With electric vehicle market share increasing in the passenger car sector, you may wonder if the story is similar in the LCV market. For vans, the advances are less rapid with a number of complex issues affecting their development. While these issues are constantly being worked on, high on the agenda includes load space and payload, as incorporating battery packs can impact on load capacity, with extra weight impacting range.
For companies balancing budgets and assessing when to invest in their fleets, it can be difficult to know which powertrain is best.
Range is a most common question associated with electric vans; quite simply, how far will they go on a single charge? Advances in battery technology have seen the figures rise, with further innovation on the way, but despite the capability of modern alternatively fuelled LCVs, , there is still a belief that they are confined to low-mileage duties.
Some of the market-leading pure electric vans quote real world ranges of just over 100 miles on a single charge, which may not sound a lot but, research by Renault suggests that the average van driver covers around 70 miles a day.
Range anxiety is one identified barrier to the adoption of alternatively fuelled vehicles, especially for van drivers travelling over 100 miles, who must plan ahead to ensure their destination or a stop on the way will have charging facilities, and factor the charge time into a delivery schedule.
David Watts, senior consultant at leasing company Arval, believes, assuming drivers can chanrge overnight: “If you take something like the Renault Kangoo ZE.. If you do 80 miles a day, five days a week for 48 weeks a year, that’s just under 20,000 miles – that’s not a low-mileage vehicle in any meaningful sense. So this idea of EVs being low mileage is one thing that people need to get away from.”
To decide whether electric vans suit the needs of the business, Watts says companies should forget the idea of annual mileage and instead focus on journey profiles, which he believes provide a realistic illustration of an EV’s suitability. “It’s not annual mileage that’s the issue; it’s the journey profile. From a commercial vehicle perspective, organisations need to understand what the journey profile is, and they will have a variance across their fleet. They will have some people who are routinely doing 150 miles regularly – not necessarily every day, but regularly – and they’ll have other people who, on average, are only doing 80 or 100 miles a day or less.
“It’s a case of understanding the daily profile of vehicles and, therefore, if that will fit with the electric capabilities of the vans, taking into account weather and load – because load impacts the electric range on vehicles, unsurprisingly, in the same way that it impacts mpg on a vehicle – and identifying the pockets [where EVs are suitable]. Those pockets will grow as the products change and get better, but at the moment, it’s about identifying drivers where, potentially, the vehicle fits from both an operational use perspective and from a daily mileage perspective.”
Another consideration for a business, according to Watts, is where and when the vehicles are charged, “Then you’ve got the question about where it goes at night. If it goes home, then can the driver charge at home? If it’s staying on site overnight at the depot or base … you can potentially install your own charging points.
“It really comes down to: is the product available that meets the [company’s] basic requirements? Have you got then pockets of drivers where the mileage profile fits the capability of the current technology? And then how are you going to physically charge those vehicles?”
For some businesses, transitioning to ultra-low emission vehicles can be made easier by hybrid technology. Plug-in hybrid vans combine an internal combustion engine (ICE) with an electric motor and batteries, which work to enable the vehicle to drive a certain number of miles on electric power only, then for longer distances, or for higher loads, the ICE takes over. Expected future technology for plug-in hybrids includes the prospect of using geo-fencing to change the power source, for example, when a van is about to enter a city’s zero-emission zone, the battery power could be put to use.
While the case for alternatively fuelled vans is certainly building, the commercial vehicle sector is heavily reliant upon diesel. The latest Euro 6 diesel vans are still the most appropriate engine option for higher mileage and frequent long-distance work. This strengthens the case for journey profiling rather than focusing purely on the mileage figure. Fundamentally, businesses must establish the exact tasks for which their vehicles will be used before they commit to a particular powertrain.
“I think it’s really important that fleets recognise that diesel absolutely is the right solution for some of their users – certainly for the time being,” says Mark Jowsey, director of manufacturer liaison at fleet specialist KeeResources.
“If you’ve got petrol, diesel, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles, and if you’re going to run a cost-effective policy, you need to be able to interrogate those operating costs and assess the appropriate solution for the user. We are going to have to think more carefully about what the right powertrain solutions are for different user types, based on their use. You can’t do that unless you’re interrogating all areas of cost.”