Vehicle Fitout
Four years on - then and now
Robert Barry reviews the technical, economic and political landscape that has shaped green fleet policy since 2007 - and offers some insight into future policy decisions.
In April 2007 I wrote my first sustainable fleet feature for this magazine. This was prior to the global financial crisis (GFC) and there were many options for fleets to consider improving environmental performance: through vehicle selection, servicing and maintenance, driver education and travel planning. Naturally some of this added cost to the business in the short term but the long term view was that it would reduce a fleet’s carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions once the policy and green mindset had been well established
At this time we also reported upon the changes occurring within the car and light commercial vehicle manufacturers themselves. For example the Nissan Motor Company released the Nissan Green Programme 2010 which was focussed on three core areas in its vehicle production:
* Reducing C02 emissions
* Reducing exhaust gas emissions
* Accelerating recycling efforts
At the time Nissan reported that it wanted to launch a Nissan electric vehicle early in the next decade (which it has fulfilled with the all-electric Nissan Leaf), accelerate the development of plug-in hybrids, and enhance petrol engine technologies with its variable valve event and lift system (VEL). Nissan said in 2007 that VEL reduced C02 emissions by 10 percent and would feature in all models from 2007 onwards in Japan and North America. Nissan also said that its engines were compatible with E10 fuel as this blend of 10 percent bio fuel with petrol was widely available at the pump in the North American market.
As we all know after 2007 came the GFC of 2008 and all of a sudden being green flew out the window and making financial decisions that ensured the survival of the company came to the fore.
Dealing to an inefficient and costly fleet was the first cab on the rank for many companies both small and large.
As Mitchel Booth NZ general manager of GE Capital–Custom Fleet has previously said in these pages “you should never let a good recession go by,” and many companies took the opportunity to trim unnecessary vehicles out of their fleets and also to reduce the size of their engines. Large six-cylinder cars were the first casualties of the GFC on vehicle policy.
Certainly since 2008 the large car landscape has changed in New Zealand, although the VE Holden Commodore introduced in 2006 continues to sell well. To its credit Holden has improved the VE series II model with increasingly efficient engine technology. Direct injection, six-speed automatic transmissions and cylinder deactivation technology has made its way into their engines as well as the ability for them to run on E85 blended fuels.
Strangely though of late the SUV market has been very buoyant and we think that many people who may in the past have bought a Falcon or Commodore for the fleet or family are now going to mid and large size all-wheel-drive SUV instead. We think their logic is that they want a multi-purpose all-wheel-drive vehicle that offers room inside, a commanding driving position, and good towing ability. Fuel economy and emissions, however, are less of a consideration.
Fuel choice and drive train technologies
Diversity of energy and fuel choice will become increasingly important in the next decade as fleets choose the option that best suits their needs and as fuel prices creep up towards the $3 a litre mark. Bio-fuel compatible vehicles, petrol-electric hybrids, diesel-electric hybrids, plug-in hybrids, battery electric vehicles as well as natural gas and LPG powered vehicles will offer fleets alternatives to the familiar petrol and diesel options.
In my opinion while hydrogen technology is being successfully trialled in Europe, Japan and North America by many of the large manufacturers, it is too expensive a technology to be seriously considered for the New Zealand fleet. The actual costs of the vehicle and the infrastructure to set up the refuelling technology will be too prohibitive for our small car park.
But that doesn’t mean New Zealand fleets shouldn’t consider all the available options, not only to be seen as “green” but also to best maximise fitness for the purpose at hand.
Locally relatively stable petrol prices during the past 12-18 months and the Government’s disincentive to introduce a fairer and more equitable road user charges system for passenger vehicles has in my opinion stifled the sale of diesel vehicles as a greener alternative. Why diesel cars can’t pay tax at the pump is quite frankly utter nonsense. The argument for a flat rate excise tax over a distance-based rate would see an equitable share between the light and heavy sectors – those who use and consume more diesel fuel would pay more tax.
However the Government seems to steadfastly refuse to change its mindset and retains the distance-based calculation, possibly for fear of losing valuable revenue which in the current economic climate it can ill afford to do.
Fortunately it’s not all bad news as the advent of some highly efficient small capacity turbocharged direct-injection petrol engines, found in products such as the Volkswagen and Skoda range of passenger cars, and now appearing in Holden and Ford vehicles, means the fuel efficiency gap between petrol and diesel technology is also closing rapidly.
On that note it is interesting that in the last year the Skoda brand in particular changed its vehicle line-up from an all-diesel fleet to now include the smaller petrol engine models in the Fabia, Octavia and Superb models, reacting to the overall market demand to offer a greater choice of fuel options.
The real benefit of the smaller capacity turbo-charged petrol engines is not only higher fuel efficiency with fewer emissions but also that these small engines can be used instead of large ones in larger car applications, and this is particularly well illustrated by the 1.8-litre Skoda Superb. Here is a Commodore/Falcon sized vehicle that offers the same four-cylinder economy as smaller mid-sized vehicles but gives large car performance thanks to its intelligent seven-speed dual clutch transmission. A case of “you can have your cake and eat it too”.
In an article for the May 2011 issue of our sister publication Motor Equipment News called “Mazda ups the IC Ante” journalist and engineer Brian Cowan wrote that Mazda is also currently working on extracting the maximum performance and fuel efficiency from both petrol and diesel engines as part of its SkyActiv technology drive.
Cowan says the SkyActiv engines claim impressive credentials. For the 2-litre petrol version these include around 15 percent better fuel economy than the current MZR 2.0 (making the engine competitive with leading diesels), plus 15 percent better low- and mid-range torque.
According to Cowan the diesel figures are equally as impressive – 20 percent better fuel economy than Mazda’s current 2.2-litre diesel, petrol-chasing peak revs of 5200rpm, and the ability to meet all the latest emissions standards (Euro 6, USA Tier 2 Bin 5, and Japan’s forthcoming PNLTE regulations) without expensive NOx after-treatment systems such as SCR (selective catalytic reduction) or LNT (lean NOx traps).
The SkyActiv-D (diesel) range has the same 14:1 compression ratio as its petrol siblings. Conventional wisdom has that oil-burners need at least 17:1, primarily because lower ratios lead to poor cold-start performance and misfiring during warm-up. On the other hand, lower compression is a very good thing, for it dramatically reduces the formation of NOx (oxides of nitrogen) and soot in a diesel’s exhaust, and after a decade-long investigation into the fundamentals of internal combustion Mazda believes it has cracked the conundrum, according to Cowan.
While the sale of dedicated LPG vehicles and conversions to other vehicles has been on the back foot within our market due to their expense, I truly believe that LPG still has a place to play in reducing our reliance on imported petrol. It is a viable alternative that already has a network of refuelling stations around New Zealand.
New injection technology has been developed by both HSV and Ford for  LPG dedicated vehicles that address the past issues of lack of performance and difficult starting. Ford has recently launched its new EcoLPi FG Falcon model in Australia which will go on general sale there in August.
The new EcoLPi Falcon uses an injection system which follows a similar fuel induction configuration to the petrol engine thanks to a new injector-based high-pressure fuel rail that delivers liquid-state LPG fuel directly into the intake port.
Whereas traditional vapour LPG systems turn liquefied gas into vapour form before feeding it into the engine via a venturi in the throttle body, the liquid phase injection system takes the gas in liquid state all the way to the injectors.
Injecting the LPG fuel in a liquid state directly into the intake port in a more precise and controlled manner generates improved engine volumetric efficiency which delivers better fuel economy, reduced CO2 emissions, and greater engine performance. 
As the LPG fuel is no longer under pressure once it is released from the injector its sudden expansion and rapid cooling of the incoming air charge creates the ideal conditions for maximum fuel burning efficiency.  This enables the engine to produce more power and torque, economically, and with fewer CO2 emissions.
Energy diverse Sprinter
We reported in the 2007 Sustainable Fleet feature about the availablity of natural gas powered (NGT) Mercedes-Benz Sprinter delivery vans in Europe as well as bivalent - LPG-powered versions which Mercedes-Benz had on offer. These were two of four technologies Daimler was trialling in its vehicles and showed that offering energy diversity in commercial vehicles was a way to increase efficiencies while meeting tighter emission controls.
Mercedes-Benz said the NGT drive harnessed the specific properties of natural gas (methane) in the combustion process by producing low emissions of NOx and hydrocarbons (HC) as well as producing almost zero soot particulate. The NGT Sprinter had a driving range of 370km depending on tank capacity which made it ideal for use in highly populated urban areas where environmental pollution is a concern.
Daimler says LPG also combusts more softly and with less residue than petrol which in turn increases the service life of the engine. Hence the bivalent LPG Sprinter models can run on gas in cities and towns where the vehicle is subject to strict emission rules then for longer journeys outside these areas the driver can switch to petrol operation.
Mercedes-Benz also offered a purely electric van with an operating range of 45 to 100km depending upon the battery system installed in the vehicle, as well as the combination of a diesel-electric drive in the Sprinter Hybrid by coupling a low-emission diesel engine with a three-phase synchronous electric motor to form a drive system designed for optimum fuel consumption.

 The benefit of the diesel-electric system in the Sprinter Hybrid is the vehicle’s ability to run silently on pure electric power with zero emissions for an operating range of 30km. For rural or highway operation the diesel engine is boosted by the electric motor when accelerating or driving uphill. The nickel metal hydride batteries can be recharged while on the move or can be plugged into three phase or AC power using the built-in charging unit.
New Zealand’s most economical car
Earlier I mentioned the inequitable RUC system which has not helped NZ sales of passenger diesel cars, which is a shame given this technology will only grow more efficient and offer greater range required by an environmentally conscious fleet. There is still a lot of efficiency to be gained from diesel engine technology, as we will see when Euro VI rated engines start appearing.
This does not mean, however, that people should discount diesel fleet vehicles from their shopping list as their ability to provide up to 25 percent more distance per tank of fuel than a petrol engine has some merit, particularly for long-distance fleet applications.
Currently the Ford Fiesta Econetic is the most fuel efficient vehicle in NZ, delivering only 3.7L/100km and on a Company Vehicle road test we managed to achieve 2.5L/100km.
The Fiesta Econetic models are sporty and provide a vibrant colour range. They are also incredibly well-equipped for the class offering voice control, Bluetooth compatibility, cruise control, electric power-assisted steering and steering wheel-mounted controls.
Available as a 5-speed manual the 1.6 Duratorq TDCi provides 70kW and 200Nm of torque while delivering C02 emissions of 98 g/km. The engine and transmission have been modified for optimum fuel economy without comprising on the driveability of the Ford Fiesta.
Lowered suspension, reduced weight with a temporary mobility kit, low rolling-resistance tyres, rear wheel air deflectors, a special instrument cluster display which contains optimum upshift gear-change timing indicator and the coated diesel particulate filter all assist to make this the most fuel efficient car in NZ according to Ford New Zealand.
 Hybrids and electric vehicles
While the Honda Civic Hybrid and the Toyota Prius have found their way into many fleets, the Prius noticeably makes it mark in the banking industry, local government, and also the taxi business.
Toyota will continue to develop more variants of the Prius, including smaller sportier model aimed at young couples and a larger seven-seat version for fleet and family buyers wanting greater space and versatility than the current model.
Mitsubishi Motors NZ says it made history in July as the first automotive distributor to sell mass-produced electric cars to the New Zealand public".
“This is a proud day for our company,” said head of sales and marketing strategy Daniel Cook. “It is not often you have the opportunity to make a significant impact on history”.
The Mitsubishi i-Miev has a range of up to 150 km per charge and is designed for urban commuters, who, on average, travel 32 km/day. A full recharge from a standard 15 amp wall socket, takes approximately seven hours and costs about $5.
“While the i-Miev primarily suits the urban commuter, it also represents a turning point in automotive history,” said Daniel. “It sets the foundation from which to launch the next-generation of electric-based hybrid vehicles, instead of the petrol and diesel-based hybrids we see today.
The i-Miev will be on sale at approved Mitsubishi dealers for $59,990, including three years free servicing and installation of one 15 amp socket in the home garage for charging.
The pitfalls of changing policy
Changing vehicle policy to meet green criteria can have its challenges as one Orix customer found out when its parent company mandated that all its fleet vehicles must meet emissions targets of just 185g/km.
A distributor of Swedish bearings, SKF New Zealand shifted away from 2.4-litre Camry and 3.5-litre Maxima V6 fleet cars to 1.9-litre turbo-diesel VW Golf and Skoda Octavia lift-backs as these vehicles initially met the criteria in 2006 when the company reviewed its fleet criteria.   At the time the choice of vehicles was quite limited.
But the company found that while the move to European diesel vehicles satisfied the parent company’s emissions policy the move was not sustainable locally due to higher cost of ownership. SKF New Zealand also found that servicing European vehicles outside main metropolitan areas presented logistic difficulties.
In 2010 the company decided to revert back to more mainstream brand petrol vehicles that meet the 185g/km criteria and it also restructured the types of vehicle available to sales staff and management. This restricted the suitable choice of vehicles as many petrol-powered vehicles did not meet the emissions criteria nor the safety required.
At the time the smallest vehicles on the fleet were covering the longest distances and the company wanted to improve the safety and comfort for the drivers of these vehicles as well as meet the   emission criteria.
The company then chose the Nissan Qashqai ST (179g/km) as its first tier vehicle for field sales staff while a second tier was created for product managers and branch managers who had the option of the more highly specified Nissan Qashqai Ti or a Mazda6 2-litre GLX which just made the criteria at 184g/km.
The company is slowly replacing its diesel fleet with the Japanese four-cylinder vehicles as they come up for replacement and now a Korean has been thrown  into the second tier vehicle range in the form of a 2.0 litre Hyundai i45 sedan which has an emission figure of 175g/km.
In the future SKF New Zealand says it may again have to reconsider their fleet choice and type of engine/vehicle should the mandated figure be lowered even further by the parent company. Fortunately as we have stated earlier in the article the growing technology in petrol and diesel engines should present greater choices if and when the mandated figure is lowered.
Tyre choice
Increasing fuel efficiency and braking efficiency, while decreasing rolling resistance and reducing the use of non aromatic oils, petrochemicals, rubber and carbon black in tyre manufacturing are just some of the trends affecting the tyre industry globally.
Michelin launched its first energy tyre (with the Green X badge) in 1992. The Michelin Energy Tyre integrated silica into the tread as a partial substitute for carbon black. Michelin says silica helps to lower the rolling resistance without compromising performance in traction, grip (especially on wet surfaces) and  tread life.
Since 1992 Michelin says it has developed four generations of fuel-efficient tyres for passenger cars and three for trucks. It has reduced fuel consumption by more than 11-billion  litres and C02 emissions by more than 28 tons worldwide.
Michelin said it focused on further improving low rolling resistance (LRR) because the tyre has its greatest environmental impact – up to 86 percent- when it is in use on the road, not during manufacture or disposal. Production of the raw materials accounts for 11.7 percent of carbon emissions, distribution is less than one percent, collecting the end-of-life tyre accounts for less than one percent and end of life processing accounts for just two percent.
In 1997 the launch of the Michelin Energy Saver LRR saw a tyre that reduced fuel consumption by nearly 0.2L/100km thereby lowering C02 emissions by 4g/km. Michelin researchers believe additional reductions in rolling resistance up to 50 percent will be possible within the next 10 to 15 years.
Bill Dyall from Bridgestone NZ says  there is a move globally to provide products which have a lower rolling resistance (LRR) such as the Bridgestone Ecopia range, as this greatly assists fuel reduction and in turn greenhouse gas emissions. This is also part of Bridgestone’s commitment to sustainability and corporate social responsibility.
He says LRR products will continue to become more and more popular with consumers but at all stages the balance of the tyre performance is always taken into account. Bill comments that the initial investment in environmental technology will always pay dividends in the long term.
“Different products have different benefits in terms of tyre life, rolling resistance, braking, wet handling and noise reduction. Bridgestone feel that consumers will more and more be able to find value from innovative manufacturers,” he says.
“With rising fuel prices consumers can now also make long term benefits through Eco products rather than short term benefits in purchase price.”

 

 

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