Iveco has questioned whether large electric panel vans will ever be viable in the UK, after admitting it has yet to sell a Daily Electric after four years on the market.
The Italian commercial vehicle manufacturer has invested millions in bringing alternatively-fuelled vehicles to market in the past 10 years after governments across the EU urged manufacturers to embrace cleaner fuels.
But while countries such as Italy and Germany offer generous discounts for fleets running green-fuelled vans, the UK Government is lagging far behind and needs to do more, according to Iveco.
“As things stand at present there is no way it makes business sense to run a Daily Electric van,” says Martin Flach, Iveco product director.
“An electric model will cost around £50,000 more than a diesel one and, if you count up the fuel savings and not paying the London Congestion Charge, it would take eight years of average fleet mileage to get your money back.
“After eight years the batteries are likely to need replacing at a cost of around £10,000, so you are back to square one.”
Flach and his team have been talking to local councils
and utilities for the past four years trying to persuade them to take on the Daily Electric but to no avail.
He says: “It is not as though they are buying electric vehicles from anyone else – they just aren’t buying them at all.
“One of the problems is that when Modec went out of business, some fleets got their fingers burned and they say ‘never again’ to us. But Modec was a small firm and we are a major global manufacturer.
“There is no way we are going to stop selling electric vehicles and there is no way we are going out of business, so fleet buyers can rest assured when buying vans from us.”
Leaving aside the problem of restricted mileage, Flach feels that pricing is the main drawback of the Daily Electric and he believes that the Government should offer more cashback deals.
He says: “At present they offer £8,000 across the board, which is a sizeable sum if you are buying a £17,000 Renault Kangoo ZE, but on a £65,000 vehicle it just isn’t enough and the Government should introduce a sliding scale depending on the price of the van.”
Another problem for Iveco is that its smallest van weighs in at 3.5 tonnes gross vehicle weight, which means that when the electric components are added on, it tips the van over that weight, meaning that an O-licence and tachograph is needed to operate it. Also, people who passed their driving tests after 1995 won’t be able to drive them without a further driving test.
Flach says: “In Italy and Germany this is taken into account. The vans end up weighing 3.8 tonnes but the governments there still class them as 3.5 tonners. The UK Government should do the same.”
As for the cleanliness of electric vans, Flach revealed data that will be no surprise to those who have investigated the use of these vehicles. He said that while in France 90% of electricity comes from nuclear sources, 60% of electricity in the UK comes from coal-fired power stations, so although the Daily has zero tailpipe emissions, it does have a carbon footprint when the way the electricity is generated is taken into account.
He says: “I have estimated that while a Daily diesel emits 200g/km of CO2, the Electric version in the UK, counting the pollution from actually making the electricity, emits 180g/km. That’s not exactly pollution-free motoring is it?”
However, the carbon cost of drilling for oil, refining and transporting would add further CO2 emissions from well to wheel of a diesel vehicle.
So what should fleets which want to embrace a greener transport agenda do? Flach believes that compressed natural gas (CNG) is a better alternative – and Daily is offered with a CNG powerplant too.
Not only is there no worry about how far the vehicle can travel, but the engines can run on gas which is reclaimed from rubbish tips and suchlike, so is more sustainable than mining it from deep underground.
Until now, CNG has been available only from onsite facilities, but now several pumps are being installed at motorway services. By the end of the year, around 25 such sites will be in operation – although a tiny fraction of the public charging points for electric vehicles.
Flach said: “The Tesco.com fleet has been running 71 CNG Dailys for the past two years with no problems and we believe that this is a true green fuel alternative. We work with companies such as Gasrec and British Oxygen to supply firms with pumps on-site and we reckon that any fleet with at least 20 CNG vans can make a go of it.”
As for LPG, Flach says Iveco has never invested in the technology. He says: “When the Iveco bosses first sat down and talked about producing alternatively-fuelled vehicles they didn’t even consider LPG as it is not technically a green fuel. It does have reduced tailpipe emissions and can be cheaper to run, but it is not a green fuel as it is made as a by-product of petrol production.”
Hybrid technology is also an area manufacturers are developing, with several car makers producing new models. Iveco showed a concept hybrid Daily at the Hannover Commercial Vehicle show two years ago, driven by an electric motor but with a small diesel engine on board purely to charge the battery up.
But Flach said: “Although this is an exciting development we are not going to see this van going on sale at any time soon. As things stand, CNG is the green way forward.”
This article appeared in Fleet Van in February 2014.