Wednesday 2 March 2011
One of the 64,000 dollar questions in the industry at present is: should fleets continue to buy vans that use alternative fuels? Many experts are giving green fuels the thumbs down at present. Government grants to buy these vehicles ended in March and there are concerns over future residual values. But the makers of dual-fuel vans - hardly surprisingly - are still trying to talk up the market by pointing out the benefits that such vehicles can bring in terms of fuel costs and air cleanliness. There is no clear answer to the question, so in this test of the Citroen Berlingo petrol/LPG dual fuel, I will simply present the pluses and minuses and fleet operators will have to decide for themselves.
So let's start with the plus points. Firstly, we have the van itself. The Citroen Berlingo was the first ever light van to be designed as such (previously light vans were all car-derived) and although it was launched in 1995, it is still a force to be reckoned with. Outside the van is swathed in black plastic to protect it from knocks and scrapes and the cab is stylish, roomy and comfortable. The dual-fuel version has a 582kg payload and load space of three cubic metres. Standard equipment includes a driver's airbag, power steering, guide-me-home headlights, a rubber load floor mat and a 100-litre storage space under the passenger seat.Secondly let's look under the bonnet. This Berlingo is powered by a 1.4-litre petrol engine pumping out 75bhp at 5,500rpm and 89lb-ft of torque at 3,400rpm. It is noticeably quicker on acceleration than its diesel brothers (a plus point for the driver but probably a minus point for the fleet operator).
This van is certainly a capable performer on the roads. It's lively, has its power steering set-up weighted just right and will happily be thrown into corners without complaint. Flicking between petrol and LPG is effected by simply pressing a button. When the van is using LPG, the button shows an orange light. The petrol gauge is in its normal place on the dashboard while the LPG monitor is situated in the floor on the centre console. There is no jerkiness when the fuel is changed. Unfortunately, ABS brakes are an option at £320. Turning to the fuel itself, LPG is still cheap at £1.78 per gallon as opposed to £4 for diesel, although the Berlingo will only do about 25 miles per gallon on LPG. The petrol tank is 60 litres while the LPG tank holds 36 litres - enough for about 200 miles. In the rear, the LPG tank is slung under the vehicle so doesn't encroach on the loadspace. Now things start to get a trifle grey.While LPG emissions are undoubtedly less than those of petrol - indeed this van is zero rated for the London congestion charge - LPG is still a fossil fuel at the end of the day and has to be processed somewhere. So the clean air in London is probably compensated for by dirtier air wherever the gas is made. It's called the 'well-to-wheel' pollution factor. The cleanest alternative fuel, of course, is natural gas, but you can only buy it in a handful of garages, so Citroen doesn't bother making a van that runs on it. Now let's turn to some of the minus points. For starters, this van costs £10,495 ex-VAT, whereas for £10,195 you can buy a Berlingo powered by one of Citroen's HDi common rail diesel engines, which promise excellent fuel economy and the longevity that diesel technology brings. (All prices as of July 2005)
Once upon a time, the Government's Energy Saving Trust used to subsidise LPG conversions, but these grants have now ceased. Buying LPG at filling stations used to be a problem but everyone seems to be flogging it now, so I can't mark that against the Berlingo. But if you want to fill both tanks, you'll find the petrol filler cap on one side of the van and the LPG filler on the other side. How daft is that? And a huge question mark hangs over the residual value of LPG-powered vans. While the HDi versions are sure to command good money at auction, operators could find themselves losing cash at selling time with an LPG van.
So there you have it in a nutshell. A lot of good points and quite a few bad ones too.It's a tough decision to make but a subject that will be talked about in earnest for many a month to come.
Search for used Citroen vans