Van manufacturers and operators are particularly vulnerable to the actions of tough-minded urban authorities determined to improve air quality.
Commuters told by the council that they cannot drive to their city centres offices in anything other than a zero-emission car on pain of a hefty fine can always catch the bus instead. But businesses that need to deliver sandwiches and stationery to the same addresses can scarcely tell an employee to tuck them under his or her arm and board the number 37.
UK city councils have yet to take such action but are clearly tempted to do so. As a consequence, light commercial makers need to have zero-emission – which in the majority of cases means pure electric – products available should bans start being imposed.
Some – Citröen, Renault and Nissan for example – already have them. Others are developing a product line-up that they can put into production quickly if the legislators act and demand suddenly rises.
Over the past 12 months Volkswagen has unveiled a number of concept electric light commercials and believes the most recent one could change the entire way in which urban distribution is organised.
Based on the e-up! car and fitted with a 60kW electric motor powered by an 18.7kWh lithium-ion battery, the e-load up! is small at just 3.54m long. VW’s idea is for big vans to be replaced by flocks of zero-emission small vans like these in urban areas ready to deliver goods to customers on a just-in-time basis.
“For reasons of efficiency conventional delivery vans are not dispatched from the logistics centre until they are full to capacity,” says a VW executive. “This means that the first 10 parcels have to wait for the next 100 before they can be delivered. That’s not the case with the e-load up!”
Run lots of small vans rather than a smaller number of big ones and you will create more traffic congestion, of course, and you will also need to employ more drivers and so up go your wage costs.
Against that however could be balanced the willingness of consumers to pay a bit more to have their orders fulfilled almost as soon as they are received.
Dispatch centres with a fast-charging station would also be able to get battery capacity up to 80% in just half-an-hour, and once fully charged the van has a range of up to 100 miles.
While the manufacturer says that it has no immediate plans to put e-load up! into production just yet, it stands ready to do so rapidly if that is what politicians and fleet operators start to demand.