Switch to an electric van and you will quickly discover that it requires around 30-40% less servicing than its diesel counterpart. That’s good news for running costs and for uptime, but owners should not assume that they might just be able to get away without having it serviced at all.

“With no engine there is, of course, no need to change the oil or the oil filter,” said Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles (VWCV) head of aftersales David Hanna. “However, the brake discs and pads, brake fluid and suspension components are among those items that still need to be checked and if necessary replaced.”

The steering and tyres may need attention too.

VWCV has recently launched a battery-electric e-Transporter 6.1 in the UK developed in conjunction with specialist automotive engineering group ABT. It is the brand’s first plug-in van to come to market after plans to launch an e-Crafter in the UK were shelved.

Aside from the tasks mentioned above, there are a dozen items directly related to the van’s electric propulsion system that need workshop attention every 12 months/25,000 miles. 

Most involve visual checks covering, for example, the high-voltage wiring, battery housing, electric motor and charging socket. Also required is a diagnostic test of the entire vehicle including the traction battery.

An extended inspection is mandated after 36 months/75,000 miles, then every two years thereafter.

To encourage Volkswagen e-Transporter 6.1 owners to have their light commercial vehicles maintained regularly VWCV is offering them three services for the price of two if they purchase a £399 servicing plan. The package includes a brake fluid change, the replacement of the pollen filter and an MOT test.

Such initiatives may help franchised dealer workshops retain the loyalty of owners of electric vans in future years as independent garages with lower hourly labour rates obtain the training and equipment required to maintain them as they get older.

Not that VWCV’s aftersales network and its 96 workshops are likely to run short of work any time soon. “There are 500,000 VW vans under 15 years old on the road in the UK,” said Hanna, and the vast majority are diesels.

With much of the work required involving inspections, electric light commercials would appear to be particularly appropriate candidates for mobile servicing, with technicians arriving at owners premises in suitably equipped vans. Hanna agrees, and pointed out that there are already 20 mobile vans deployed around the UK kept busy looking after VW diesel and petrol light commercials on VWCV’s behalf. 

“We’re planning to add another 10 in 2021,” he said.

VWCV is training technicians in its dealer workshops to look after battery-powered models. There are two levels of qualification – high voltage technician (HVT) and high voltage expert (HVE). 

Both are well-versed in electric propulsion systems, with HVTs qualified to carry out minor repairs, and HVEs able to take on more complex challenges. They are capable of decommissioning, repairing and recommissioning battery packs.

Safety is paramount given the risk of a severe electric shock if you accidentally chop through a high-voltage cable.

The training programme is being rolled out across all VWCV workshops rather than restricted to technicians at selected outlets despite the fact that only a handful of e-Transporters are on the highway in the UK  at present. “Fleet customers don’t want a two-tier network,” said Hanna.

A three-year/100,000-mile warranty covers the e-Transporter, increasing to eight years/100,000 miles so far as the battery pack is concerned.

VWCV is used to technological change reducing service revenues and to coping with the consequences. “When we introduced AEB (autonomous emergency braking) as standard we saw accidents fall, and that had a knock-on effect on parts sales,” said Hanna.

Dealers sell fewer replacement items such as headlights, bumpers and bonnets these days because their customers have fewer accidents. That, of course, means they are safer – and that must be counted as a major plus.