Nissan: Bringing electric vehicles to life

British Gas, the UK's largest energy supplier, has completed its testing of Nissan's new electric van. General fleet manager Colin Marriott gives his thoughts on the eNV200, and the future of electric vehicles in European fleets.

Could you briefly describe your fleet?
Colin Marriott: The British Gas fleet consists of over 13,000 operational vans, 80% of which are the same size as the Nissan NV200, with the remaining 20% made up of larger models. We also have around 2,700 cars. The central requirements we have for our vehicles are to provide safe transport for British Gas engineers, and efficiently move the equipment they need to carry out their jobs servicing boilers, central heating systems, plumbing and drains, and home electrical equipment.

What impact are carbon emission regulations having on your fleet strategy?
Reducing our carbon footprint is one of the biggest sustainability challenges currently facing British Gas, as well as most other large fleet operators. Our fleet makes up around 60% of our entire CO2 emissions, and we've been tasked with reducing that figure by 25% by 2014. Like other businesses across the UK, we face significant risk to our reputation if we fail to reach our targets. British Gas has already done a lot to achieve this goal. We've adopted new technologies introduced by motor manufacturers, such as the Euro 5 diesel engines, and have trained our staff to drive more efficiently and safely. We've also put in some mechanical interventions, such as topspeed limitation and automatic transmissions. Not only do these steps help reduce the carbon footprint, they also improve fuel efficiency.
Yet, while these measures are all helpful, they're not enough to fully overcome the sustainability challenge. We've had to look at other technologies for a more complete solution. That's where Nissan comes in: they've made significant investments in bringing electric vehicles (EVs) to life.

So you think EVs are an effective sustainability solution?
Whichever way you look at them, EVs cut carbon emissions to a greater degree than diesel and petrol engines, and will be a viable solution for the foreseeable future. And, of course, they massively cut fuel costs and help meet air-quality legislation.
In fact, as well as what we're doing with our own fleet, British Gas has been working with councils, businesses and consumers all over the UK for the last three years, providing the charging infrastructure, which has been crucial in ensuring that electric cars are convenient and represent real value for money.

Are other companies as interested in EVs as you are?
Fleet structure is a key factor in deciding interest. Some other UK operations work from a depot rather than a home base, so they might need different charging infrastructure to support EVs. But, judging by the conversations I've had with some of the big fleets I work alongside, they're certainly attracting a great deal of attention.

What made you choose the eNV200?
Compared with other vans - and that's not just electric models - the eNV200 has a smaller footprint but an equally good, if not better, carrying capacity. It also has a good payload, an excellent turning circle and great in-car technology. The other main reason we chose the eNV200 was our relationship with Nissan, which we've been developing for over two years now. The NV200 diesel models we've already adopted have been enthusiastically received by our engineers, and have a very low total cost of ownership. They're also reliable, and when things do go wrong, the Nissan network seems capable of sorting any problems out quickly.

How do you see the use of electric cars evolving?
I think that CO2 emissions and air-quality targets are only going to get more onerous. The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has already said he wants to cut the amount of petrol and diesel engines in the city centre by 2020. It may sound rash, but the reality is that there's an increasing amount of pressure coming from European legislators. We're already seeing many other businesses realise that low-cost, low-carbon electric vehicles can help meet these challenges. So, as well as setting an example with our own fleet, we're keen to continue playing a role as the leading provider of the charging infrastructure, which is vital to making all this happen.

General fleet manager Colin Marriott.