14 Sep 21

Only cars on road to zero: alarm bells for commercial vehicles

Light and heavy commercial vehicles have fallen well behind cars in the transition to zero emission technologies, according to a major new fleet report.

The study by engineering and environmental consultancy Ricardo was commissioned by the BVRLA, which represents the interests of leasing and rental companies in the UK.

The 2021 ‘Road to Zero Report Card’ paints a positive picture for electric cars, with demand, infrastructure and supply all moving rapidly in the right direction. Official figures reveal that battery electric cars have accounted for an 8.4% market share in the UK this year, only marginally behind diesel (9.7% market share).

Lack of suitable e-LCVs

However,  fleets have reported a shortage of suitable electric vans for many key use cases, issues with public charging infrastructure and insufficient government support in the form of grants and tax incentives. Just 1% of the UK’s current leased light commercial vehicle (LCV) market is battery electric, and only 0.4% of the total van sector.

“The range and model availability of electric vans has improved at a slower pace, and many operators point to a lack of electric vans capable of meeting their day-to-day requirements. Additionally, the cost of electric vans still greatly exceeds the cost of ICE vans, resulting in a weaker business case for decarbonisation,” said the report.

e-LCVs 50% more expensive

Zero emission vans are 31% to 50% more expensive to buy than comparable vans with internal combustion engines. Some of this additional cost is recovered in lower service and maintenance costs and the fact that electricity is cheaper than diesel, but these savings are limited for lower mileage vehicles, especially if they are charged at public charging stations, where electricity tariffs are much higher than home and workplace chargers.

There are also operational issues to consider, said Peter McDonald, Nissan Fleet Director.

“Running a fleet of electric LCVs is a lot more complex than running a fleet of electric cars. If an LCV driver is commuting to a meeting, you may be able to charge on the way; if you are an engineer / tradesperson, who pays for the downtime for charging? We know electric vans are affected by variables such as temperature and weight – there is more to be done to work out how to make LCVs an effective electric fleet,” he said.

Electric vans are 5 years behind electric cars

The report estimates that electric vans are three to five years behind the electric car market in terms of affordability and total cost of ownership.

“Environmental, social and corporate governance is said to be a major driver for fleet operators to adopt zero emission vans, but operators will only be willing to take up the vans once an affordable product is available on the market,” said the report.

No zero emission HGVs 

Decarbonisation is even more of a challenge in the heavy goods sector, where the UK Government has proposed a phase out date for diesel trucks from as early as 2035, despite no mass market electric or hydrogen vehicles being available.

“The required functionality of HGVs cannot yet be matched by the technology available,” said the report. “There are promising signs of HGV OEMs committing to develop zero emission options for both electric and hydrogen in the coming years, but this will require a lot more joined-up thinking and strategic and technological development in order to make them a viable technology, coupled with significant investment in HGV-specific infrastructure.”

Progress needs to accelerate

Gerry Keaney, BVRLA chief executive, said the direction of travel towards zero emission vehicles is now clear, but progress needs to accelerate to deliver decarbonisation goals.

“Every BVRLA member is on the ‘road to zero’, but the task ahead is easier for some than others,” he said. “There are ‘sweet spots’ where the tax incentives, total cost of ownership and typical journey patterns make going zero emission an attractive choice. Elsewhere, progress is much slower as fleets grapple with a shortage of appropriate vehicles and charging infrastructure costs.”

The BVRLA has made three key recommendations following the study:

  • Demand: The Government needs to give more clarity and foresight on future grant levels and tax benefits.

  • Infrastructure: The Government must provide businesses with the information and financial assistance they need to accelerate the rollout of rapid private charging infrastructure.

  • Supply: The Government must continue to provide significant financial support for the development, testing and trialling of zero emission HGVs and larger vans.


Image: BVRLA

Authored by: Jonathan Manning