Due to be introduced in 2011 — sometime after the next general election — the grants, which will be worth up to £5,000, will be limited to cars only. The news has dismayed Smith Electric Vehicles and Modec, two leading manufacturers of electric commercial vehicles. “It’s especially disappointing that vans aren’t included given that Lord Mandelson, the Secretary of State for Business, has visited our factory and driven our products,” says a spokesman for Smith.

He points out that the UK government’s attitude compares poorly with policies adopted in the USA, the Netherlands and Scandinavia. "Businesses there that decide to switch to electric light commercials receive a substantial grant from the state towards the capital cost of doing so", he says.

“Continental Europe and the USA are light years ahead of the UK in terms of their understanding of electric vehicles,” says a Modec spokesman


Low Carbon Scheme

The government has announced a low carbon vehicle procurement scheme that will support the cost of acquiring environmentally-friendly vans. However, the funding — an initial £20m will be made available — will be offered solely to local authorities and other public sector bodies. The private sector will receive nothing.

“It is our understanding that the scheme will commence in September,” says Modec. “Not surprisingly, public bodies are proving reluctant to order vehicles from us at present because they want to see what support will be available later in the year. “In fact we’ve had orders cancelled.”

“The other problem is that light commercials have to be tested to ensure they meet the low carbon requirement, but no decision has been made about who should do the testing or what the test criteria should be,” says Robin Dickeson, PR manager, commercial vehicle issues, at the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

Potential qualifiers could be the recently-announced low CO2 Ford ECOnetic Fiesta and Transit vans equipped with low-rolling-resistance tyres and specially-calibrated engines among other features.


Upbeat Aixam

One industry executive who is not too downhearted about the prospects for electric vans, despite the lack of government support, is Lawrence Holland, UK general manager for specialist vehicle manufacturer Aixam. “Last year around 70 per cent of the 250 light commercials we sold in Britain were electric compared with just 30 per cent in 2006,” he says. “Electric LCVs have enormous sales potential. This year is going to be tough, no question about it, but we should still manage to sell around 150 electric Aixam Megas out of a total of around 200 to 220.”

Customers for the electric Mega include councils, hospitals, universities and local delivery companies. “Some of them are being used by mobile catering firms to house coffee machines,” he says. “Remember that an electric Mega Van costs no more than 2p to 3p a mile to run and is zero-rated so far as Vehicle Excise Duty is concerned,” Holland continues.

It should have a particular appeal to businesses that deliver goods in central London. “You don’t have to pay the congestion charge if you drive into the zone, you can park for free in the City of Westminster and you get free electricity for up to three hours to charge up the batteries in certain NCP car parks,” he say. “All-in-all, if you use a Mega in London you can save up to £8,000 a year.”

Payload capacity is 315kg and the little load-lugger boasts a 3.0m3 cargo area. It takes eight hours to recharge its lead gel batteries fully, however, and its range between recharges is a modest 60 miles at a maximum 30mph; a speed seldom reached, of course, in the London rush hour.

The savings that can be garnered should help offset the price gap between the diesel Mega and its battery-driven stablemate. The former costs £8,000 while the latter will set you back closer to £12,500.

A few months ago Aixam acquired specialist electric vehicle retailer the Nice Car Company, which went into administration last December. “We were their main supplier and their biggest creditor, and we felt that taking over their activities was the best way of supporting our customers,” says Holland. “We’re glad we did because it has brought us into direct contact with the end-users.”


See below for a short video of a Modec being built.