CommercialFleet

80% of PSA's range to have an electric or a plug-in hybrid option

Helen Lees would like to be able to drive an electric van from one city to another, certain in the knowledge that she will be able to use the public charging points in both locations quite easily. As UK head of electric vehicles, connected services and B2B communications for PSA Group, however, she knows that, at present, it isn't possible.

"There's not a lot of standardisation or interoperability which makes it difficult to rely on the public infrastructure," she told Commercial Fleet.

Lees is alluding to is the fact that the UK's nationwide and regional charging networks are operated by some 20 different companies and organisations, each of which requires the user to register in advance in order to use its charging points.

What’s more, the different networks offer different membership models. Some favour pay-as-you-go while others are subscription-based.

"There are different arrangements in different towns," she said.

Nor is Lees entirely confident about the future of the Government's electric vehicle grant. The grant rates were under review at the time of writing.

"We've got a commitment from the government until 2020 but who knows what will happen after that," she said. "I'm not seeing a lot of long-term vision."

Despite these concerns, Lees is confident that electric light commercials have a healthy long-term future.

"Within five years 80% of PSA's range will have an electric or a plug-in hybrid option," she said. "They will be introduced as existing models are replaced."

For the present, only Citroen's Berlingo and Peugeot's Partner are marketed with battery power - it is available in L2 as well as L1 models - and sales are modest in what remains a comparatively tiny market.

"We sold just over 200 in total in 2017," she says. "If I'm honest about it, we've not been great at promoting our electric products but we're now stepping up our efforts."

With a range of 106 miles between recharges, according to New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) figures, electric Berlingo and Partner look set to come under increasing pressure from Renault's Kangoo Z.E and Nissan's e-NV200. New versions of both have been launched with longer ranges - 168 miles and 174 miles respectively (NEDC) - and PSA has yet to follow suit.

On the positive side however there is some indication of rising fleet interest in what PSA has to offer, with the Royal Mail taking 100 electric Partner L2s for use by posties on their delivery rounds. Won last year, it was the first major order for the vehicles.

"Our research has shown that electric vans are a good operational fit with our business and we are delighted to be ordering such a large volume to use in our daily operations," said Royal Mail fleet director, Paul Gatti. "It means we are on the front foot for future changes in emissions legislation."

The Royal Mail has spread them across 17 depots so it can assess how the vans perform in different working environments. Charging stations have been installed at all the sites.

"Other fleets are taking our electric vans in ones and twos," Lees adds.

Dealer involvement is being reinforced as part of PSA's efforts to boost its involvement in the battery light commercial marketplace. "Our dealers find electric models more difficult to sell than other vehicles, partly because of the need for customers to have on-site charging facilities," she says.

Thirty-five Peugeot outlets and 25 Citroen outlets can sell them and PSA is taking steps to ensure that every dealership in both networks is trained and equipped to provide aftersales care. The vans come with the standard three-year warranty, while the batteries have an eight-year/60,000-mile warranty, providing peace of mind for the used market.

While the existing parc cannot be described as huge, it is not non-existent. "We have well over 1,000 electrics in operation," she says.

Most of those have gone to larger fleets. SMEs - a key sector for Citroen in particular - are more cautious about making the commitment.

"They don't necessarily want to be early adopters; and they don't feel under quite the same pressure to be seen to be green," Lees said.

 

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