Crucial to the success of large electric vans is payload, which is a thorny issue in the industry due to the weight of the battery eating into the payload capacity.
Many advocates, including the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), think electric vans should be a special case and are lobbying the Government to agree to upping the gross vehicle weight (GVW) threshold from 3.5 tonnes on a standard car driving license to 4.25 tonnes for light commercial vehicles that don’t use conventional diesel engines, as this would make vans powered by alternative fuels more attractive to buyers.
Iveco, producer of the large Daily van, has been lobbying the Government for this ‘payload bonus’. The company has been working alongside the Department for Transport (DfT) and is confident a resolution to the issue will be reached soon. Martin Flach, product manager at Iveco, tells WhatVan? that the driver license derogation should not be technology-specific but should apply to all low-emission technologies.
“There are many operators who will start to use low-emission vehicles once the 4.25t derogation is in place,” he argues. Steve Wilson, LCV product manager at Renault UK, claims the Master Z.E., coming at the end of this year, will have a payload to meet most of the market’s needs. “It is a balance between achieving the highest payload along with a significant range, which we are confident the Master Z.E. will achieve,” he says. “We support the proposal being discussed by the SMMT to [alter] the GVW and license regulations for qualifying alternative-fuel vehicles, in order for an increased number of higher-payload, increased-range, environmentally friendly vans to be used in the UK.”
While PSA’s Lees makes the point that “there is no accepted measurement for the impact of load on range”, Wilson stresses that payload is just one of the factors to consider before purchasing an electric vehicle: “Many companies looking at inner-city operations are more concerned with volume than payload, so it’s important to be able to offer a wide range of vehicles in order for the customer to choose what fits them best – exactly as we do on our internal combustion range today.”
While the Plug-in-Van Grant (PiVG) in London is welcomed by Iveco, Flach notes that electrical costs remain high. “Manufacturers need to increase volumes to be able to reduce costs and there is a classic chicken and egg scenario in play where volumes are low because price is high and price is high because volumes are low,” he points out. Despite this, Flach says grants can help to bridge the gap along with exemption from congestion charging and ultra low-emission zone charges, for example.
Renault Kangoo Van prices start from £14,875 (excluding VAT), while the current Kangoo Van Z.E. costs from £13,815 (excluding VAT but including the PiVG), so the cost implications of purchasing an electric light commercial vehicle compared with a conventional one may be surprising, claims Wilson. “An EV will result in significant running cost reductions versus an internal combustion alternative – whether that’s ultra-low ‘fuel’ costs (from 2p per mile versus 11p per mile), reduced maintenance costs (typically 25% lower than a conventionally fuelled alternative), reduced road fund licence, enhanced business and tax benefits with lower NI contributions, or operational cost savings with zero congestion charge – there are a wide range of ways in which running an EV will benefit a business’ bottom line,” he adds.
But Lees cautions: “Even with the grant, they [EVs] are more expensive to purchase upfront than diesel, so it’s important to consider not only the low pence per mile of electric but also the reduced service and maintenance costs and any other incentives which may apply – such as congestion charge exemption, free parking or [free battery] charging in some local authorities.”
Range anxiety has long been cited as putting customers off electric vehicles and telematics can help overcome this hurdle.
Telematics platform Lightfoot connects to the vehicle’s engine and uses Formula 1-style analytics to identify a vehicle’s optimum efficiency. When Lightfoot detects the powertrain is moving out of this optimum level, it gives the driver both visual and verbal alerts to nudge them back into a safer, more efficient, driving style.
Martin Kadhim from Lightfoot says: “Without doubt, the biggest single challenge for electric vehicles and their appeal is their range: how far they travel before they run out of charge. Vehicle range can be considerably improved by making better use of the energy that’s available in the first place. For example, with Lightfoot’s real-time in-cab feedback and coaching, vehicle range is improved by 10–15%.”