Sponsored article in association with Mercedes-Benz Vans
Electrification is coming to the roads, at a faster pace than ever as we head towards 2030, and that includes vans and commercial vehicles. Swapping the old diesel engine for batteries and a motor might make more sense than you think, given a [Mercedes-Benz] study, which revealed that 96% of commercial vehicle journeys in Europe are under 62 miles. That is comfortably within the range of most electric vans, even on a motorway journey, and makes a BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle) viable for more users than many expect.
While diesel engines have improved immeasurably in recent years in terms of emissions, refinement and efficiency - and currently remain the dominant choice among those buying new vans – research carried out by Auto Trader indicates significant interest from both private and business buyers in going electric. Whether they’re personal buyers choosing a van to support their lifestyle or the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) customers whose vans provide the backbone for British business, nearly two in three say they’ll be looking at a hybrid or pure electric van in the next five years. Given just 4% of SME buyers (and little over double that of private customers) are currently buying electric vans, that represents a dramatic swing towards zero emissions vehicles in the very near future.
Shout your eco awareness
Growing awareness of air quality and the desire to be seen as part of the solution rather than the problem is a major motivation here, especially for operators in London and other big cities. Long-distance delivery work will still favour diesel and hybrid vans for some time to come but urban driving environments where the working day is made up of lots of short journeys within a fixed operating radius particularly suit BEVs. Modern electric vans have the equivalent power to existing diesel-engined ones and are perfectly happy at motorway speeds but stop-start urban traffic is their chance to shine: the approach to every red traffic light and junction is a chance to benefit from regenerative charging to top up the battery, while every green light is another chance to appreciate the instant off-the-line acceleration electric motors provide. With no noisy engine idling away in traffic, an electric van is both more environmentally friendly for those around it and more relaxing and pleasant for those spending their working day at the wheel, too.
The stress-busting calm of driving an electric van shouldn’t be overlooked, either, for workers. Unlike internal combustion engines there is no delay in response to the accelerator, meaning you can get off the line smartly and smoothly merge into gaps in busy traffic without being left stranded. With no gears to worry about either there is nothing to slow you down, and the lack of noise and vibration from the motors helps foster a calm working environment, as well as providing the peace to conduct handsfree work calls via the Bluetooth. The lack of noise will also make you popular in the quiet neighbourhoods accepting the kind of ‘last mile’ delivery model these vehicles are ideally suited to.
Given all that, why aren’t more buyers looking at electric vans right now? According to our surveys the overwhelming perception among both private and SME van buyers is that BEVs are more expensive to both buy and run than regular internal-combustion powered ones. But that isn’t necessarily so, especially for operators whose daily mileage is well within the range of the battery and can simply plug in at the end of the working day. Smart use of apps means you can then time your recharging to coincide with cheaper off-peak electricity tariffs, meaning you can start every working day with a ‘full tank’ for the less than the price of a takeaway coffee. Time is money to commercial operators, too, and the fact you won’t be stopping off to fill up with expensive diesel every few days is a saving in both cash and convenience that can only benefit the bottom line.
Save money every day
Maintenance costs are another area where electric vans can help the company cash flow, especially if you run more than one vehicle on your fleet. Engines, clutches and gearboxes on regular vans all get a hard life, especially in the kind of stop-start usage electric equivalents thrive on. And costs can quickly mount up. An electric van doesn’t need oil changes or the kind of ongoing maintenance you have to budget for with an internal combustion engine and, while you obviously need to keep it in good working order, you’ll find things like brake pads and discs last longer because a lot of the deceleration is done with battery charging regeneration.
That’s not the only saving you stand to make running an electric van, too. If your work takes you into central London the £15 daily congestion charge is free – and will remain so even when rules tighten later this year – for zero-emission vehicles, instantly saving you £75 every working week that you drive into the zone. While at the moment this is mainly a concern for those working in and around the capital it’s no secret that other cities like Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds are preparing similar charging areas to tackle congestion and air quality so anyone operating in a big urban centre would be wise to factor this into their next van purchase.
What’s more, the government is keen to offer a helping hand to narrow the gap in purchase price between regular diesel-powered vans and their electric alternatives and help make that ‘set-up’ cost more palatable. The plug-in grant is more generous than that offered to car buyers, too, and means up to £6,000 off the purchase price. Many manufacturers offer deals on home charge point installations to further sweeten the deal but there are also government grants available here if you meet certain qualifying criteria.
Using your time efficiently
This is a good look for the government as it seeks to improve air quality by encouraging electrification but it’s also a positive image for your business. For SMEs a van is, of course, a mobile advertising hoarding for your business any time it’s out on the road and, whether it’s through branding or simply carrying the new ‘eco’ numberplate, green credentials will matter to an increasing number of customers, and therefore your bottom line. With BEVs considered both fashionable and more socially acceptable than their internal combustion powered equivalents it can only reflect well if you’re seen to be embracing the switch.
Nor need there be any compromise in how much kit you carry to get the job done. The boxy shape of a van means batteries can easily be integrated into the floor of the vehicle, with no compromise in internal space or carrying capacity.
The connected nature of electric vans is also an incentive to streamline your business miles and make sure everyone is working more efficiently. For owner operators that can mean planning your routes from home before leaving the house and them downloading them to your vehicle so as not to lose time on the road, or pre-warming (or cooling) the vehicle while it’s still plugged in to avoid wasting precious battery charge getting a comfortable driving environment in the depths of winter or height of summer. It also means you can check the status while away from the vehicle to see how much range there is left in the battery, whether or not you locked it and how long it is until the next service. For businesses running fleets of vans it means the admin team back at the office can see where all the company vehicles are, check their status or even send routes to the next destination over the air. Onboard modems and wifi hotspots meanwhile mean you can check emails and carry out other important admin while parked up or on site.
Suffice to say, for the vast majority of van buyers there are already more reasons than not to for making your next vehicle an electric one, and make sure your business is one step ahead of the curve.