Cut fuel subsidies and see hybrids race ahead

Before the decade is out hybrid vehicles will displace diesels as the standard for commercial and public fleets, according to an industry insider.

Anthony Rawlinson, chairman of Enova Systems, a company which develops electric motors, hybrid and fuel cell engines, told edie he believed hybrids would cease to be a niche product for those keen to do the right thing for the environment and would become an economic must-have for short-haul freight companies and public bus fleets.

Many larger, forward thinking companies are already adding hybrid vehicles to their fleet and as reassuring results from trials filter back they are becoming increasingly attractive.

"We're seeing a growing number of early adopters. We believe this is ready to go to mainstream," said Mr Rawlinson.

"We're in the early stage of mass adoption and take up of this will increase."

But while a number of private companies, some of them household names like TNT, are seeing the economic as well as the environmental advantage of hybrids, Government policy bizarrely discourages those fulfilling public transport contracts from investigating their potential, he claimed.

"The commercial world pays full price for diesel and it's therefore very expensive for them to run their fleet but the buses are subsidised by Her Majesty's Government so they pay about 25 pence per litre," said Mr Rawlinson.

"It makes sense for the commercial world but until the Government changes the subsidy, why would operators with public contracts have hybrids. That subsidy should be phased out and buses should be encouraged to embrace hybrid technology for the benefit of society."

He dismissed the suggestion that operators might steer clear of public contracts which would be less attractive if the incentive of cheap fuel disappeared, arguing that profit margins had increased in recent years and they could afford to take a hit.

"The price of bus fares has gone up but the running costs stay more or less the same."

According to Mr Rawlinson a hybrid vehicle costs about 50 half the price again of its diesel equivalent but payback through fuel savings was about four of five years and going down all the time as fuel prices rise and technologies become cheaper.

While the environmental case is compelling, he argued, the economics would win the argument.

"Environmentally the difference is huge - there are practically no fumes, CO2 emissions are reduced massively," said Mr Rawlinson.

"But it's going to be 'must have' rather than 'nice to have for the environment'."

Sam Bond




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