It would seem that the age of the electric van is nigh with more and more companies wishing to boost their green credentials, Government grants taking the sting out of prohibitive prices and urban congestion charge zones driving up the operating costs of diesel and petrol vehicles.

Throw into the mix an expanding infrastructure of charging points and it is perhaps surprising that EV sales remain sluggish and many manufacturers continue to be reluctant to enter the fray, even those, such as VW with its electric Caddy prototype, that have the technology ready to go.

An honourable exception to such a cautious strategy is Nissan, winner of the What Van? Green Award 2015 with its E-NV200.

Thanks largely to a major supply deal with British Gas, which followed an exhaustive trial carried out in harsh winter conditions, the E-NV200 is proving that electric vans can operate successfully in real life situations.

In short, Nissan has come up with a credible battery-powered LCV that can hold its own as a practical workhorse without simply appealing to those who want to be seen to be green.

The E-NV200 has a gross payload capacity of up to 703kg and a 4.2m3 cargo area. Entry to the load box is by means of twin asymmetric back doors plus a sliding door on each side of the body.

Beneath the cargo bed is a 24kWh 48-module 360v 192-cell laminated lithium-ion battery pack.

Nissan quotes a range of 106 miles between recharges but even if this is a little optimistic a more realistic figure of 70 to 80 miles is still more than sufficient for many businesses, particularly those operating well defined, predictable routes.

Nissan’s corporate sales director Barry Beeston says capturing the What Van? Award has “sparked interest in the industry” and will help to further establish the E-NV200 in the market place.

British Gas currently has 100 of Nissan’s plug-in vans on its books and Beeston claims an expansion of the deal is on the cards this year.

“It’s not a surprise,” he says, “it was a very robust trial with 28 vans in Scotland and the north of England. On the back of that we got interest from other parties.”

Beeston claims other major organisations such as Royal Mail, British Telecom and London Underground had now committed to trialling the vans.

He says Nissan prefers to undertake the “due process” with prospective E-NV200 customers so that they know what they are getting.

“We need to ensure it is suitable for purpose,” Beeston explains.  “To make sure they get the best out of the vehicle they must be fully conversant with it.”

He points out that during the trial with British Gas the drivers took their vans home at night to demonstrate they could function from any location and not just from a central depot.

The plug-in van’s nose houses two ports – one that can draw power from a standard household socket and one for fast charging. Nissan supplies cables for both.

Customers can recharge the battery overnight using an ordinary domestic 16-amp single-phase 3.3kW supply or use a 32-amp/6.6kW supply to reduce the recharging time to a much-more-modest four hours, says the manufacturer.

You can do even better if you employ a dedicated 50kW quick-charger. Go that route and you can get up to 80% of the battery’s charge back in 30 minutes or less if it is already partially charged.

Beeston says Nissan sold 450 E-NV200s in 2014 following its launch halfway through the year and he expects the brand to shift 900 models this year – attracting buyers from SMEs to large corporations.

“There’s no compromise in the payload or the load volume, it’s one of the strongest propositions for an EV,” he says.

He also reckons acceptance of plug-in LCVs is growing.

“There will always be a diversity of opinion,” he admits “but the negativity of the opinions of 18 months ago has changed.”

This is partly down to the performance of the vehicles allaying customers’ fears.

Beeston flags up the fact that Nissan’s E-NV200 and its electric passenger car the Leaf have now racked up substantial mileages with no negative effects on their batteries.


Punching its weight

At the Hanover commercial vehicle show in September 2014, Sebatien Viet, Nissan’s chief marketing manager for LCVs in Europe, told What Van? there was room for growth in the brand’s LCV division and revealed it had established an LCV Business Unit to improve performance.

Beeston claims the influence of this European hub is now making itself felt in individual markets. In the UK he says Nissan’s 61 Business centres have invested in providing additional opening hours. Having adopted a market area approach, he claims the 61 centres provide good coverage and a viable opportunity for the retailers to operate profitably, thus encouraging them to invest in the business.

“We are looking at reinforcing the customer proposition,” Beeston explains by asking the question: “What do customers require?”

Beeston says the manufacturer compared Nissan’s centres with those of its competitors – especially in the provision of aftersales service.

“The customer treatment needs to be bullet-proof,” he stresses.

He highlights the need to deliver quick repairs and practical “mobility solutions” as well as offering extended opening hours and giving customers ample warning of when services are due.

“The key is a consistent delivery across the network,” says Beeston.

One area of the market where Nissan admits it needs to “plug a gap” is in the medium van sector. The brand has now sold out of the Primaster, which was based on the previous generation Renault Trafic. The new Trafic, along with Vauxhall’s version of it, the Vivaro, is now on sale but Nissan has not yet confirmed whether its new product will once more be based on the French firm’s van.

It says an announcement will come in the next few months.

There is more definite news concerning the Navara pick-up – with a new generation model coming late this year based on the truck launched in Thailand last June. European specifications are not yet confirmed but CO2 emissions will be lower than in the Far East versions and the 300hp V6 diesel unit in the current range will be dropped.

Nissan updated its range of 2.3-litre diesel engines in its large NV400 van in the autumn of 2014.

A pair of single turbo units produce 110hp/285Nm (previously 100hp) and 125hp/310Nm and these are joined by a pair of newly developed twin turbo units, developing 135hp/340Nm and 165hp/360Nm. Also available is a 150hp/350Nm version of the engine that has a variable geometry single turbo and is available only with a robotised semi-automatic gearbox.

The twin turbo versions get stop/start and regenerative braking and safety additions include extended grip traction control, hill start assist and trailer sway control.

The NV400 now also gets the wide view mirror developed by sister brand Renault to eliminate blind spots to the rear near-side of the vehicle.

Beeston says Nissan has recently sold 150 NV400 models to the Forestry Commission.

For 2015 he says the goal is “to get the customer proposition embedded in the network and to build the profile of our LCVs”.