The Magazine for LCV Fleet Operators
In the final part of our articles on appraising your fleet, technical editor Dan Gilkes looks at the rise of the electric vehicle. An alternative approach

In the  final part of our articles on appraising your fleet, technical editor Dan Gilkes looks at the rise of the electric vehicle.

The Government intends to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel vans by 2035, five years earlier than previously planned. The days of the internal combustion engine, in urban delivery at least, are now very clearly numbered. For many van users, that could mean a move to some form of electric drive.

Will an EV van work for my operation?
While plenty of companies are now looking at adopting an electric vehicle (EV), there is some essential background work to be done before heading out for a test drive. 

Firstly, will the van actually do the job? It may sound simple, but if an EV won’t cover the mileage that you require, or carry the load that you are used to, then it may not be the right choice for that application. Indeed, an EV will not be the answer for every operation and, for the time being at least, diesel will remain the right choice for many longer distance tasks.

If, however, an electric van does have the range and the payload that you need, then you must consider how you will charge it? Do your vehicles all return to a depot overnight, or will drivers be expected to charge at home, for example?  If you do want to charge a fleet of vehicles in a depot, does the site have enough electrical supply to meet the demand? If you want to plug in 30 or 40 vans every evening, it may be necessary to contact your electricity supplier to upgrade that feed, which can be a very costly business.

If you intend to ask drivers to charge at home, you may need to install charging points at various locations and could require split metering at driver’s individual sites. This will allow them to claim for the electricity used by the company to charge the van.

What is available?
For some time, there has been little in the way of choice, in terms of mainstream electric vans. Renault and Nissan have pioneered the concept with Kangoo Z.E. and e-NV200 and both vehicles continue to offer small van users a good mix of range, carrying capacity and cost. Renault also added the Master Z.E. at 3.1-tonnes and more recently at 3.5-tonnes, both of which are also sold under the Renault Trucks brand. 

Renault’s latest electric addition is a van version of the Zoe car, offering a highly competitive operating range for those looking for a compact urban delivery model.

Mercedes-Benz launched the first e-Vito last year and now e-Sprinter within the last month. Both offer a range of body sizes, but operating ranges are strictly for those with low-mile urban distribution in mind. Likewise, the recently launched e-Transporter from Volkswagen, which arrives here before the e-Crafter that is already sold in Europe, offers less than 100 miles of potential range, although it does boast a rapid charge facility.

PSA, through its Peugeot, Citroën and Vauxhall brands, looks set to take the lead in the mid-weight EV market, with the launch of e-Expert, e-Dispatch and Vivaro-e respectively. The three vans offer far greater potential range and lose little to their diesel counterparts in load carrying capability. The three brands will follow up with the smaller e-Partner, e-Berlingo and Combo-e next year, while the heavier Boxer and Relay Electric models should arrive in the UK in the coming months for Peugeot and Citroën.

Toyota will join the market, with badged versions of the small and mid-weight PSA models, calling them Proace Electric and Proace City Electric over the coming year. Fiat is also set to join the EV sector with the Ducato Electric, again launching by the end of this year.

Maxus is keen to build on its early EV sales, with the new eDeliver 3 and then the eDeliver 9, replacing the outgoing EV80. The Chinese-built vans offer competitive load capacities and ranges, along with rapid charging capability and a choice of panel van and chassis cab layouts.

A lack of chassis cabs has been a stumbling block for some buyers, who require specialist bodies, rather than a base panel van model. However, chassis cabs are now available on a growing number of EV models, making them far more adaptable to individual requirements.

Hybrid drivelines, which have proven popular in the car market, have been less so in the van sector, with only the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Commercial offering a true plug-in hybrid powertrain. However, Ford’s Transit Custom PHEV and the recently-launched LEVC VN5 do boast both electric and petrol power. These mid-weight vans are driven solely by the on-board battery, but this is backed by a compact petrol engine that works as a generator. This combination allows the vans to offer greater distance than a full battery EV, as the range-extending engine can be used to top-up the battery on the move. You can then turn the engine off when entering low-emission urban zones, adopting a pure electric vehicle mode for 40-60 miles.

Cost implications
There is no denying that electric vehicles have a higher list price than their diesel counterparts. However, it is important to look at total cost of ownership when comparing the two.  In terms of operation, fuel costs will of course depend on individual electricity rates. That said, an EV should be around half the cost of a comparative diesel on a pence per mile basis.

In addition, service and maintenance costs will be lower, as there are far fewer moving parts and no fluids to change. Plus, if you tend to keep your vans longer, there will be no clutch replacements or potential transmission repairs to worry about.

There is no Vehicle Excise Duty to be paid on an EV either and if you are heading into central London, they are also exempt from both the London Congestion Charge and the Ultra Low Emission Zone. That is £15 and £12.50 a day respectively, which will certainly add up if you head into the city every day. While this is currently only a concern for companies entering London, there are plenty of other cities looking at Clean Air Zones and emission reduction areas over the coming months.

Residual values were initially difficult for the used market to predict, but this is changing, as there is growing demand for second-hand EVs. Leasing companies are also gaining confidence with electric vehicles, resulting in increasingly competitive rates.