Drivers whose licence doesn’t permit them to get behind the wheel of anything heavier than a 3.5-tonner should be allowed to drive a 3.8-tonner if the higher gross weight happens to be the result of the environmentally-friendly power source it employs. So says Nigel Emms, UK director, brand and communication at Iveco.
What he has in mind is the weight of a zero-emission electric van’s batteries. It means that an operator who wants to go electric has to specify a heavier vehicle if he wants to maintain the same payload capacity as his existing diesel 3.5-tonners. Having done so, however, he may find that many of his employees will have to take a separate test in order to drive it.
“In France you get a 300kg bonus which puts an electric 3.8-tonner in the same category as a diesel 3.5-tonner insofar as licensing is concerned,” Emms says. He’d like to see the UK government adopt the same policy. “Alternative fuels and alternative drive systems are expensive and few operators can justify the additional cost,” he continues. “Their use has to be incentivised and the penalties associated with using them removed.”
The government has already introduced one measure to encourage van owners to switch to battery power. In his pre-Budget statement late last year, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, said that firms that opt to run electric commercials can now enjoy 100 per cent capital allowances. This means that operators can write down the entire cost of buying them during their first year of ownership.
Battery-powered vans cost considerably less to run than their diesel counterparts, but are up to three times more expensive. The tax incentive should help to bridge the cost gap. Iveco is launching a battery version of its new Daily in the UK under the EcoDaily Electric banner.
Emms was speaking at Iveco’s annual State of the Nation press conference; and the mood was understandably somewhat sombre.
Sales of vans grossing at from 2.8 to 6.5 tonnes — the sector Daily competes in — plummeted by a painful 39.9 per cent last year, from 147,531 to 88,707; the lowest market for more than a decade.
Most Dailys are sold at 3.5 tonnes and here the collapse was even worse. The market sunk by 40.7 per cent, from 77,179 to 45,794. Iveco kept its number three slot in the league, behind market-leader Ford and Mercedes, but its registrations dropped by an agonising 52 per cent, from 5,813 to 2,791.
Things were rosier, if that’s the right word, in the 3.51- to 6.5-tonne segment. It contracted by a relatively modest 23.5 per cent, from 9,602 sales to 7,350. Iveco was at number three, again behind top player Ford and number two contender Mercedes, but its sales slid by 29.6 per cent, from 1,740 to 1,225. It had been number two in 2008, below Ford but one rung above Fiat.
One reason for the sector’s comparative buoyancy may be a shift in purchasing patterns suggests Iveco’s UK marketing and network development director, Andrea Bucci. “A growing number of environmentally-aware fleet operators are moving from 7.5-tonners to big vans,” he suggests. “This is to reduce their carbon footprint and their on-road impact in urban environments.” The latest Daily is available as a 7.0-tonner, up from a previous 6.5-tonne maximum.
Times were grim in the 7.5 tonne market — a crucial one for Iveco with Eurocargo — which fell by 42.5 per cent, from 9,653 to 5,549 sales. Iveco’s registrations dropped by 40.7 per cent, from 1,995 to 1,184, but it kept its place as number two in the sector, behind Daf.
So will commercial vehicle sales suffer again this year? “It remains hard to forecast where the economy will go next and another tough year lies ahead, but we believe we’ve hit the bottom,” says Bucci. Things are unlikely to improve immediately; but ultimately the only way has to be up.