For light commercial vehicle operators, a previous lack of available electric vans made progress difficult, but the quickly expanding range of plug-in models arriving into the UK means the time has come for transport managers to have their electrification road map firmly in place.

Also looming is the 2030 ban on the sale of new vehicles powered wholly by petrol and diesel. And while commercial vehicle operators will be able to operate their existing internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles beyond that date, public opinion, clean air zones and their overall running costs will all combine to make that a very unattractive option.

But what should light commercial vehicle operators be considering when it comes to electrification, and how do you build a strategy to transition your LCVs to alternative fuels?

According to Steve Beadle, head of 0Zone at The Grosvenor Group, the UK’s largest privately-owned contract hire and fleet management specialist, there are some quick wins to get the ball rolling as well as considerations for the longer term. 

“Many van operators are under so much pressure to meet customer demand and fulfil their obligations that they cannot imagine how electric vans could support their needs,” said Steve.

“Vehicle uptime is naturally a priority for any fleet, but more so for a commercial operator causing concerns about the speed at which a commercial vehicle can charge on the public network and the level of potential downtime caused by poor range and a lack of charging infrastructure.

“When advising our commercial vehicle customers, we appreciate that these are very real concerns, however we begin by identifying any possible quick wins to start the transition to EVs.

“Local logistics and route analysis come into this; mapping out where electric LCVs could be used within a tighter radius and which routes could offer the best support in terms of charging during periods of natural downtime – for example, overnight or during work breaks.

“We also look carefully at how each company is using their LCVs, including what the function of the vehicle is, what it carries and its daily mileage. There is a big difference between a delivery vehicle which is constantly on the move and one which is effectively a mobile workshop taking an operative to a location and remaining stationary while a job is completed.

“Using whole life costs, and a wide range of technical and specification data, we can pinpoint which electric vehicles will be most suitable and cost-effective, and work closely with transport managers to make the transition as stress-free as possible, with driver engagement, charging infrastructure, delivery KPIs and business objectives remaining a firm focus.”

Grosvenor’s 0Zone team has been offering specialist advice and support for over five years to help companies move to ultra-low emission and electric vehicles.

A company that benefitted from their advice is Whistl, where Grosvenor developed initiatives to help them move into electric vans as quickly as possible when suitable models became available from the manufacturers.

This was one of the reasons why Grosvenor was named Whistl’s ‘Supplier of the Year 2022’ as part of their supplier conference focusing on ESG (Environmental, Social & Governance).

Gareth Hughes, Whistl’s procurement, property & fleet director, commented, “The team at Grosvenor Leasing has done an outstanding job for Whistl in helping us reduce our vehicle emissions.

“Using whole life costs to demonstrate to us that plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles are better value in the long-term, despite their higher purchase price, was pivotal to our decision to change our vehicle policy to alternative fuels. Their innovative thinking has helped speed up the process of us moving into electric vans and makes them a very deserved winner of our supplier of the year award in 2022.”

When it comes to future-proofing your charging strategy, Steve offers more advice to commercial vehicle operators.

“Choices around electric vans has been limited to date, but the progress being made is rapid,” said Steve, “both in electric range and also the speed of which electric vans can charge via DC charge points.

“Our advice to companies considering workplace charging is to place real focus on your options for future proofing the groundwork and cabling. 

“The speed at which a commercial vehicle can charge will improve significantly in the next five years, and having a ‘dig once’ cabling policy
could save thousands of pounds in the future when an upgrade to the hardware may be required.

“Where possible, also consider commercial charge points to support overnight charging, or any other rest periods for that matter. If the work place cannot accommodate charge points or vehicles are taken home by employees, look at providing home charge points
for employees, which for Grosvenor’s contract hire customers we wrap up within a vehicle lease.

“Finally, it’s important to make plans around your drivers. Engaging and communicating with them and bringing them on board with the electrification process.

“Training is also important, as the government has extended the LCV maximum gross vehicle weight limit for electric vans from 3.5–4.25t on a Cat B driving licence, largely to compensate for the additional weight of carrying the batteries. 

“Whilst no specialist licence requirements are needed for the additional weight, there is a five-hour training exercise that needs to be undertaken with one of the Government’s recognised members.”

The message, therefore, is that specialist support on moving to electric vans is available and – as well as the environmental reasons for moving to alternative fuels – there are also some clear financial advantages of running an EV van fleet too.

The savings achieved on maintenance alone can be as much as 35% on a EV van compared to its ICE equivalent, and van grants remain available, with a small van grant at a maximum of £2500, and a large van up to a maximum of £5000. 

Workplace charge point grants are also £350 per socket, but the advice is to move quicky before the government decides to withdraw them!