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Insurance Companies Use PZEVs to Meet Green Fleet Initiatives

October 2008, by Mike Scott - Also by this author

CIGNA Corporation, a health services and benefits company, and Liberty Mutual Insurance are among a growing number of U.S. companies incorporating partial zero emissions vehicles (PZEVs) in their fleets as part of “green” or environmentally friendly initiatives.

PZEVs are modern vehicles with advanced engines equipped with cutting-edge emissions controls. They run on gasoline and generally offer extremely clean emissions with zero evaporative emissions. PZEVs offer varying levels of fuel mileage, but don’t always provide fuel efficiency much better than current model-year averages.

PZEVs Meet State Standards

Even though fueled by gasoline, PZEVs emit significantly less nitrous oxides (NOx) or carbon monoxide (CO) fumes, decreasing vehicle-produced air pollution, even compared to hybrids. PZEVs are 97-percent cleaner than typical gasoline-powered vehicles. They also meet or exceed all state emission standards.

The PZEV category was created as part of an informal agreement between automotive manufacturers and  the California Air Resources Board (CARB), so that manufacturers could postpone producing federally mandated zero emission vehicles (ZEVs), which require the production of electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

To qualify as a PZEV, a vehicle must meet the super ultra low emission vehicles (SULEV) standard, produce zero evaporative emissions from its fuel system, and offer an extended warranty (15-year/150,000-mile) on its emission-control components, which incidentally, covers the propulsion electrical components of a hybrid-electric vehicle.

PZEV vehicles also must meet tight emission test requirements for volatile organic compounds (VOC), NOx, and CO. Cost and technical issues related to battery-electric vehicles led to a modification of the ZEV mandate that resulted in the PZEV, which allows automakers to meet their quotas through partial zero credits.

According to 2007 research developed by the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decision-making through research and analysis, PZEVs are an economical way to reduce ozone-forming emissions. Since PZEVs are conventional gasoline-powered vehicles, they require only incremental improvements on an existing and proven technology, rather than an entirely new technology.

Emissions of hydrocarbons from Volvo’s PZEV engine (available in such models as the S40) are less than 0.001 the levels typical of cars built before the advent of catalytic converter technology. Catalytic converters were first introduced in the mid-1970s to comply with tightening EPA regulations on auto exhaust as a way to reduce the emission toxicity of emissions from internal combustion engines. In dense city traffic, a PZEV engine exhaust may even be cleaner than the ambient air.

One drawback is that few makes and models are available with a PZEV option, limiting choices for fleet managers. However, PZEV vehicles are now available throughout the country and in all 50 states.

CIGNA Deploys PZEVs in Fleet

The comparable cost for including a PZEV option in a new-vehicle order is reasonable. At CIGNA, in Bloomfield, Conn., ordering the Subaru Forester with the PZEV option cost an estimated $220 extra per vehicle, according to Bryan Peters, CIGNA vice president  for corporate services, operations, and environmental sustainability. He is a member of a CIGNA leadership team charged with developing an environmentally friendly policy that extends across the organization.

Importantly, PZEVs do not negatively impact the drivability of CIGNA’s nurses and case managers who typically use the company’s fleet vehicles, said Peters.

“The overriding benefit of PZEV vehicles is that they are very good for the environment,” Peters noted.

Beginning with 2009 models, all CIGNA Forester purchases will be required to have a PZEV feature. Currently, these models comprise about one-third of the company’s approximately 500 fleet vehicles.
CIGNA has taken a variety of other strategies to promote a green fleet initiative. PZEVs will increasingly comprise a larger part of that program. Like other companies, CIGNA primarily deploys six-cylinder vehicles. Many of its fleet vehicles are also E-85 capable. Hybrids will also be added to the fleet where it makes sense.

Through e-mails and other communications to its drivers, CIGNA proactively distributes tips on conserving gas and energy. Drivers use a fuel card program, and Peters plans to engage in additional proactive vehicle data mining to ensure drivers use approved fuel grades and to track increases in fuel efficiency.

“I think all companies feel the need to engage in increased awareness about green initiatives, particularly with fleet vehicles,” Peters said. “We have a significant amount of grassroots interest among our employees.”
Cigna’s deployment of fuel-efficient, environmentally friendly fleet vehicles and the company’s other green initiatives have additional benefits.  Some mutual fund managers are asking companies what they are doing to engage in better environmental sustainability, which can put a company’s stock in a positive light, Peters said.

Liberty Mutual Selects PZEVs

Liberty Mutual Insurance in Boston has developed a green fleet program that also includes 21 Subaru Forester PZEVs, used by the company’s assessors and sales team. That number is likely to rise in the coming years as Liberty Mutual expands its corporate-supported environmentally friendly culture.

Liberty Mutual’s corporate strategy  targets energy consumption whenever possible, and its fleet initiatives are just one step the company is taking, said Fleet Administrator Linda Bent. Four of its fleet vehicle makes and models include fuel-efficient features, with 28 percent of the fleet using flex fuels (primarily Chrysler Sebrings and Dodge Grand Caravans) and 2 percent are PZEVs. In all, Liberty Mutual’s fleet counts nearly 2,650 environmentally friendly vehicles.

“Choosing the proper vehicle selector is step one, and we have and will continue to do that,” Bent said. “What we also want to do is impact driver behavior.”

To change driver habits, the company provides all corporate fleet drivers tire pressure gauges and sends them tips on how to better conserve fuel.

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