• Study suggests hybrids are the answer to cleaner air in cities

  • Results of a year-long trial in London suggest that plug-in hybrid electric commercial vehicles could present the most practical, readily available option for businesses trying to meet clean-air targets in cities.

    The trial – which was supported by £4.7 million grant from the Government-funded Advanced Propulsion Centre – consisted of 20 Plug-In Hybrid vans covering 150,000 miles over a 12-month period.  The trial sought to test whether businesses could carry out the typical daily duties of their diesel-powered vehicles, while maximising the use of zero-emissions electric-only mode.

    The participants in the trial – Addison Lee Group, Autoglass, British Gas, Clancy Plant, DPD, Heathrow Airport, Interserve, Mears Group, the Metropolitan Police, Morrison Utility Services, RNLI, Royal Mail, Speedy Hire, Sky, Transport for London and Vodafone – represented a cross-section of city-based businesses, and integrated the vans into their day-to-day operations.

    During the trial, 75% of the fleet’s mileage in Central London and 49% in Greater London was completed using pure electric power.  

    The results highlight that even without a fully established electric vehicle charging network, the hybrid vans were able to dramatically reduce tailpipe emissions in the inner city, using the flexibility of a petrol range-extender to complete longer journeys when required.

    Commercial vehicles in London already make 280,000 journeys on a typical weekday, travelling a total of eight million miles – and this figure is rising.  Vans represent 75% of peak freight traffic, with more than 7,000 vehicles per hour driving at peak times in Central London alone.

    A similar picture can be found in other major European cities, driven partly by rapid growth in online retail.  Consequently, tighter emissions controls are being introduced by authorities throughout the continent, increasing pressure on businesses to find sustainable, practical solutions.  Further trials in Cologne and Valencia will provide data from different markets, cities and customer types.

    “Emissions-free mobility is essential for the future of our cities and their citizens, but we know there are still barriers we face in the move to electrification,” said Mark Harvey, a Director of the Urban Electrified Van programme.  “We also know that businesses still have legitimate concerns about the range of fully-electric vehicles, as well as their cost-effectiveness and reliability.”  He added that the trials had businesses to investigate the extent to which PHEVs can help to achieve urban air quality goals, whilst not compromising on productivity.