August 23, 2019

Tread lightly with gas

Iveco’s Daily NP offers a viable alternative to diesel and electric, reports Dan Gilkes.

There seems little doubt that electric vans will play an increasingly important role in the future of low and zero-emission logistics. However, they won’t suit every operation and, with operators still keen to move away from diesel, compressed natural gas (CNG) could make a significant contribution in the future as well.

As with electric vans, infrastructure and payload are the major concerns for any van operator, whether considering electric or gas. Yet, what some may not have realised, is that when the government recently lifted the permitted operating weight for an electric van to 4.25-tonnes for those with a car driver’s licence, that also included other alternative fuels. That means that not only can the additional weight of batteries be offset, to allow an electric van to compete on equal payload terms with a traditional 3.5-tonne diesel model, but the same rule applies to CNG.

This was particularly good news for Iveco, as its Daily Electric became a more competitive option, but so too did the Daily Natural Power gas van, which also gained an improved load carrying ability at 4.2-tonnes.

The Daily NP can of course also be ordered at 3.5-tonnes gross weight, or for that matter at 5.0-tonnes, 6.0-tonnes or 7.0-tonnes, in both panel van and chassis cab layouts. This short wheelbase, high-roof model though, plated at 4.2-tonnes, delivers a payload of 1,590kg, well ahead of many comparable 3.5-tonne vans. It has a load volume of 10.8m3, but Iveco offers Daily capacities right up to 19.6m3.

As with all of the firm’s CNG vans, it is powered by a 3.0-litre CNG engine that produces 136bhp and 350Nm of torque. This drives through an eight-speed Hi-Matic automatic transmission to the van’s twin rear wheels.

The Daily’s performance is similar to that of the 2.3-litre diesel version, though the engine is considerably quieter, by as much as 4dB. Iveco promises that fuel cost savings of up to 35% compared to the diesel van should be possible and the government recently confirmed that it will maintain the current lower fuel duty rates for alternative fuels until at least 2032, so those running costs should remain low for some years to come.

There are benefits for the environment too, with CNG delivering 5% lower CO2 readings than a similar diesel. If you can find a supply of sustainable biomethane, that CO2 reduction can be as high as 95% on a well-to-wheel basis. The CNG engine also delivers 12% less NOx and 76% lower particulate matter emissions than a comparable diesel.

However, as with electricity, infrastructure and gas supply remain a stumbling block. There are a few public gas stations around the country, but they won’t necessarily be local to many potential users. Fleet operators can also install gas refilling stations within their own depots if they have the space. Indeed, some suppliers will do this at little or no upfront cost, adding the rental of the installation to the gas charges to cover any initial cost.

For those concerned about running out of gas on the road and not being close to a filling station, the van does have a small petrol tank, as a get you home back-up. To make sure that operators don’t simply run on petrol, this is a fairly small tank with a limited range and operating on petrol reduces the engine outputs to 82bhp and 230Nm.

As a gas-powered van the Daily performs well, particularly with the eight-speed ZF transmission seamlessly swapping gears for the driver. Recent improvements to the Daily cab, that saw the top of the windscreen lifted and the quality of materials greatly improved, also contribute to a comfortable day at the wheel.

CNG won’t suit every operation, any more than electric drive will. But, as part of a mix of powertrain solutions, carefully matched to their individual operation, it certainly has a part to play. Being able to carry additional payload is an added bonus.