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We take a look at why electric vans are the next big thing for fleets

Tags: #electric-vans

Ford famously marketed its Transit van as “the backbone of Britain”, and its fair to say that this country really does rely on fleets of Transit-style vans to keep ticking along. However, the days of clattering diesels are numbered, as the government’s 2035 ban on petrol and diesel sales extends to small and medium vans. Fleets are therefore looking to go electric.

The government’s recent announcement that it is bringing forward the ban on new petrol and diesel vehicle sales to as early as 2032 sent shockwaves through the car industry. It also has commercial fleets very worried indeed, thanks to the fact that the ban extends to small and medium sized vans. This means that fleets are in the exact same boat as you and I – and like private car owners, it’s a small minority that currently run EVs.

The fleet industry hasn’t pulled any punches in response to the plans, with Caroline Sandall, Chairman of fleet body, ACFO, saying: “It is clear politicians do not live in the real world - a world occupied by businesses employing fleet decision-makers that already typically operate the most technologically advanced and therefore the cleanest vehicles available.”

That Grant Shapps or Boris Johnson don’t know the ins and outs of the world of van fleets isn’t exactly news, but Sandall’s assertion that fleets ‘typically operate the cleanest vehicles available’ is also stretching the truth – ‘til it breaks. In fact, as recently as 2015 one-in-three vans on our roads was at least 10 years old, and it’s only recently that fleets have been getting younger again. So realistically, most fleets aren’t operating the cleanest vehicles available.   

That being said, and in defence of van fleets, their options to buy zero emissions-capable vans hasn’t been extensive until more recently, and what has been out there hasn’t necessarily been fit for purpose. Small ranges aren’t great for a broadband engineer who might cover an entire county, for example. And given that a typical ‘timeslot’ already means waiting around for an entire day, add the need for multiple charges into the mix and you’d probably end up taking an entire week off work for someone to turn up and tell you that they don’t have the right part.

Like the ever-better quality and usability of electric cars, vans are getting better very quickly and fleets know that they need to act. The intention and desire to switch is also there, with surveys of fleet owners stating that up to 89 per cent are at least considering EVs for their next round of vehicle purchasing. As consideration doesn’t necessarily end up in action, let’s take a look at who’s already in the game.

Fleets already in the electric van game

Royal Mail isn’t just one of the UK’s largest van fleets; it’s up there with Europe’s biggest. It has been operating electric vans – namely Mercedes Benz eVitos (insert Danny eVito joke here) and Peugeot Partners – for some time. By the end of 2019 Royal Mail had around 250 within its ranks. It has recently announced that it’ll add a further 87 to its London fleet, all of which will be a part of the Optimise Prime project. This might sound like a Norwegian House music act, but it is actually a scheme funded by Ofgem to help generate data and real-world experience on how fleets can make the most of their EVs. EDF has partnered with Royal Mail to provide the smart charging infrastructure.

Mitie is a name you might not be familiar with, but it is one of the UK’s leading facilities management companies, and runs one of the country’s biggest fleets. Its first electric vans hit the roads towards the end of last year, but it isn’t hanging about, aiming to have 20 per cent of its fleet electrified by the end of the year (equating to 700 vehicles) and saving around 4000 tonnes of CO2. Alongside this, the company is installing charge points at employee’s homes, its offices and customer sites and will be running an entirely electric fleet by 2030.

Moving onto some companies you will have heard of… Soon, the packages that you order online can be delivered to a neighbour’s house, left in an inappropriate location, or go missing altogether in a carbon-free manner. This is thanks to the fact that some of the biggest players in the parcel delivery industry are going green with their fleets.

DPD has just announced that it’s investing in 100 MAN eTGE 3.5-ton vans, and will also be taking delivery of 300 Nissan e-NV200s by May this year. This will give DPD the largest EV parcel delivery fleet in the country, and put it well on its way to achieving a goal of 10 per cent of its fleet being electric by the end of the year.

UPS isn’t just buying off-the-shelf vans based on conventionally-powered counterparts. It has gone big – placing an order for 10,000 purpose-built delivery vehicles from UK-based Arrival, which is also working on Hyundai and Kia’s electric platform aspirations. These 10,000 vehicles will soon be plying the streets in the UK, Europe and the US, with deliveries beginning this year. A further 10,000 is on the cards to further expand UPS’s fleet in future.  

Perhaps the biggest name to buy into the electric van business is Amazon, which in September 2019 announced that it was ordering no less than 100,000 electric vehicles from Rivian. It’s unsurprising that Amazon chose Rivian, given that it has ploughed £350 million into the EV start-up already. Amazon reckons it’ll have 10,000 vans on the road by the end of 2021, predominantly providing a ‘final mile’ delivery solution in the USA, which may well percolate to the UK in time.

Energy companies are obvious candidates to go from diesel to electric given that by powering their own fleets, not only are they having their cake, but they’re eating it too. Scottish and Southern Electricity (SSE) has just taken delivery of the first of its new electric fleet, and has committed to switch 3500 of its vehicles to electric by 2030 as part of the EV100 campaign. In addition, it has installed over 100 charge points across 20 of its major UK bases.

Like SSE and other EV100 participants, British Gas’s parent company, Centrica, has pledged to beat the 2035 deadline and replace its entire fleet of 12,500 vans with electric versions by 2030. British Gas has already been running Nissan e-NV200s in limited numbers for several years, but it is now looking to step-up its de-carbonisation efforts.

Finally, there’s the good old-fashioned black cab. Whilst not a ‘fleet’ in the strictest sense of the word, London’s cabbies are buying into an electric future through the latest generation of the synonymous taxi. The London Electric Vehicle Company (LEVC) launched its fully-electric taxi late last year, and with Nissan e-NV200 underpinnings plus a 187-mile range, it’ll be an increasingly common sight on London’s streets. LEVC has also given the green light to a van based on the same platform which should enter production at the end of 2020.

Discover EV’s take

These are just some of the examples of fleets buying into an electric future, but it gives you an idea of the efforts being made. It seems only fair that business fleets are being made to face up to the same reality as private car buyers in de-carbonising the vehicles they use. Despite the wailing, protests and gnashing of teeth, companies with large numbers of vans produce an awful lot of harmful emissions and should be made to address this. For example Mitie, noted above, attribute 93 per cent of their total business emissions to their vehicles – which is a lot.

The potential trouble for fleet owners and managers comes with range, and readiness of charging infrastructure, so the challenge facing them is how to make their fleets work smarter. But ultimately, we all have a responsibility for our environmental impact and it’s important that businesses face up to this, and embrace the future, to play their part.

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