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Anniversary interview with the LowCVP

The Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership (LowCVP) is a public-private organisation, born in 2003, with a vision to help the UK shift to more sustainable transport. Working with more than 200 firms, including automotive and fuel supply companies, vehicle users and academics, the partnership plays a key role in helping Government deliver its low carbon transport strategy.

Andy Eastlake of LowCVPNow celebrating its tenth anniversary, LowCVP’s managing director, Andy Eastlake chats to us about what he hopes the next decade will deliver for greener transport.

TGCW: LowCVP recently celebrated its tenth anniversary, in the next ten years, what changes do you expect to see and what do you hope will be the partnership’s role within them?

Andy: This is a fast-moving agenda. At our recent Anniversary event, I focused on a key aspect of our strategy which I’m calling - “Beyond Tailpipe”. In future we will need to be able to monitor emissions from vehicles running on biofuels and electricity and, of course, many of these emissions are not produced at the tailpipe. We are well qualified, based on our past work on biofuels sustainability criteria as well as our work associated with the introduction of greener buses, to take this approach, working with all branches of the LowCVP to identify when the right time is for this new approach.

The way we structure our work is also critical. We have identified very clearly the points on the product cycle where LowCVP can add real value, these are the three pillars of our programme:

· Working with academia and the research community to understand the needs and identify the opportunities for what is needed, when;

· Collaborating with the whole Industry from SMEs to major global corporations to steer the policies and influence the implementation of lower carbon solutions;

· And developing the nascent markets with sound data and consumer information ensuring real carbon savings are embedded into every aspect of future thinking.

We have also clarified the horizontal categories of work into vehicle and fuel groups. By doing this we are able to work on the detail of every aspect from research and innovation to marketing and operation, while keeping a sharp eye squarely on the big picture.

TGCW: The organisation has played a key role in developing fuel economy labels for both new and used vehicles. Why has clear labelling for consumers been so important?

Andy: The fuel economy label for new and – latterly – used cars has been an important initiative of the LowCVP. A critical aspect of behaviour change (in this case purchasing decisions) is making sure the person making the choice has really good information and can access that very easily. The label is familiar to consumers because it is similar to those used in showrooms for ‘white goods’ – fridges and freezers etc. It therefore has immediate resonance.

Fuel EconomyThis was initially a voluntary initiative that the manufacturers were really helpful in supporting. The last research carried out by the LowCVP has shown that more than 94% of cars in new car showrooms display the label. We also carried out research some time ago which showed that over half of car buyers were aware of the label and of those that were aware, over 70% thought it was important. We would expect these levels to have increased since that survey as recognition is likely to have increased over time.

But you can never stop developing these things, only a month ago we finalised the layout and information to be used on the label for the latest technology vehicles (Electric and Plug-in Vehicles). Getting an agreed position on this is not always easy as the technology used by different manufacturers responds very differently under the various test scenarios. Capturing the essence of the benefits of these extremely sophisticated vehicle systems into a simple label, certainly exercised the team.

TGCW: Last year, you published a report assessing the possibility of moving to a whole lifecycle C02 assessment of vehicles, and you promised to move ‘beyond the tailpipe’ at your recent anniversary conference. How will LowCVP seek to achieve this? And what about other GHG emissions too?

Andy: The most recent fundamental work we have carried out to look at the full life cycle impact showed that for the next ten years at least, the in-use phase of a vehicle is by far the dominant impact. So it is absolutely appropriate to focus our efforts on supporting the efficiency improvements in vehicles and the use of low carbon fuels and energy sources and to drill further and further into the detail of this with real world analysis over a wider range of operating conditions. It is only when we get to electric vehicles together with a very clean electricity grid, or alternatively very high blend and fully sustainable biofuel options that the production and end of life phases gain prominence.

Our approach is to continue to develop the science and to dig further into the life cycle, for example looking at other vehicle types and technologies to ensure we are always asking the right questions but, pragmatically, we must try to focus on where we can have most direct impact in the short to medium term as well and this is in the use phase right now.

TGCW: Do you think the government should move to a pay-per-mile approach to VED?

Andy: The LowCVP recently wrote to the Chancellor to express our view that changes to road taxation need to be handled with great care and signalled well in advance. It is critical that the tax incentives for the introduction of low carbon vehicles which are embedded into current tax mechanisms are not undermined or weakened as they have been important in encouraging consumer uptake. We have to consider that cars and mobility are very emotive subjects and, of course, it takes a great deal of time to change the fleet composition, so sudden policy “knee jerks” are extremely unhelpful and we have seen, can have a negative impact in the long term.

VED is only one of the tools at the government disposal and we must not consider it in isolation. Having said that, we know that the Treasury does have to make the books balance and the ‘cloud that surrounds the silver lining’ is that HMT lose fuel duty revenue. With transport energy sources fragmenting into electricity, biomethane, hydrogen, biofuels etc, we may have to find a better way of raising revenue from this area. The key is to start the conversations now and to include all the stakeholder in the process.

TGCW: You recently named your 2012 Low Carbon Champions. What makes this year’s champions so special?

Andy: All our past LowCVP Champions are special. One of the things that makes the LowCVP Low Carbon Champions Awards stand out is that they are one of a small number of awards processes that is accredited by the Royal Society of Arts (RSA).

LowCVP Awards 2012The RSA’s Accreditation for Sustainable Development Awards schemes is a rigorous process and ensures that the results are highly credible and deserved. The Champions Awards are also exceptional in that over 30 senior people – leading experts and stakeholders from across the sectors – take part in the judging process.

Of course being our tenth anniversary really adds to the occasion and enabled us to reward some outstanding long term commitments to the low carbon agenda as well as inviting as many of those friends who have been on this journey with us, to celebrate our joint achievements.

TGCW: There has been a lot of criticism lately of the damaging impact of diesel vehicle emissions. Does LowCVP think that diesel still has a role to play, as we move to reduce carbon and air pollution impacts of our transport?

Andy: Diesel undoubtedly has a role to play in future but we need to do all that is possible to mitigate the air quality impacts that are particularly important in densely populated areas. Policies need to be designed to ensure that climate mitigation measures do not undermine efforts to clean up the air.

We constantly consider the air quality potential within our work. At a local level, older diesel vehicles, in particular, can be a problem. I do believe that there are many more options now with the range of electric and hybrid technologies together with very sophisticated exhaust after-treatment systems such that robust solutions exist. The challenge is affordability and implementing these solutions fast enough. Diesel vehicles tend to last quite a while!

TGCW: You helped develop sustainability criteria for biofuels which has been adopted by the Government. Does this mean that biofuels in the UK are safe to use now, from an environmental perspective?

Andy: LowCVP’s sustainability and carbon accreditation standards for biofuels provide good data on which policy decisions can be based. It enables the Government to see what impact its policies to incentivise biofuels are having. The standards encourage suppliers to focus on sustainability throughout the product cycle but cannot ensure that all biofuels supplied necessarily and in all cases do more good than harm.

We will continue to strive to not only improve the sustainability of the fuels brought to market but also to make that data more transparent and accessible.

TGCW: There is a confusing mix of alternative fuel technologies we’re starting to use in the UK, from electric and hybrid vehicles, to CNG and LNG, to fuel cell and biodiesel. Do you think there are any particular fuel types and technologies which so far have remained low-key, that will play a much bigger role in the coming years?

Andy: I think that we will see a range of solutions and we also always say there is no one ‘silver bullet’ to cut carbon from road transport. My view is that we will start to see particular technology options focused on specific applications. For example, electric city cars operation makes absolute sense, but for a long haul heavy truck liquid biomethane is one of the best choices available. There are still so many potential technology advances for batteries, fuel cells, future biofuels etc that we have to keep pushing on every front.

One area of transport that will materially affect us is the adoption of ‘intelligent’ systems within vehicles. I think this is a game changer that will influence our approaches to mobility and, therefore, the ways we own and use our vehicles.

TGCW: You were appointed as M.D back in April after a long association with the Partnership since it was first established. What’s been your proudest moment with LowCVP over that time?

Andy: I have had many great moments with the LowCVP. Certainly the work on low emission buses and seeing the fruits of my personal contribution of sitting on an original Routemaster, travelling route 159 all day to log the drive cycle…or presenting our proposals for low carbon trucks to the head of DfT, several years ago.

But my proudest moment was undoubtedly at the end of 2011 when I received an award for Outstanding Contribution to the LowCVP, directly from the secretariat team. To be acknowledged for the time and effort put into the organisation is something I wish I could do for all our members who support the really important work of the Partnership.

You can find out more about joining the LowCVP here:

LowCVP’s Tenth Anniversary video is also available to watch here

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Faye Sunderland

Filed under: Interviews, LowCVP

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