A major London-based executive chauffeur fleet operator is switching its cars to Lexus hybrids, saying that the emergence of the automaker's Hybrid Drive technology and the readiness of its customers to 'think green' has enabled it to start transforming its operations.

Chauffeur-First already has a fleet of 18 Lexus GS 450h sedans, all in top-specification SE-L trim, and two new LS 600h sedans are on order along with another five GS 450h.

The company hopes to order another 20 Lexus hybrid cars before the end of the year. Its existing 62-vehicle fleet includes BMW, Mercedes and Audi executive models, as well as conventionally powered Lexus GS 300s. Chauffeur-First intends to phase these out and replace them with Lexus hybrids, retaining only a number of Chrysler Grand Voyager MPVs for use when extra capacity is required.

Chauffeur-First said 60% of its work is made up of airport runs and inter-city transfers, and the rest is general transport around London.

"Other chauffeur hire companies have been introducing the Toyota Prius, but as far as we know nobody has yet addressed the executive market in this way," said sales director Alex Bell. "We're excited about it, and our customers think it's wonderful. That's because every company has been coming out with carbon-neutrality statements, yet ground transportation has remained a problem for them."

Regarding the cars' performance, he said: "The power is there but they're so economical - we're getting on average 40 mpg, with the best results on city streets. And because of the electronic-controlled continuous variable transmission, the ride is as smooth as you could ever imagine."

Chauffeur-First is contract-hiring its cars through Lexus Financial Services, and they are supplied and maintained by business centre Lexus Woodford. The vehicles will be replaced at 18-month/60,000-mile intervals.