Electric Vans – Part 1

Electric Vans - Part 1

Electric vans are perfect for businesses as they are cheap to run, reliable and designed with the needs of fleet managers in mind. Several manufacturers trusted by businesses in the UK have invested significantly in electric vehicle technology and offer a range of electric vans that cover a wide variety of business needs. With outstanding range and zero emissions, many of these electric vans make perfect business vehicles as well as perfect business sense.

What are electric vans?

An electric van is a van which is powered by an electric motor rather than a petrol or diesel combustion engine. The batteries store energy which is used to power the motor and turn the wheels. Just like any other electrical device, it needs to be charged when the battery is running low.

History of electric vans

Battery powered electric vehicles have been in use since the very earliest days of motoring and the famous London department store, Harrods’ started using American-built Walker electric vans in 1919. The 1 ton vans were powered by under-floor mounted batteries giving a range of sixty miles per charge. One of these vans remained in service until 1970 when it was presented to the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu.

Electric vans started in 2009-10 in the UK with Allied Electric and Smiths, both UK companies, converting diesel vans to a fully electric drivetrain. However, both these companies no longer make or support electric vans.

Range is the main concern for most people looking at switching to electric vehicles, but the most popular electric vans currently available in the UK have an official range of more than 100 miles per charge. In fact, recent research shows that 70% of UK van users drive less than 62 miles a day so as long as users have somewhere to charge their van at night, electric vans are the perfect choice to use as delivery vans in urban areas.

The charging time for an electric van varies depending on how much charge is left in the battery and the type of charger used:

  • A domestic 13-amp three-pin plug will take just short of 24 hours to fully charge from empty
  • A 32-amp ‘wall box’ charging station installed at home or at work will reduce recharging time to around 8 hours
  • A rapid charging station can deliver up to an 80% charge in just 40 minutes.

The charging infrastructure throughout the UK is growing every month with charging organisations pledging to input thousands more charge points in the next ten years.

While the added weight of electric van technology isn’t really an issue for small vans, when it comes to large vans it is more of a problem.

This is because the legal maximum gross vehicle weight (GVW) for a standard UK driving licence is 3.5 tonnes, and a lot of large vans already use every kilogram of this allowance. Since the basic weight of battery-powered electric vehicles is typically more than that of a vehicle powered by a conventional engine, this leaves less capacity for payload and reduces the amount of stuff that they can legally carry with that 3.5t limit.

The government has countered this by allowing standard car licence holders to drive electric vans weighing up to 4.25 tonnes, a process that has been labelled the alternative fuel payload derogation.

This extra weight allowance effectively compensates for the extra heft of the electric technology, so a battery van should be able to match a diesel equivalent for carrying ability.

The Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) offers grants and tax incentives. The Government’s Road to Zero Strategy confirmed these will continue to be available in in some form until 2022.

Grants available across the UK include:

The government plug-in grant discount for vans is worth 20% of the asking price, up to a total saving of £8,000.

The discount applies to light commercial vehicles with a plug, including both hybrid and full-electric vans as long as they meet a number of rules, including having official CO2 emissions of no more than 75g/m (fully electric vehicles emit 0g/km CO2).

Other rules cover minimum top speed (50mph), minimum electric driving range (60 miles for a pure electric van, 10 miles for a hybrid), and minimum warranty length (three years / 60,000 for the base vehicle but with additional requirements for the batteries).

The van must also been built or converted to electric power prior to first registration, so aftermarket conversions do not count.

Click here for Eligibility Guidance

The Workplace Charging Scheme (WCS) is a voucher-based scheme that provides support of up to £500 per charging socket towards the up-front costs of the purchase and installation of electric vehicle chargepoints.

The Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme (EVHS) provides grant funding of up to £500 towards the cost of installing electric vehicle chargepoints at domestic properties across the UK with off-street parking.




Stay tuned for part 2 next week, where we will be looking at the benefits of electric vans.