I have to admit to finding the idea of a fleet of silent, non-polluting, cheap-to-run electric delivery vans very tempting. But while, like most drivers, I lust after the new Tesla Model 3, I can’t help but wonder if EV technology is actually far enough advanced to make it work for commercial vehicles.
The biggest cost for a delivery van is the fuel and maintenance – both of these are dramatically reduced in an EV.
To charge the average EV can cost as little as 96p and is rarely likely to exceed £3.40, no matter what your tariff. For that minimal cost you will receive a full charge, giving you an average range of 100 miles. Compare that to the price of a full tank of diesel or petrol and the EV begins to look very tempting.
Then there’s the maintenance cost. Your EV will never need its oil changed or filters checked and there are no spark plugs. The only things which will need checking are brake pads, discs, tyres and possibly coolant. This makes the EV considerably cheaper to maintain.
Then, of course, there are the environmental benefits; your EV won’t release any exhaust fumes or pollute the surrounding environment in any way. In recognition of that you’ll get free or reduced charges on Vehicle Excise Duty, Fuel Duty and company car tax. What’s more, in London you won’t have to pay the Congestion Charge, and many Pay & Display bays will offer free parking.
So far it’s all looking pretty good for the EV. However, there are some downsides to consider.
Firstly, while the average driver rarely journeys further than 10 miles from their house, the courier in their delivery van will journey substantially further than that and therefore may need to ‘fill up’ on the road.
Despite what the publicity material may say, most EVs only have enough power to take them around 100 miles, which – depending on the job – may take your delivery van close to its limit. So what do you do if you run out of juice?
Well, unfortunately, what is a quick and easy (albeit expensive) process in a petrol or diesel vehicle can take up to 8 hours for an EV. Even a ‘quick charge’ can take up to two hours and require expensive specialist equipment, adding a serious amount of expensive time to your job.
If you or your business are based in the UK it is also worth bearing in mind one of the EV’s most challenging drawbacks: it is less efficient in cold weather – and that’s something we get a lot of! Because the batteries are less effective when cold and the driver will also require heating in chilly conditions, EVs can become 50 percent less efficient in the cold.
In fact, the driver is a major factor in the efficiency of any EV. From the way they drive the vehicle to whether they enjoy listing to the radio, keeping cool in the summer with the air conditioning or even opening the windows, they will have an impact on the distance the van is able to go on a single charge.
While the technology has already come a long way and these vehicles are a fantastic option for domestic use, particularly around towns, the issues with charging and range mean that it is not yet the right solution for commercial use. I say ‘yet’ because with all the pros of the EV, my hope would be that the technology will continue to advance, making these quiet, clean vehicles the ideal solution for all road users.
Norman Dulwich is a correspondent for Courier Exchange, the world's largest neutral trading hub for same day courier and delivery van work in the in the express freight exchange industry. Over 4,000 transport exchange businesses are networked together through their website, trading jobs and capacity in a safe ‘wholesale’ environment.