15 February 2019

It’s not all about cars

Ensuring that a new mobility ethos works in our cities is key to a sustained future for us all. That doesn’t however just start and stop with cars. Our complex urban areas are used by a multitude of vehicles, for anything from small home deliveries via a moped, to heavy equipment on HGV’s for building sites and everything in between. For the benefit of all it is essential that all of these modes are considered and improved.

So, a lot of focus has been put on cars, and for good reason, in September 2018 there were a total of 38.4 million licensed vehicles in the UK, of which 31.6 million were cars, meaning 82% were cars, 12% light goods vehicles (LGVs), 2% heavy goods vehicles (HGVs), and 4% motorcycles.

Vans have been the backbone of small to medium businesses operating in our cities, allowing our cities to grow and thrive. However we often find ourselves sitting, waiting for that red light to turn green and we are given little choice but to close our windows and put the air con to ‘re-circ’, as an old van sits in front idling, with black diesel smoke cascading from the exhaust. Leading to me being asked regularly - what is happening with electrifying vans?

The truth is this really hadn’t been the focus of OEM’s, who had enough to worry about with falling car sales, and ‘Disruptors’ entering the market and making a mockery of their business models. Diesel-gate drastically changed public perception to diesels and so in the last couple of years we have seen OEM’s accept the changing status quo, adapt and look at the market in a different light, embracing electrification, investing in connected and autonomous technologies, and partnering with a host of start-ups and Mobility as a Service companies.

There is also a lot of development going into the diversification of last mile deliveries, with smaller electrified options, whether that’s drones, small electric bikes and trailers, or even small electric autonomous delivery units.

Buses have also been benefited from government investments and incentives to go green, testing Hydrogen systems, with more recently fully electric options also being rolled out, and gains made here will likely go on to benefit the heavy goods sector. None of this however addresses the larger light goods vehicles that will still be essential for the general day-to-day operations of many small to medium businesses, as well as the services, maintenance and building industries.

OEM’s are working towards viable options, there are obviously real challenges for this type of vehicle though. The majority of vans that are used for deliveries have delivery runs that include very short stops, in mostly congested urban areas, limiting any opportunity to have a short hook up, to top up the batteries as they go. As mentioned, they operate in mostly congested areas, meaning they can get caught up in traffic and vastly increase the amount of time they are out on the road, so businesses will have to have confidence that any electric vans they buy are fit for purpose.

The maintenance, service and building industries also have challenges, as in general they need their vans close to the area they are working in, whether that’s because they need to get supplies to site or they need regular access to their vans for tools. This also brings limitations to hook up whilst on the job, and some jobs can be considerable distances from home.

There are now a number of OEM’s offering electric vans, but as you might expect, the battery ranges are a bit limited. The best ‘official’ range of any of the current vans available is 174 miles on a van that falls into the small class - the Nissan e-NV200 40kWh. There are a few other options also available to buy, these do however come with long lead times, as is the case for almost any EV right now. We are expecting an interesting addition to the market later this year in the medium sized category from Mercedes - the eVito with a range of 93 miles. The eSprinter – Mercedes’ large van, has been in the news this week as Dieter Zetsche and Elon Musk have been discussing a collaboration on its production - however it is not likely to be available before 2020 at the very earliest.

We will also have to wait until 2020 for something with a bit more range, as the medium sized e-Transporter from VW will offer 134 miles for the single-battery model and a massive (for a van) 250 miles with the twin-battery option. Until then, your best option might well be the dynamic Ford Transit Custom Plug-in Hybrid, with 30 mile electric range and a highly economical 1.0 litre EcoBoost petrol engine available later on this year.

Publisher: Shaun Hunter

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