Editor's choice
14 Jan 20

2020, the year to electrify your LCV fleet

Now that electric cars are on the verge of breaking through, an electric wave is also about to sweep across the LCV segment. The focus is on larger vehicles, the preferred beasts of burden for many courier companies, but the offer will soon be expanding downward.

With the exception of Renault (Kangoo Z.E.) and Nissan (e-NV200), few LCV manufacturers have invested in electric vans. Times are changing, though. Cities are battling congestion and air pollution, while the number of package deliveries continues to increase. Admittedly, an electric van will not change a thing about urban traffic jams, unless it will soon be the only one allowed to enter the city.

Today, there is no real business case for manufacturers, but demand from the client side is becoming more and more insistent, especially from public authorities, but also courier services, maintenance technicians and multinationals which attach great importance to corporate social responsibility.

Mercedes eSprinter and VW eCrafter: 150km

For light commercial vehicles, the biggest challenge is to reconcile carrying capacity and range. For a comfortable range, you need a large battery which in turn reduces the payload. It is a matter of finding the right balance taking into account the use of the vehicle.

"Last year we launched the Mercedes-Benz eVito and the eVito Tourer which, with their range of 150km, perfectly meet the expectations of their respective target groups," says Geert Jaeken, COO Sales & After Sales Vans at Mercedes- Benz Belux. "This year, our range of passenger cars will welcome the EQV, the electric V Class, so to speak. It will mainly be used as a taxi or shuttle and therefore has a completely different purpose. Hence its larger battery pack allowing a range of more than 300km and which can be recharged quickly. "

Large courier companies are especially interested in larger models such as the Mercedes-Benz eSprinter. “It can operate with a maximum of four battery packs and thus offer a range of 150km. It may not seem like much, but studies show that the vans used by Amazon in the United States in 80% of the cases travel less than 150km per day, while the distances in America are generally greater than here in Europe," adds Geert Jaeken .

The same conclusion was drawn by Volkswagen, whose eCrafter also offers a range of around 150km, which is sufficient for the target group. "The eCrafter was launched a year ago and there is a lot of interest, but the purchase process takes a little longer than for a conventional van. Our customers first want to test the vehicle to see if it meets their usage profile. They must also provide the necessary charging infrastructure. So it takes a little longer," explains Sébastien Baude, Brand Fleet Manager at D’Ieteren, the Belgian VW importer.

The last will be first

The sooner a vehicle arrives on the market, the faster customers can be served, but the one who waits longer can offer the latest technology and a more mature concept. Fiat chose to equip its Ducato with an electric motor just now.

"The Ducato Electric will be available in all body variants with the same loading capacity as the conventional Ducato, ranging from 10 m³ to 17 m³, and with the greatest payload: up to 1,950 kilos. There are several battery options to choose from, for a total range of 220 to 360km depending on the NEDC cycle (converted to WLTP, this will be around 160 to 260km; editor's note). This development is the result of close collaboration with our customers and in-depth analysis of how they use their vehicles," said Novella Varzi, Country Manager Fiat Professional Benelux.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles recently announced its merger with PSA (Peugeot-Citroën). The two groups of manufacturers have already collaborated for a long time: both the Peugeot Boxer and the Citroën Jumper are, like the Fiat Ducato, produced in Atessa, near Pescara, in southern Italy. An e-Jumper and an e-Boxer will therefore also appear in the course of 2020, with technical characteristics very close to those of the e-Ducato. Market leader Ford is preparing an electric variant of its large Transit van as well, but it won't hit the roads before 2021.

Lower operational costs to offset higher price

There is no denying that electric vans are still 40 to 70% more expensive than their diesel counterparts. How can they compete financially? "This is a question of TCO. You have to look further than the purchase price which, because of the batteries, is always higher than for a diesel vehicle. This difference in price can be offset by significantly lower maintenance and repair costs," says Sébastien Baude, who also has high expectations for the future eCaddy and eTransporter.

Electricity generally also costs less than diesel fuel, depending of course on the purchase price of the electricity. "A large consumer will pay less per kWh than an average household, but using public charging stations is a different story," says Geert Jaeken.

A very important factor in the TCO is residual value. In the case of e-vans, uncertainty and hence conservatism rules, especially because there are questions about the condition of the batteries after a few years, even though most brands offer an eight-year warranty.

When it comes to lifespan, Thijs Janssen, Country Manager Maxus Belux, does not worry. "If the battery shows wear, we can repair it on a cell level. So it's not because the battery is losing power and performance that it should be discarded. I am convinced that in a few years, repairing a battery will be as obvious as replacing the EGR valve of a diesel engine. Better still, it will even cost less."

How to manage an electric LCV fleet

Managing a conventional van fleet is already quite the challenge. With range as an extra variable to consider, e-vans make life for the operator even more difficult. Or do they? They leave the factory floor connected, carrying embedded telematics solutions that enable remote monitoring of the state of charge, the range left, the location, and so on.

To learn more about managing an electric van fleet and make optimum use of telematics, either embedded or aftermarket, join the second Connected Fleets Conference in Brussels, Belgium on January 28 and 29.

Authored by: Dieter Quartier