Conditions have become increasingly difficult for drivers in recent years, with the cost of fuel continually pushing towards record levels. Fuel companies continually point towards rising wholesale prices, but increases in fuel duty by the government - already the biggest fuel tax in Europe - have not helped motorists.
Drivers will have been relieved, therefore, when chancellor George Osborne announced in this latest Budget statement that the planned three-pence-per-litre hike in fuel duty, pencilled in for September, is being scrapped. It doesn't make conditions any better for motorists, but it prevents further pressure being put on their wallets.
Yet for companies, there was extra relief in some of the other details of the Budget. Company car tax banding are being changed, for example, to reward drivers of low-emission vehicles. The current regulations charge five per cent company car tax on vehicles which emit 0-75g of carbon dioxide per kilometre; from 2014-15 cars emitting 0-50g/km will be charged five per cent tax and seven per cent the year after, but vehicles which produce 50-100g/km will be subject to a nine per cent levy in 2014-15 and 11 per cent the following year.
With petrol prices prompting many fleet owners to consider more economical vehicles, the promise of significantly reduced tax bills (multiplied of course for each vehicle in the fleet) is likely to persuade many to buy environmentally-friendly vehicles.
One model which could be set to benefit is the Nissan eNV200 electric van, which has been proving its credentials in a recent test as a commercial vehicle for British Gas. The energy supplier plans to make a large proportion of its fleet of 13,000 vehicles electric by 2015, and has been putting the eNV200 through its paces with a series of practical tests. Colin Marriott, fleet general manager at British Gas, said the firm has been "very impressed", adding: "After our month-long test in 2012 which went well, the cold weather testing was vitally important to establish the van's characteristics in real-life working conditions.
"The drivers enjoyed the experience and the vehicle's performance and reliability. We will now continue further testing in 2013 and 2014 ahead of us deciding our future fleet mix."
Jon Pollock, corporate sales director at Nissan GB, was predictably pleased with the results of the performance trials. "We're delighted that the next stage of testing for British Gas has been a success," he said. "Working with a large fleet operator like British Gas allows us to receive a range of feedback before the van launches in early 2014 and we look forward to continuing our close working relationship."
While British Gas could expect big company car tax savings by switching to electric vehicles, smaller companies can also reap the benefits. Remember also that electric vehicles qualify for the government's Plug-in Grant, so speak to dealers and check out the offers on Nissan vehicles from retailers such as Evans Halshaw to see what the potential savings could be.