30 June 2021

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While electric cars are relatively straightforward to understand, the case for electric commercial vehicles is less clear.

Weight, cost and operating parameters mean that there are many more issues that need to be understood before business can transition to electric with any certainty.

We look into the issues involved, and how fleets can ascertain whether they should move to electric or not.

Price and availability

Electrified versions of commercial vehicles cost more than diesel-powered models, but the Government’s Plug-in Grant scheme can offset some or nearly all of the extra outlay (it pays for a maximum of 35% of the purchase price).

Small vans – those less than 2.5 tonnes GVW with CO2 emissions less than 50g/km and which can travel at least 60 miles with zero emissions – qualify for a maximum of £3,000 off the purchase price.

Large vans – those between 2.5 and 3.5 tonnes GVW with CO2 emissions of less than 50g/km and which can travel at least 60 miles with zero emissions – qualify for a maximum of £6,000 off the purchase price.

There are currently 22 commercial vehicles which qualify for these discounts, ranging from the Renault Zoe van through to a range of large commercial vehicles such as the Mercedes-Benz eSprinter and Vauxhall Vivaro-e.

For businesses which outright purchase their vans, the new 130% super-deduction tax relief announced in the March Budget gives owners the chance to offset more of the expenditure against tax.

Range and charging

Most electric vans offered in the UK offer a battery range of between 90 to 120 miles – making these vehicles ideal for the multi-drop last mile delivery role in towns and cities – but ranges are increasing: the Renault Zoe Van has a quoted range of 245 miles, for example.

Obviously, these range claims are in optimised conditions and don’t take into account if the driver is using the air-conditioning heavily in summer, using the heated seat in winter, not driving in a smooth manner, and crucially range is highly dependent on how much cargo weight the van is carrying.

The Government is again incentivising EV adoption through the Workplace Charging Scheme, offering businesses voucher-based support towards the up-front costs of the purchase and installation of EV charging points.

Grants are also available through the Government’s Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme, offering up to 75% to a maximum of £350 of the cost of installing a charger. This only applies to domestic premises though.

Interoperability and usage

The key challenges for a business is working out how to integrate and operate EVs within the current frameworks. Several questions need to be answered, including how the vehicles are charged and where. These include:

  • If the vans are being charged overnight at the premises is there a secure compound available?
  • If drivers will need to charge their vehicle at home, who pays for the electricity used?
  • Which networks should drivers use when charging out on the road
  • How do you pay for the electricity when public charging?
  • How do you mitigate for the vehicle downtime in your operation and potential drop in employee productivity while the vehicle charges?

It’s also important to check if the vehicle you are adding to the fleet is capable of rapid charging via DC (direct current). This can be up to 10 times faster than charging via an AC (alternating current) home plug, but not all vans support this system yet. Rapid chargers are generally found in service stations and on main roads and can charge a van in under an hour.

All electric vans are supplied with a Type 2 connector, which uses AC but at slightly higher speeds. These are the most common charging units and are found in car parks, supermarkets and in domestic wall boxes.

Weight and compliance

The heavier the payload in an electric van, the lower its range will be. This is why most electric vans are aimed at operators doing lots of low weight parcel drops – the load area is generally unchanged over a standard diesel van (the motor and batteries tend to be housed in the space left by an engine and gearbox) so capacity is not an issue. The main benefit of using an electric van is its zero emissions status, meaning a business won’t have to invest time in assessing whether a delivery vehicle can enter certain low emissions zones.

Also, you need to be aware of Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW). Some of the larger vans, with larger batteries, will be very close to the 3.5 tonne GVW before any payload is added, and by putting in cargo could tip over the legal limit 3.5 tonne limit on a standard licence. The Government however does allow standard car licence holders to drive electric vans weighing up to 4.25 tonnes under the alternative fuel payload derogation, but this only has two years left to run. 

Wholelife costs

Commercial EVs can offer advantages in terms of running costs – the higher front-end price is off-set by the Plug-in Grants available, and residual values are generally moving upward as more models become available to feed the demand for those businesses operating in the growing number of low-emission zones across the country. You can find out where these are in our article here LINK.

Electric vehicles are also much more simple mechanically than a conventional internal combustion engine – fewer moving parts means less time in the garage and reduced SMR bills

Of course, the big saving to be made are on fuel bills – charging an electric van overnight will cost about £1.50 in electricity. That gives around 100 miles of driving range – to do this with diesel would cost around £10.

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