Economy of movement

My first column of 2014 for Professional Manager magazine

Even at times of relative prosperity, websites and car magazine are full of advice on the most frugal motors but in tough economic times the imperative to cut costs on cars becomes severe. The reason is simple: people are loathe to spend their ever-dwindling resources on their ever-more expensive cars and with the huge sums of money involved – leasing and running a new compact executive can cost over £10,000 a year on a typical annual mileage – it’s never been more important to slash costs.

Short of downsizing there’s realistically only one option: burn less petrol. We’re into a new fuel paradigm where energy costs are unlikely to ever decline; the same goes for petrol and diesel. Whereas £1.50 was inconceivable a decade ago it is the new reality and trends suggest that £2.00 a litre may not be far away. Fear of fuel prices has energised manufacturers who are producing more innovative and efficient powertrains, whether they be turbopetrol, the latest in diesel technology, petrol-electric hybrids or range-extenders such as the Chevrolet Volt.

The imperative for managers is obvious: fuel costs ned to be reduced. There are two obvious way to do this. Firstly by reducing running costs by encouraging more economical driving, from good maintenance and smoother driving to tools such as fuel cards that can record and control fuel usage.

Perhaps more obviously the choice of car is where fleet managers can make the most impact on controlling costs, but this is where things can get complicated. Assuming all the fleet boxes are ticked – spacious, gadget-heavy, comfortable, safe – then the choice of a low-CO2 car can be fairly clear and there are plenty of online calculators to do the heavy lifting for you.

The lower the CO2 the lower a range of taxes are and the less fuel required – as fuel economy and carbon dioxide are inextricably linked. However advertised fuel economies are never correct. Here’s why.

Official MPG figures are homologated centrally under the New European Driving Cycle. Tested in wind tunnels in conditions not remotely similar to real-world driving, the official figures – through no fault of manufacturers – bear little similarity to the reality.

In my years as a road tester I routinely find that real-world economy will be between 20-40% of advertised fuel consumption figures. And there are dozens of factors that could reduce your impressive fuel economy figures to half the advertised figure. Advertised figures on electric cars, hybrids and EREVs can be particularly misleading – again through no fault of the manufacturer. The current framework simply doesn’t work with some of the new cars, to the point where the advertised MPG figures for the Vauxhall Ampera / Chevrolet Volt are totally meaningless. So too for plug-in cars that use electricity from the mains to part-power the car. There exists no metric that can measure the fuel economy of these cars because they don’t take into account how they will be used.

My advice is fairly simple. If you’re thinking of renewing your fleet find a small handful of cars that fit the bill on paper and ask your friendly dealer or manufacturer to borrow one for a few days – if you’re potentially spending tens of thousands of pounds this is wholly reasonable. Do the kind of drive your employees will regularly (the same rules apply if you’re a user-chooser) and do the maths. Factor in how easy it is to charge these cars and see if it meets your needs. And then set about bringing your workforce up to speed on how to get the best out of the new metal.

As a fleet manager you can get everything right when it comes to choosing a car, only to see your hard work undone by a careless driver. Fuel costs will only rise – if your drivers aren’t aware of how to coax every spare mile out of the car you so carefully researched then you might as well stick a pin in your copy of What Car? for all the good your careful fleet-choosing will do.

Penny wise

Follow these tips to reduce your fuel use by up to 25%

Light right foot

It’s easy to waste fuel in stop-start traffic or by not anticipating when you might have to slow down or stop. Stop-start cars cut engines when stationary but easing off the gas, accelerating and braking steadily, coasting to a halt where safe and looking down the road can cut fuel bills by as much as 25%.

Empty the car

Extra weight means extra fuel consumption so clear our your tools, roofbox, gym kit, picnic hampers and any other fuel-sapping ballast from your car. Don’t chuck away your spare tyre like some advise though – chances are you’ll need it one of these days.

Know where you’re going

Take a map, buy a satnav, check traffic news – however you navigate you can ensure you don’t waste fuel getting lost or getting stuck in avoidable traffic jams.

Stick to the limit

Drive anywhere north of 70mph and the chances are you’ll be swapping fuel economy for speed. Aerodynamics and engine sweet spots can mean that you’ll use up to two thirds more petrol at 90mph than at the national speed limit.

Sharing is caring

Want to half your fuel bill? Car share. Ignoring the added advantage of High Occupancy Lanes, it’s easier than ever to car-share with websites such as joining up lonely drivers who take identical journeys – they estimate an average daily driver could save £1,500 a year if sharing every day.

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