (2016 49.6% and 47.6% respectively.

Not a massive downward shift, but at the moment the trend is showing a swing away from diesel. More significant is 7,500 more alternative vehicles (EV and hybrid) have been registered so far this year than at the same time in 2016.

John Pryor, chairman of the Association of Car Fleet Operators said: “There’s no real sign of company car drivers switching away from diesels, particularly given that most fleets are already eco-efficient Euro V or Euro VI compliant. What is important is that fleets should be constructed according to driver/journey requirements. A modern diesel will be just right for a 40,000 mile a year motorway driver; a colleague perhaps doing a similar job, but based in and around town or city centres would be better equipped with an electric car.” The days of everyone in 1.6 diesel hatchback, any colour you like as long as it’s blue, are well and truly over.

Shropshire business viewpoint

Judging from the Shropshire companies we talked to, it is perhaps a little early to make any broad assessments of new fleet strategies – for one thing, there’s barely a problem to fix at the moment and unless the tax position swings against diesels, status quo seems to be the order of the day – at least for now.

It’s probably fair to say that diesels dominate on most fleets, but vehicles will probably be less than four years old at worst and hence Euro V or VI compliant. Telford-based Keim Paints talked about its all diesel fleet.

A spokesman said: “We have considered a return to petrol engines, but at this time have selected the best/highest euro-standard diesel engines commensurate with the required vehicle usage. Our vehicles are usually on a three year contract hire and are reviewed at renewal/replacement. Particularly for travel to London and large cities we will, where appropriate and available, use public transport.” Keim Paint’s approach is probably representative of other local businesses, pound for pound a diesel car will be more frugal and remains only a little - just 3% - heavier in company car tax terms; a position that’s set to be in place until 2021.

Diesels are still good to go

What’s good about this diesel v petrol debate is that the motoring press has already written extensively not only to defend the diesel for its clear, eco qualities, but well-informed sources are also offering car buyers and company car drivers good, credible advice. Is it time to give up on the diesel engine? article published in Autocar is well worth a read.

A refresher if you like about the merits of different engine technologies. Clearly, manufacturers are putting a lot of eggs in their electric and hybrid baskets – preparing product developments for years to come but it also should not be forgotten that they have also made diesels highly efficient and environmentally friendly. Time to rain on their parade, it is surely not.

Telford hosting Air Quality & Emissions Event

So, summing up, there’s no obvious sign companies moving away from diesels which is hardly surprising.  Our local authorities, Telford and Wrekin and Shropshire County are fulfilling their obligations and the scene is set for some large city and town-based initiatives which will impact on many of us.   

And finally, we may not have a big pollution problem in Shropshire, but the county is, in a way, providing a quality environment for solutions. Telford is hosting the 2017 Air Quality and Emissions (AQE 2017) conference in Telford on the 24th-25th May. And judging from the event’s programme, there’s a lot to talk about. This subject is not going to go away any time soon.

 

THE AUTHOR

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson is a freelance writer for Positive Advertising. Steve is an experienced business writer, journalist and media communications consultant. When he is not working, Steve plays the piano (needs to keep practicing…), his sport is archery (usually hits the target…) and strives to be a better gardener and cook.
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