Diesel is “only option” for some van operators

Peter Golding

The shift to electric vehicles (EVs) could see some fleets operating a number of diesel vans on an almost “indefinite” basis, FleetCheck is warning.

Peter Golding, managing director at the fleet software specialist, pointed out that a variety of businesses already felt that they had applications for which current electric van designs would never be suitable, leaving diesel as their only option.

He said: “Some of our customers are telling us that they feel caught in a difficult situation. As they see it, there are some jobs for which electric vans are unlikely to ever make sense – for example, where very long range is needed, where there is a lack of charging facilities in remote areas, or where there is a need to keep moving during power cuts. They believe that this leaves them no choice other than to operate diesel vans until the technology changes

“However, they also foresee a point fairly soon when they’ll no longer want to buy new diesel vans because of concerns over future residual values as the market shifts to electrification towards the end of the decade. If you keep your vehicles for 5-6 years, this is a concern.

“Essentially, what some are planning to do is keep a handful of diesel vans indefinitely and there is a possibility that they already own these vans now. They see no choice but hanging onto these vehicle is something that is going to create a whole range of operational issues.”

A recent study by Right Fuel Card found 95% of its customer base had no intention to move to EV in the next 12 months.

The survey showed that cost remains the highest rated barrier to switching across all industries. Barriers then become more nuanced depending on the industry’s needs.

Transport firms highlighted an almost complete lack of infrastructure for larger vehicles, whilst couriers and even taxi firms, pointed out that the time to charge was too slow, leaving them with expensive, unproductive time.

David James, sales director at Right Fuel Card, said: “The results were unexpected given the drive to move to alternative fuels, but given the current cost of living crisis, businesses have become even more cost sensitive.  We absolutely want to support our customer’s switch to alternative fuels, and we have an ever-increasing product range to meet the changing needs of our customers. We’re looking forward to being able to offer a wide range of cards which would reflect the wider range of fuels that vehicles will be using in the years ahead.”

Golding said a key challenge will be ensuring older diesel vans are kept in a safe and roadworthy condition.

He added: “It’s no exaggeration to suggest that, by the turn of the decade, some fleets may already be operating a number of diesel vans that have been in service for nearly a decade with no plans to take them out of service.

“There appear to be two scenarios. One is that fleets will want to keep some diesels rather than use EVs because they are used intensively, the other is that they will be used infrequently as a flexible back-up. Both of these situations create maintenance problems. Keeping a 10 year old van covering 30,000 miles a year in a good state of repair is expensive and difficult; ensuring a rarely used van is always ready to go is almost equally tricky.

“We believe that the ideal solution would be for the UK government would introduce an effective road hydrogen strategy, giving these fleets a more flexible, zero emissions alternative to diesel in the long term but there is simply no sign of this happening. In our view, this is a mistake.

‘The only other outcome, in our view, is that there is a technological shift in either electric van range or the charging infrastructure that resolves the issues that these fleets believe make ongoing diesel van necessary – but it’s difficult to envisage what this would look like.”

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