The future of motoring – driving innovation for UK business
We live in a world today where the rate of technological advancement is truly astonishing, although we all probably take it for granted. But if you pause and consider for a moment that all the data generated by all the computers in the world in the 40 years or so up to the year 2000, is now generated in a single minute, it gives you an idea of how fast things are changing.
Nowhere is that more the case than in the automotive sector where the brightest minds of our time are working tirelessly to develop cleaner fuels, longer running electric cars, safer autonomous vehicles and a connected car infrastructure that will mark a step change evolution in the way we travel and use transport, (although we fully anticipate people will still need tyres changing and batteries charging!)
For business owners of course one of the biggest concerns is the cost of running vehicles and the best innovations are those which support efficient fleet management by helping to reduce fuel costs, wear and tear, accidents etc.
Here we take a look at how businesses can benefit from a range of innovations from alternate fuels to electric vehicles and autonomous transport.
The price of fuel has fluctuated considerably over the past few years, from record highs in 2012, to sub-£1 a litre last year, thanks in part to the global oil price changes. But whatever the price of diesel and unleaded at the pumps, it is a running cost that all businesses would like to control and reduce where possible.
With the introduction of initiatives such as Ultra Low Emission Zones over the next few years, there is a focus on electric vehicles being brought into fleets to meet the required standards.
However, for those businesses not necessarily in a position to renew their fleet with brand new electric vehicles, LPG conversion specialists Autogas say there is a more affordable alternative which is a proven ‘here and now’ option.
Paul Oxford, Business Development Manager at Autogas, says that while the adoption of LPG has been widespread in other parts of Europe with now more than 10million LPG vehicles running daily, UK businesses have yet to take full advantage of the benefits. And the benefits in terms of cost are clear to see with the pence per litre of LPG (as of July 26) standing at 49.83p, compared to diesel at 112.50p and unleaded at 111.94p. (Source: RAC Fuel Watch).
“As a readily available low emission alternative to traditional road fuels such as petrol and diesel, there is huge potential for LPG to play a major role as part of the fuel mix for consumers, taxi drivers, and public and private sector fleet operators.
“Indeed, in its recently published UK air quality plan, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs noted the value of LPG for local authorities looking to cost-effectively and expeditiously improve air quality.”
Paul and his team at Autogas have been focussing on the taxi sector of the transport industry as a prime example of business drivers with diesel vehicles, who will be required to clean up their act when it comes to emissions, but may not be in a position to upgrade their vehicles.
It is now possible to re-power the iconic London black taxi from diesel to run on LPG, saving around 20% on fuel as well as significantly cutting emissions to meet future standards.
“Transport for London’s ULEZ plans to require all taxis and new private hire vehicles new to licensing from January 2018 to be Zero Emission Capable (ZEC) will have unintended adverse consequences for metropolitan areas across the rest of the UK.
“Unable to operate in London, the worst polluting diesel taxis will be displaced to other areas of the country. However, such taxis can easily and economically be converted to run on LPG autogas, enabling taxi drivers to run cleaner vehicles which still meet their operational needs now and in the future.
“We are calling on Transport for London to extend the life of LPG taxis in London by five years as the cost of buying a new electric taxi is unaffordable for many taxi drivers but, by converting to LPG, drivers can immediately lower vehicle emissions.
“Drivers of LPG taxis experience savings of around 20 per cent on their fuel bills, meaning the operator would recoup the cost of conversion after driving approximately 70,000 miles following the conversion.”
The introduction of electric vehicles is now expected to develop at an exponential rate with the availability of many more charge points enabling an estimated 500,000 EVs on the UK’s roads by 2020.
For businesses, electric vehicles could provide a number of benefits especially those firms that rely on delivery vans buzzing around the UK’s city centres picking up and dropping off. With the introduction of Ultra Low Emission Zone initiatives potentially across the country over the next few years, electric vehicles represent a clean technology which will be able to go anywhere, and also avoid the congestion charge in London due to the lack of emissions.
A number of manufacturers have been demonstrating the latest electric van models at industry events such as the Commercial Vehicle Show. Real breakthroughs are starting to be made in the key area of range in terms of how many miles drivers can get out of the battery, with claims from LDV that their latest model can achieve 180 miles on a single charge. Although their own estimates suggest real world driving conditions will bring that down.
Increasing confidence in the technology and its benefits to fleets can be seen in Leeds City Council’s decision to take 42 electric vehicles as part of its fleet renewal.
The cars and vans will add to and, in some cases replace, electric and hybrid vehicles in the council’s fleet and will be used to deliver council services primarily within the city centre where the reduced emissions will have the most impact, taking steps towards improved air quality. It’s estimated that the vehicles will travel a combined total of around 450,000 miles a year offering fuel savings of £24,600.
Other initiatives around the country include the decision in Milton Keynes to offer 15,000 free parking spaces to electric car drivers, using the new ‘Green Parking Permit’.
The scheme has won the backing of Department for Transport minister Andrew Jones who said the Government is committed to supporting electric vehicle technology, adding: “We are investing £600 million in cleaner, greener vehicles by 2020 to improve air quality, create jobs and achieve our goal of every car and van in the UK being zero emission by 2050.”
For about 120 years, driving has remained pretty much the same in principle, i.e. somebody at the controls, in charge of speed and direction of the vehicle.
But within a few years, perhaps a generation, that is likely to be a minority pursuit for old petrol-heads who like to do things such as change gear and steer themselves, thanks to the development of autonomous, or driverless, cars.
For years now the likes of Google have been testing driverless technology with vehicles across the world. And now manufacturers such as Jaguar Land Rover are also revealing the work they have been doing to ensure their vehicles can operate on all terrains, safely, without the traditional driver at the wheel.
HGV manufacturers such as Volvo have been working on so-called ‘platooning’ technology where lorries form a convoy with the lead vehicle connecting with the rest behind, and will effectively take control like an engine pulling a train. Except the coupling will be achieved through wireless technology.
This has huge implications for businesses in terms of how they utilise vehicles and drivers in the future, as well as the question of insurance and who is liable for these vehicles.
In July it was announced that a major consultation to help pave the way for automated cars to be used on British roads is being launched, with all drivers invited to have their say.
Reports in the media suggest under the proposed measures, rules will be changed so automated vehicles can be insured for use on the roads.
In addition, the Highway Code and regulations are set to be altered so advanced driver assistance systems that change lanes on the motorway and park the vehicle by remote control can be used safely.
The Government is also due to launch a competition in August for a further £30 million from the Intelligent Mobility Fund, for research and development of innovative connected and autonomous vehicle technologies.
So what’s clear is that the all-important infrastructure is starting to be put in place at a government level in order to, hopefully, ensure the smooth transition to driverless cars.
Although RAC Telematics MD Nick Walker thinks we are some way away from being fully automated.
Writing in a column for trade publication Fleet News, he said:
“The fact is that we are still a long way off a world dominated by autonomous cars, and we are likely to have a lengthy period of transition where there is a mix of different vehicles on the road. That could be a very interesting time.
“Telematics will be key to understanding how those vehicles are behaving and interacting with one another and, more than that, it is going to be about data management.
“Autonomous cars are going to have a strong need to be monitored in terms of vehicle health as well as location and ensuring they’re not behaving erratically. That is going to generate a huge amount of information and it’s going to be the job of telematics providers, not motor manufacturers, to interpret that mass of information and make sense of it for their fleet customers.
“The future driver is going to become less interested in their vehicle, they’re not going to be worried about when it needs a service or not. It could even be argued that it’s probably going to drive itself to the garage, but that is really a long way away.
“So all these alerts around vehicle faults, vehicle management and vehicle maintenance are going to need to be flagged, because the driver is going to be disconnected from their vehicle. He or she are not going to be interested, they just sit in it and get driven around.
“But whatever the autonomous vehicle of the future looks like it is still going to have tyres, batteries, alternators, gearboxes and all the other vital components that keep a vehicle moving, but cause a breakdown if they fail.
“That’s why telematics, alerting the driver or fleet manager to those issues will still be vital in keeping that vehicle healthy and on the road, where it should be, and not in a repair garage draining a business of cash due to breakdown.”
What’s certainly clear is that there are now a number of options and every year further innovation makes it possible for the most ecologically-concerned business owner to build a green fleet, which is not only good for the environment but also good for their business.
As electric cars and vans increase in use and autonomous vehicles become the mainstream driven by demand from businesses for ever more efficient transport and cheaper fuels, what once seemed like science fiction will become the everyday.