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The move to alternative fuels, notably electricity, is gathering pace in the booming van market. Malory Davies reports.

The past couple of years have seen the van market booming as the move to online shopping has driven demand -it’s now more than a third bigger than five years ago. But environmental pressures are changing the market faster than could have been imagined just a couple of years ago. Governments all around the world are now talking about phasing out diesel and petrol engines. In the UK, the government has set a target of 2040 to end the sale of new diesel and petrol vehicles forcing operators to start planning alternatives. And in London, the introduction of an Ultra Low Emission Zone will have a dramatic impact on van operators. A central London ULEZ is due to start in April 2019. But Mayor Sadiq Khan has now accelerated plans to extend the zone to the whole of Greater London for lorries in 2020 and inner London for vans in 2021. Lorries and diesel vans will need to meet Euro 6 standards to avoid being charged. Non-compliant vehicles in the expanded zone will be a daily ULEZ charge of £12.50. Khan estimates that 35,000 vans, 3,000 lorries and 100,000 cars might be affected by the expanded zone and tighter standards every day. “An expanded Ultra-Low Emission Zone, in conjunction with the Central London ULEZ, will really help transform the air that millions of Londoners breathe,” he said, setting out the scheme. Not surprisingly, the new plan has been greeted with dismay by the Freight Transport Association, which has calculated that, for a typical small firm with five lorries or five vans, the extra cost of compliance in 2020 or 2021 will amount to more than 40 per cent of their annual turnover – putting the business model of the company at risk. Christopher Snelling, head of UK policy at the FTA, said: “Small firms tend to buy second- hand so will have older vehicles that do not reach the latest emissions standards and will really struggle to raise the loans they will need to buy compliant vehicles a few years early then they would have.” Van manufacturers have been working hard to come up with new solutions to the problem of urban deliveries and this year’s CV Show saw a number of hybrid vehicles as well as pure electrics on display. Ford’s plug in hybrid which is currently being trialled in London. The plug-in hybrid Transit is designed to have a zero-emission range of 31 miles and used the EcoBoost 1 litre petrol engine as a range extender. It uses a geo-fencing system that is capable of modifying vehicle settings based on location. There are a total of 20 PHEV Transits being used for the trial which is being supported by a £4.7m grant from the government funded Advanced Propulsion Centre. Owen Gregory, director of fleet operations at Ford, is clear that last mile delivery will be a key market for the company. “The growth of online is huge and we see just as much disruption over the next ten years. We want to be part of that journey.” Individual buyers might be focused on the initial purchase price, but fleet buyers are more concerned with whole life cost. And Gregory points out that the level of service needed by fleet operators is higher than ever. Ford has responded to this by investing in a fleet of 100 mobile service vans – workshops that come to the customer. Looking to the future, Gregory says Ford is keeping in close touch with the legislators to understand what is happening. Currently, the clearest vision, he says, is in London. A key part of the PHEV project, says Gregory, is to gain operator insights which can be used as the vehicle goes into full production in 18 months time. And this is not just about the vehicle itself, he points out. Electric vehicles need batteries charging – developing the infrastructure is a key element. For example, where do people live, what charging infrastructure is there where they are? Ford recently extended the tests of the Transit PHEV to Valencia in Spain. Steven Armstrong, president and CEO, Ford of Europe, Middle East & Africa, said: “As no two cities are alike, it is vital that we look at the mobility issue from a variety of perspectives. Our research in Valencia will help us gain a meaningful understanding of the benefits that small and medium fleets running primarily on electric power can bring.” Ford is well down the road to a complete refresh of the Transit range. A new Transit Custom is already available, while a refreshed Transit Connect range will be in dealers later in the year. At the CV Show, Ford also displayed a new last mile delivery concept involving bicycle couriers working in tandem with a van service using smart technology. Renault had on show its new Master ZE which it says aims to be the perfect solution for urban last mile deliveries, offering a balance between range, payload and charging time. Dutch postal operator PostNL recently took delivery of the first two Renault Master ZE electric vans built in Europe. PostNL aims to achieve CO2-free deliveries in 25 inner cities where it operates by 2025. The ZE is equipped with a 33kWh lithium-ion battery giving it a range of about 75 miles, which makes it suitable for last mile deliveries in inner cities. PostNL will have 17 ZEs by the end of 2018. Liesbeth Kaashoek, packages and logistics director at PostNL: “This means our packages will be delivered emission-free in the inner cities of Utrecht and Leeuwarden, and other cities will follow soon.” The first UK deliveries of the large panel van will start in winter 2018. One of the challenges of the move to electric vehicles is the need to developing a network of sites to recharge batteries. Ford, BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen have formed a joint venture, named Ionity, to develop a brand-agnostic high-power charging network for electric vehicles across Europe to make electrified vehicles more appealing. The joint venture, based in Munich, is led by chief executive officer Michael Hajesch and chief operating officer Marcus Groll. The plan is to launch some 400 HPC stations by 2020. With a capacity of up to 350 kW per charging point, the network will use the European charging standard Combined Charging System to significantly reduce charging times. 20 stations will be opened to the public this year, located on major roads in Germany, Norway and Austria, at intervals of 120 km, through partnerships with “Tank & Rast”, “Circle K” and “OMV”. Through 2018, the network will expand to more than 100 stations. But the opportunity exists for new battery technology to play a part in the market, according to consultants Frost & Sullivan. Solid state batteries hold an energy density 2.5 times higher than lithium-ion batteries and global EV sales are expected to reach 1.6 million unit sales, reports Frost and Sullivan’s “Global Electric Vehicle Market Outlook 2018”. “With over ten automakers announcing plans for future EV launches and over 165 models currently available, electric vehicle sales growth potential could reach 25 million units by 2025 and account for 22.4 per cent of total passenger vehicle sales,” says industry manager mobility Prajyot Sathe. “By 2020, electric vehicles will no longer require government support to regulate pricing, and they will cost the same as conventional cars.” Frost and Sullivan argues that OEMs should focus on investing in future battery chemistries such as solid-state and lithium/zinc air. The report also suggests focusing on launching long-range battery electric vehicles, acquiring smaller companies that have established themselves in a specific market, transforming dealerships to become customer-focused.


This feature first appeared in Logistics Manager, July 2018. 

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