While alternatively fuelled vehicles don’t come without their challenges, it is clear that a tipping point for their wider acceptance among fleets is approaching, due in part to their improved range and the availability of more charging points.

Edward Jones, EV category manager at Nissan Motor GB, believes one of the main reasons for the increased acceptance of electric vans is that a large percentage of the light commercial vehicle market has a predictable usage cycle and covers less than 106 miles a day, providing potential for the successful take-off of electric models. Nissan developed the e-NV200 to meet the needs of large fleets and owner-drivers alike.

“For these owners, drivers and fleet managers, the e-NV200 provides an appealing combination of low running costs, zero emissions and quiet, low-vibration driving,” Jones tells WhatVan? Due to the success of the e-NV200, the UK is now the brand’s leading market for electric van sales globally and it has consistently dominated the EV LCV segment here.

Nissan’s share of the UK market for the year-to-date is around 80%, with customers ranging from taxi firms and food-delivery services to larger corporates including Eon, British Gas and Portsmouth Naval Base, plus public sector bodies such as councils. Renault says it is also seeing more demand for EVs because of ‘push’ factors – such as the low-emissions zones in London and public pressure from consumers on companies to carry out their business in more sustainable ways – as well as ‘pull’ factors, where growing awareness of the performance and benefits of EVs, whether that be ultra-low running costs or the 100% write-down allowance in the first year, is leading organisations to investigate how they can take advantage of the opportunity.

The technology available today – for example, the claimed 50% increase in range on Renault’s new Kangoo Van Z.E. 33, from 106 miles to 170 miles – has also increased usability for customers and enhanced the appeal of electric vans. PSA Peugeot-Citroen is planning for its future vehicle range to include longer-range full-electric and plug-in hybrid models from 2019, and therefore it wants to refocus on its current products to ensure the network is well-equipped to sell plug-ins.

“We know that our electric vans have great potential, as the diesel versions of the Partner and Berlingo take the lion’s share of the market, but the electric van market is still small and we haven’t maximised our potential yet,” explains Helen Lees, head of electric vehicles for PSA Group UK.


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Iveco wants the Government to make EV LCVs more appealing

Payload problems

Crucial to the success of large electric vans is payload, which is a thorny issue in the industry due to the weight of the battery eating into the payload capacity.

Many advocates, including the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), think electric vans should be a special case and are lobbying the Government to agree to upping the gross vehicle weight (GVW) threshold from 3.5 tonnes on a standard car driving license to 4.25 tonnes for light commercial vehicles that don’t use conventional diesel engines, as this would make vans powered by alternative fuels more attractive to buyers.

Iveco, producer of the large Daily van, has been lobbying the Government for this ‘payload bonus’. The company has been working alongside the Department for Transport (DfT) and is confident a resolution to the issue will be reached soon. Martin Flach, product manager at Iveco, tells WhatVan? that the driver license derogation should not be technology-specific but should apply to all low-emission technologies.

“There are many operators who will start to use low-emission vehicles once the 4.25t derogation is in place,” he argues. Steve Wilson, LCV product manager at Renault UK, claims the Master Z.E., coming at the end of this year, will have a payload to meet most of the market’s needs. “It is a balance between achieving the highest payload along with a significant range, which we are confident the Master Z.E. will achieve,” he says. “We support the proposal being discussed by the SMMT to [alter] the GVW and license regulations for qualifying alternative-fuel vehicles, in order for an increased number of higher-payload, increased-range, environmentally friendly vans to be used in the UK.”

While PSA’s Lees makes the point that “there is no accepted measurement for the impact of load on range”, Wilson stresses that payload is just one of the factors to consider before purchasing an electric vehicle: “Many companies looking at inner-city operations are more concerned with volume than payload, so it’s important to be able to offer a wide range of vehicles in order for the customer to choose what fits them best – exactly as we do on our internal combustion range today.”

While the Plug-in-Van Grant (PiVG) in London is welcomed by Iveco, Flach notes that electrical costs remain high. “Manufacturers need to increase volumes to be able to reduce costs and there is a classic chicken and egg scenario in play where volumes are low because price is high and price is high because volumes are low,” he points out. Despite this, Flach says grants can help to bridge the gap along with exemption from congestion charging and ultra low-emission zone charges, for example.

Renault Kangoo Van prices start from £14,875 (excluding VAT), while the current Kangoo Van Z.E. costs from £13,815 (excluding VAT but including the PiVG), so the cost implications of purchasing an electric light commercial vehicle compared with a conventional one may be surprising, claims Wilson. “An EV will result in significant running cost reductions versus an internal combustion alternative – whether that’s ultra-low ‘fuel’ costs (from 2p per mile versus 11p per mile), reduced maintenance costs (typically 25% lower than a conventionally fuelled alternative), reduced road fund licence, enhanced business and tax benefits with lower NI contributions, or operational cost savings with zero congestion charge – there are a wide range of ways in which running an EV will benefit a business’ bottom line,” he adds.

But Lees cautions: “Even with the grant, they [EVs] are more expensive to purchase upfront than diesel, so it’s important to consider not only the low pence per mile of electric but also the reduced service and maintenance costs and any other incentives which may apply – such as congestion charge exemption, free parking or [free battery] charging in some local authorities.”

Trip planning via telematics

Range anxiety has long been cited as putting customers off electric vehicles and telematics can help overcome this hurdle.
Telematics platform Lightfoot connects to the vehicle’s engine and uses Formula 1-style analytics to identify a vehicle’s optimum efficiency. When Lightfoot detects the powertrain is moving out of this optimum level, it gives the driver both visual and verbal alerts to nudge them back into a safer, more efficient, driving style.
Martin Kadhim from Lightfoot says: “Without doubt, the biggest single challenge for electric vehicles and their appeal is their range: how far they travel before they run out of charge. Vehicle range can be considerably improved by making better use of the energy that’s available in the first place. For example, with Lightfoot’s real-time in-cab feedback and coaching, vehicle range is improved by 10–15%.”