Is now the time to switch to an electric van?

Is now the time to switch to an electric van?

John Webb, principal consultant at Lex Autolease, asks if now is the time for the construction industry to switch to electric vehicles.

The shift to low and zero-emission vehicles is gathering pace. Recent figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders show that electric vehicles are steadily growing in popularity for both general and business use.

To help fuel further uptake, the government’s Road to Zero Strategy – released in 2018 – includes a £106 million funding package designed to drive adoption of low-emission technology, as well as a £400m Charging Investment Infrastructure Fund.

The Road to Zero target is for 40 per cent of new vans will be ultra-low emission by 2030 and more recently, the Committee on Climate Change has expressed a desire to make this 100 per cent.

As the UK’s leading vehicle leasing provider with almost 390,000 vehicles on the roads, we too have an important role to play in the Road to Zero journey and have offered contributions of £1,000 towards the first 1,000 pure electric vehicles ordered with us this year.

That said, electric vehicles aren’t right for everyone right now – there are multiple factors to consider before opting for an alternatively-fuelled light commercial vehicle (LCV). The focus should always be on getting the right vehicle for the right job.

What should you consider when thinking about going electric?

First and foremost, the right low emission LCV is the one that is fit for purpose and cost effective – the costs associated with funding and running a van will affect profits.

Things to factor into your decision-making are:

  • Payload – What is the maximum payload required? In previous years, payload capacity was often low in electric LCVs due to the weight of components such as batteries being greater than engines or fuel tanks, meaning that more trips were required to transport heavy building materials, plant, and tools between sites. To combat this potential loss of payload, the Government has increased the maximum gross vehicle weight to 4.25 tonnes for electric vans, 0.75 tonnes higher than a diesel or petrol van. Previously, motorists would have been required to obtain a HGV license to drive a van in excess of 3.5 tonnes in weight, but now standard Category B car license holders can drive an electric van weighing up to 4.25 tonnes after completing five hours of training with a registered instructor.
  • Vehicle size – How much load space is required? Many builders will be using short and medium base panel vans. Currently, the electric LCVs available are mostly smaller vans like the Nissan e-NV200 and the Citroen Berlingo L1, although we are beginning to see more options emerge such as the Maxi version of the Renault Kangoo Z.E 33. Businesses should consider whether an electric vehicle has sufficient space to meet their needs.
  • Daily and annual mileage (range) – Will the vehicle be used for local runs or longer distance driving? Most electric LCVs have a range of around 100 miles, so are better suited to shorter runs.  Higher payload will reduce range, as can the weather – in poor weather it can be reduced by up to 30 per cent.
  • Charging infrastructure (home and away) – Where are the charging points? While the Government has committed to investing £4.5million in ensuring local planning policies incorporate facilities for charging electric vehicles, these may not be available in areas that aren’t newly developed. Because of this, we recommend that 85-90 per cent of charging takes place at home or at the depot to ensure maximum uptime – building sites don’t always have a mains electric supply and the public network is still under development.
  • Local considerations – Would the business benefit from reduced costs due to concessionary parking charges for zero emission vehicles or discounted access to low and zero emission zones? Current charges can amount to £100 a day for non-compliant vehicles in low emissions zones, with requirements set to become more stringent in the coming years. These schemes can tip the cost-benefit in favour of electric vans.
  • Specialist support – It can be helpful to have expert support on how best to run and manage electric LCVs, either from a trained local dealer or through a leasing provider. This can help drivers adapt to the best ways of driving an electric LCV to ensure the business gets the very most out of it in terms of cost and environmental performance.

What are the potential benefits of switching to electric?

There are clear whole life cost (WLC) benefits to be gained from switching to electric. The major contributor to WLC savings is fuel. Fueling an electric van will typically cost between four and five pence per mile, compared with up to fourteen pence per mile for a petrol or diesel vehicle – and maintenance costs can also be reduced by up to 35 per cent because there are fewer moving parts in an electric engine that can become damaged or worn down. This means electric vans are less likely to break-down due to engine trouble than a diesel equivalent and can often stay on the road for far longer.

With electric vehicles, there’s also no need for diesel particulate filters (DPFs) or reducing agents like AdBlue.  AdBlue is generally used in newer, larger diesel vehicles to treat the exhaust gases and remove harmful pollutants.  DPFs have been around for longer and are used to capture and store soot from the exhaust – the particles are then burnt off when the exhaust reaches a high enough temperature (which is unlikely for short, low-speed journeys in urban areas).  Both AdBlue and DPFs require maintenance and can increase costs for drivers compared with electric.

Finally, there are road tax benefits and the introduction of low and zero emission zones means further savings are available to electric vehicle drivers. Certainly, the savings are already significant for those firms operating in the capital. Drivers with zero emission vans receive a 100 per cent discount on the congestion charge, and those businesses whose vans meet the minimum standards for the London Ultra Low Emission Zone (Euro 4 for petrol and Euro 6 for diesel) will be exempt from the new charges being introduced in April 2019.

Are electric vans a viable option now?

This very much depends on the role you need each LCV to play in your operation. If the daily payload and mileage are high, then a new Euro 6 diesel LCV will still be the most practical and cost-efficient option. The same will apply for tipper and dropside vans, with diesel remaining the only option for the time being.

But as charging infrastructure improves and more models become available – particularly up to 4.25 tonnes – we do expect to see greater adoption of electric vans in the construction sector, especially as sustainable working practices (such as compliance with the Considerate Constructors Scheme) become an increasingly important factor in tender decisions.

The rate of uptake will also be driven by the number of local authorities implementing low and zero emission zones to tackle air quality, making it more expensive for those operating in cities to choose diesel over electric. Indeed, the Government is committed to ensuring that all new cars and vans are effectively zero emission by 2040.

For those in the building trade who haven’t yet reviewed whether switching to electric could work for them, now is certainly the time to start considering whether and when a transition could be possible.

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