Electric vans: The final countdown

Date: Monday, April 26, 2021   |   Author: James Dallas

An abundance of products are now coming to market, but will the UK’s light commercial vehicle sector be ready to go electric by 2030?

Within a decade the UK government’s ban on the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles will have come into effect and the internal combustion engine will be on its way to taking its (highly significant) place in the history of motorised transport.

That’s the plan anyway, but with diesel overwhelmingly the dominant force of propulsion for light commercial vehicles the journey towards an electric and alternative-fuelled future looks far from straightforward. The government is fond of talking about ‘roadmaps’ but it’s hard to see how cutting the plug-in van grant (PIVG) will help us navigate a greener path.

Light commercial vehicle manufacturers, however, are not standing still and are busy developing electric products, albeit using a variety of approaches.

Renault has been a pioneer of electric vans since it introduced the Kangoo ZE in 2012 and it claims to have sold more than 60,000 examples of the compact van across Europe.

A new electric Kangoo will break cover in continental Europe this year before arriving in the UK in 2022, but this time it looks set to be badged as the Kangoo E-Tech instead of ZE

Whatever it’s called, Renault says the new plug-in Kangoo will have a range of 165 miles between charges. This may be only a fairly modest 20 miles more than the outgoing model but is likely to make it a more realistic proposition for operators, especially as comfort has been improved with a heat pump that no longer drains the battery, meaning EV adopters do not have to risk getting frostbite when undertaking winter assignments.

A cabin pre-heat programme, heated driver seat and steering wheel mean comfort levels have risen dramatically since the early days of electric vans.

Payloads are not yet known but the electric Kangoo’s load volumes will mirror those of the diesel and petrol versions: up to 3.9m3 in standard mode and up to 4.9m3 in long.

Renault led the way in the small electric van sector (and we shouldn’t forget that it also markets the supermini-derived Zoe Van) and is now also in the vanguard of the large electric van movement with the Master ZE. 

In July last year Renault launched a 3.5t version of the Master ZE, which had previously only been available at 3.1t. It is available as a panel van with load volumes ranging between 9m3 and 13m3 and up to 1,490kg payload; as a platform cab, with payloads up to 1,740kg; in conversions such as a Luton Low Loader; and as a new chassis cab, with a maximum payload of 1,620kg and possible conversions including a Tipper, Dropside and Luton Box Van.

Renault claims the additional body options mean the Master ZE now offers the widest range of variants for an electric commercial vehicle. The powertrain is the same as that of the 3.1t Master ZE, comprising a 77hp motor with 225Nm of torque and a 33kWh battery, giving a driving range of up to 75 miles. It doesn’t come cheap, though: prices start at £52,000, excluding VAT and including the government’s plug-in van grant, which remains intact for large vans.

Renault is enlarging its EV offer with plug-in hydrogen fuel cell vans. It plans to present the Master Hydrogen this year and, with recharging infrastructure partner Plug Power, is aiming for a 30% share of Europe’s hydrogen LCV market by 2030.

Renault’s alliance partner Nissan is another pioneer of electrification, with its e-NV200 a favourite with early-adopter fleets. Nissan believes the increase in door-to-door deliveries resulting from the pandemic has created a market opportunity for electric vans.

Peter Stephens, head of UK and external government affairs at Nissan, says: “The growth in last-mile delivery that we have seen as a result of the lockdown offers a real growth opportunity, as 100% electric vans are a great option for last mile delivery.”

Where Renault and Nissan have led the way, other manufacturers are following, including brands in the Stellantis group. Stellantis was formed in 2021 following the merger of FiatChrysler and PSA Group. 

Brought to the party by PSA are the joint winners of the What Van? Van of the Year award for 2021, the Citroen e-Dispatch, Peugeot e-Expert and Vauxhall Vivaro-e, which are built on the same platform. Based on their internal combustion-engined (ICE) stablemates, they stand shoulder to shoulder when it comes to load-lugging capability, offering payloads up to 1,226kg and load volumes up to 6.6m3. While the battery and motor adds weight, improved battery technology means the removal of the diesel engine and transmission more or less evens out the difference. These load-lugging credentials are married to driving ranges that top 200 miles, delivering the sort of functionality that customers eager to switch to electric vans have been crying out for.

Before the year end these medium vans will be joined by their little brothers: the Peugeot e-Partner the Citroen e-Berlingo and Vauxhall Combo-e light vans. Powered by a 136hp electric motor they come with a 50kWh battery, which is good for a range of up to 171 miles from a single charge on the WLTP cycle. Load volumes mirror the ICE equivalents at a maximum of 4.4m3, maximum payload goes up to 800kg and towing capacity can reach as much as 750kg.

With the formation of Stellantis, Fiat Professional-badged versions of these vans may emerge in due course, but for the time being Fiat is concentrating on establishing the E-Ducato large electric van, which arrives in May.

The model comes with either a 47kWh or 79kWh battery, allowing electric ranges of up to 146 miles and 230 miles, respectively, on the WLTP city cycle – ranges are 88 to 175 miles on the combined cycle. Times for a full battery charge are two hours 25 minutes and four hours, respectively.

Both batteries come with a 122hp motor, allowing acceleration from 0–30mph in less than six seconds, although top speed is only 62mph. 

The E-Ducato has a payload of up to 1,885kg, while load volumes are the same as the diesel Ducato, at 10.0m3–17.0m3

Three bodystyles are available – goods van, chassis cab, and passenger van. The goods van is available in three different heights (2309mm, 2579mm or 2814mm), three different lengths (5413mm, 5998mm or 6363mm) and three different wheelbase sizes (3450mm, 4035mm or 4035mm). 

The chassis cab comes in three different lengths (5358mm, 5708mm or 5943mm), and four different wheelbase sizes (3450mm, 3800mm, 4035mm or 4035mm), and the passenger version can be had with seating for between five and nine passengers. Range prices for the E-Ducato start at £47,675, excluding VAT and including the PIVG.

Toyota is establishing a bigger presence in the LCV sector by piggybacking on the Stellantis platforms with its medium-sized Proace and compact Proace City. The company is set to complement its line-up with a Proace Electric in April followed by a Proace City Electric in the fourth quarter of the year.

The UK’s two biggest-selling LCV brands, Ford and Volkswagen, have not set the pace when it comes to EV adoption. Ford launched its plug-in hybrid Transit Custom PHEV in 2020. Aimed at customers needing zero-emission city capability as well as the means to cover long distances, the PHEV has an electric-only range of 35 miles. 

The brand’s first fully electric van, the E-Transit, will not arrive in showrooms until next year. It will feature a 269hp motor driving the rear wheels, and have 67kWh of battery capacity, said to allow an estimated driving range of up to 217 miles on the WLTP cycle. Charging speeds will be up to 115kW with a compatible DC charger, allowing
a 15–80% charge in around 34 minutes, while an on-board 11.3kW charger will allow a 100% charge in just over eight hours. 

With the battery located under the body, Ford says the E-Transit will provide 15.1m3 of cargo space – the same as a rear-wheel drive diesel Transit – while targeted payloads are up to 1,616kg for a panel van, and 1,967kg for a chassis cab.

Ford has now confirmed that the next generation of the UK’s best-selling van, the Transit Custom, will be available in electric mode when it goes into production in 2023.

Volkswagen eventually came to market last year with the e-Transporter, built in collaboration with specialist convertor ABT e-Line, following its decisions to shelve electric introductions of the Caddy compact van and Crafter large van in the UK, despite extensive trials of the latter. As an aftermarket conversion the e-Transporter is similar to its diesel sibling in style and driving characteristics as there is no regenerative braking system to boost charge. 

The e-Transporter can be rapid-charged to 80% of capacity in 45 minutes and power comes from a 110hp (83kW) electric motor. It still uses Volkswagen’s DSG dual-clutch gearbox in contrast to most electric vans, which have a single-speed transmission. The load capacity is uncompromised but a range of 82 miles falls short of rivals.

The e-Transporter feels like a stop gap for Volkswagen before the arrival of its purpose-built ID Buzz Cargo electric van, possibly in 2022.

Mercedes upgraded its eVito medium van in November 2020. The previously higher-spec Progressive trim level is now the entry-level option. Standard equipment includes DAB radio, a reversing camera, an anti-theft Protection Package with double locks, a new-style grille with chrome fins, and an 8m, 32-amp Type 2 charging cable. The eVito is offered in two vehicle lengths, comes with an 85kW electric motor, and a 92-mile driving range on the WLTP cycle. Prices start at £32,176 excluding VAT and including the PIVG.

The brand’s eSprinter large van is available in a single body size – medium length, high roof – and only as a panel van but the manufacturer’s Electric Versatility Platform, backed by a £312m investment, is designed to multiply the number of body configurations by the mid-decade. The eSprinter costs £41,560 excluding VAT and including the PIVG.

Iveco has long produced an electric version of its Daily (the first one appeared in 1986) without making serious inroads into the market. Unusually, the manufacturer has always put as much effort into developing compressed and liquified natural gas-powered vehicles – a policy it continues to pursue. Iveco says its next e-Daily will come with a modular battery pack offering ranges from 75 to 186 miles but says the CNG Daily will also play a key role in helping the brand meet 2025 emissions legislation.

A newcomer with big ambitions in the electric van sector is Maxus (formerly LDV).It is pinning its hopes on two products: the electric-only eDeliver 3 compact van and the eDeliver 9, which is a plug-in version of its Deliver 9 diesel model.

The former has a claimed range of 150 miles on the WLTP cycle on a single charge of the larger of the two batteries (52.5kWh) offered. With the smaller 35kWh battery it can manage a claimed 110 miles.

The panel van comes in short- and long-wheelbase guises with load volumes of 4.8m3 and 6.3m3, respectively. Top payload is a hefty 1,020kg, which beats most diesel vans, let alone electrics. Maxus says the Deliver 3 can be fully charged in six to eight hours or DC fast charged to 80% of capacity within 45 minutes. It is priced from £30,000 excluding VAT but this drops to £22,800 once the PIVG is subtracted.

The eDeliver 9 costs an eye-watering £55,000 under the same terms. The eDeliver 9 comes with a 203hp electric motor, and a choice of three battery sizes – 51.5kWh, 72kWh, and 88.55kWh. Maxus says an electric driving range of up to 219 miles on a single charge is possible. Two vehicle lengths are available – a medium wheelbase with a cargo volume of 9.7m3, and a long wheelbase version offering 11.0m3. Payloads are up to 1,700kg.

LEVC launched its petrol-electric range-extended VN5 last year, based on its TX London taxi. It has a pure electric range of 58 miles, which can be increased to more than 300 miles by firing up the onboard range-extender petrol engine, while its battery is capable of a 0-100% charge in 30 minutes using a 50kW DC charger. It has a 5.5m3 loading capacity and a payload of up to 830kg and costs almost £40,000, excluding VAT but including the PIVG.

The upfront purchase price of electric vans will appear prohibitive to many operators but this should be balanced against lower whole-life costs due to savings on fuel, taxation, including from low-emission zone tariffs, and maintenance; there are fewer working parts on an electric van compared with an ICE van, which results in cheaper servicing and repairs and reduced downtime. Leasing can also be considered as a way to spreads costs and factor in fleet renewals to keep abreast of new technologies.

With the 2030 deadline looming for phasing out ICE there is no turning back on the road to electrification but the journey should be made easier by stronger residual values compared with soon-to-be obsolete diesel and petrol vans, improving battery ranges and charging infrastructure, access to clean air zones and exemption from road charges and the continuation of (albeit reduced) government grants.

A charging solution

With an estimated 400,000 additional charging points required to meet electric vehicle demand by 2030 according to think tank Policy Exchange, the JustPark parking app has called on businesses and individuals to make their charging points available to EV users.

JustPark, which allows EV chargers to be listed for customers to reserve and pay for in advance, claims it has been adding 120 new EV hosts to its platform per week, making it the seventh largest public charging network in the UK. 

Although the government has pledged £20m to local authorities to increase the number of on-street charge points, this will only add a further 4,000 to the network, according to its own figures. This equates to around 35 chargers per local authority over the next four years at a cost of £6,000 per charge point installation. 

Anthony Eskinazi, founder and CEO of JustPark, said: “The UK is not on track to have the required infrastructure in place to support the mass adoption of electric vehicles.”

“People with a charge point already installed can do their bit for their area by sharing it with others on JustPark. This type of community support would help to further increase the adoption of EVs in the next few years,” he added.


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