Should fleets change to hybrid vehicles?

Britain’s businesses are contributing to a massive boom in purchases of hybrid vehicles. Sales almost doubled in the last year.

But is this just a fashion – or do hybrids make good business sense? We looked into the arguments for and against using hybrids on your company fleet.

What are hybrids?

First, a brief explanation of what hybrids are (for those that have been living on the moon for the past few years). These vehicles combine a diesel or petrol engine with an electric motor to reduce fuel consumption and reduce harmful emissions. They can combine the two power sources a little differently:

* Basic hybrids use a small electric motor to assist the normal fossil fuel engine. This means the electric motor powers the car at low speeds and helps during acceleration. The normal engine runs for most driving conditions and any access power recharges the electric batteries. Examples include the Toyota Prius.

* Plug-in hybrids have bigger batteries allowing a range of around 30 miles on electric power only. The conventional engine can then take over. Batteries can be recharged by plugging in or on the move by the fossil fuel engine. Examples include the current top-seller, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV.

PROS

The benefits of hybrids can include lower fuel consumption, lower rates of road tax, company car tax and avoiding congestion charges. You may be able to take advantage of government grants towards the purchase price.

The vehicles reduce harmful emissions and noise pollution, particularly in cities where they cause most damage. Using hybrid vehicles can help the image and reputation of your company too.

For example, the Environmental Agency has been practicing what it preaches - by gradually replacing its fleet vehicles with low-emission hybrids. Agency fleet boss Dale Eynon recently told Fleet News: “We’ve just received 69 Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in commercial vehicles. The business case stacks up beautifully. They cost the same to buy as the diesel variant, they cost slightly less to run and they’ve got a resale value that’s not dissimilar. So it’s a win-win in terms of environment, cost and being fit for purpose.”

CONS

But what are the extra problems that hybrids bring?

Often they are more expensive to buy than conventional vehicles. There are still a limited number and type of vehicle available. In particular, there are few high-powered hybrid vehicles capable of lugging heavy loads.

You may also have to set up charging systems for the plug-in hybrids. Different models may require different infrastructure. Fleet operators also have to consider the time necessary to recharge plug-in vehicles.

There’s also the time and expense of training drivers to use them.

The silence of a hybrid at low speeds makes them potentially dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists. But if you mostly drive on long distance trips the benefits of the hybrid will be smaller because the fossil fuel engine will be doing most of the work.

Also note that the batteries discharge more readily in colder weather so the range can drop dramatically. 

It's up to you to make a business decision as to whether these vehicles will support or potentially hinder your company. However, just knowing the pro's and con's can make this decision a lot easier.