So, why would I want an electric van?

You’ll want one if you care about tailpipe emissions and urban air quality because electric vans don’t have exhaust pipes and produce zero CO2, NOx and particulates. That’s something that should be welcomed
by city councils given that some of them may soon be facing fines because the air quality in their cities doesn’t meet the level required by the European Union.

Electric vans are quiet, generating little or no noise pollution, and do not vibrate. As a consequence they’re not as tiring to drive as a diesel-powered light commercial.

But what about the steep front-end price? Your eBipper, an electric version of Peugeot’s little Bipper van, costs £40,000 plus VAT, batteries included; around three to four times more than the standard diesel models.

It’s true that it’s difficult to justify purchasing an electric van financially, but it’s certainly not impossible. An eBipper has a range of around 60-70 miles between recharges and the electricity you’ll burn on the way may cost you as little as £1.40. Compare that with the price of the diesel that will be required to go the same distance. Your vehicle will be zero-rated so far as Vehicle Excise Duty is concerned and if you operate in central London you’ll be exempt from the congestion charge. Furthermore, you’ll benefit from a 100% capital allowance write down, which means you can write down the entire cost of buying an electric light commercial during your first year of ownership.

Are leasing packages available?

Yes, with the batteries included, and the leasing companies are being pretty realistic when it comes to second-hand values. A willingness to project a residual value of 15-20% of the original purchase price after five years is not unusual, and we think that figure will rise.

Surely it’s disappointing that somebody who purchases an electric van doesn’t get the £5000 Government subsidy they will be able to claim if they buy an electric car from January 2011 onwards?

It is, but unfortunately there’s a difficulty with this subsidy. In order for us to be able to sell a battery-powered car that would qualify for it so far as the buyer is concerned, the model would have to be crash-tested and it would cost us £200,000 a time. We think this is unreasonable given that the diesel and petrol versions will already have been crash-tested anyway. It might be fine for a major manufacturer, but not for an independent company producing vehicles in lower volumes.

What could the Government do to boost electric vehicle sales?

Acquire more electric vans itself so that manufacturers could increase production volumes and gradually lower the price. By doing so it would help an increasingly important industry; the UK is a leading player so far as electric van production is concerned. Allied got some orders through the Low Carbon Vehicle Procurement Programme designed to support the acquisition of vehicles running on environmentally friendly fuels by public bodies, but it took a while before they materialised. We delivered the first vehicles bought under the programme in September, which was a full two years after we completed the tender document. It has to be said, however, that the Government is doing a fair amount to encourage the provision of public charging points. They help give buyers more confidence.

It’s true that battery- powered vans produce zero CO2, but in Britain a lot of the electricity they use is generated by power stations burning fossil fuels, and they’re certainly not emission-free. Isn’t it the case that the emissions electric vehicles are supposed to save are simply produced elsewhere?

If you’re going to advance that argument – a red herring waved by the oil industry – then in fairness you need to carry out a true well-to-wheel analysis of all the emissions generated by oil before it ends up as diesel or petrol and goes into a vehicle’s tank. I’m talking about the emissions generated by extraction, shipping and refining, right down to the emissions produced by petrol stations themselves. Remember, too, that while there are still power stations that run on fossil fuel,
Britain is investing heavily in renewable sources of energy such as wind farms.

To what extent does the weight of an electric van’s batteries affect its carrying capacity?

With our vehicles you don’t lose out on load space – the batteries are mounted underneath, not in the cargo area – but you do suffer a bit so far as payload is concerned. However, our eExpert, for example, can still carry 600-650kg.

The eBipper can cover 60-70 miles before recharging. What about the other models?

With ePartner you get a range of 80-85 miles, eExpert offers 100 miles while eBoxer will give you 110 miles. For many customers in urban areas that’s more than sufficient. We’ve got some eExperts on trial in Glasgow that cover no more than 30 miles a day.

How many years will we have to wait before ranges are lengthened significantly?

I think it will be five to 10 years before they’re doubled.

Is it the case that using the radio, switching the headlights on and running the air-conditioning, where fitted, significantly shortens an electric van’s range?

In reality they make little difference. Using an electric heater does drain the battery, however, and can shorten the range by up to 10%, so we tend to fit a separate heater powered by biodiesel held in a small tank. Something else that can shorten the range is taking one of our vans on a motorway run because you don’t get the batteries continually topped up by regenerative braking.

What sort of batteries do you fit?

We’re talking lithium nickel cobalt manganese in eBipper and lithium ion phosphate in the other models, and all of our batteries are covered by a three-year warranty. No matter which batteries you’re using, you can charge them from either a single- or a three-phase supply. It takes 14 hours to recharge the eBoxer from the former falling to seven hours if you plug it into the latter.  

How long do they last before they require replacing?

The lithium ion phosphate batteries we fit can handle 1300 charging cycles – typically equivalent to between 110,000 and 140,000 miles – before their efficiency drops below 80%. Even then they’re still usable, but the range they offer is less than it was when they were new. You might find your eBoxer will only do 90 miles between recharges for instance, although some operators may take the view that this is more than sufficient. Once efficiency levels have fallen to an unacceptable level then we will take the batteries back and recycle them.

How much does it cost to replace them?

From £14,000-£27,000 depending on the model. That’s a lot of money, but again you have to balance that and the modest cost of the electricity you’ve used against the price of the fuel you would have burned had you been running a diesel van; and the cost of diesel is going to rise over the next few years.

Do electric vans require much maintenance?

So far as the batteries and the electric motor are concerned all that’s required is an annual check. Everything else – brakes, suspension, tyres and so on – is subject to Peugeot’s standard maintenance regime, which means a 20,000-25,000-mile service interval. It’s worth noting incidentally that it’s possible to repair individual battery cells if necessary.
We’ve got five mobile service engineers who travel all over the UK but we are gradually training Peugeot dealers to look after
our vehicles. The Robins & Day dealer group is playing an important role in this area.

Are you exporting any vehicles?

We’re starting to. So far we’ve supplied vehicles to customers in the Republic of Ireland and Finland; in fact we’re receiving inquiries from all over Europe.