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Electric van guide: can an EV van work for your business?

An electric van could be the perfect opportunity to cut running costs, but do they make sense for your business? We look at the key issues

There's something of a revolution going on in the UK van market. While diesel definitely isn't dead, manufacturers are branching out to provide alternative fuels for buyers. That means petrol vans are making a comeback, while hybrids are in the pipeline, too. But perhaps the most intriguing option that's available in the UK today is the electric van.

If you need a van to keep your business moving, then the running costs for that vehicle will be a key factor in your monthly outgoings. While the latest diesel vans can deliver running costs on a par with large MPVs that will help to reduce your running costs, there is another way to help slash your outgoings, and that's by plumping for an electric van.

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However, it's not quite as simple as it sounds. Electric vans are restricted by their range, so are only really suitable for short trips, while access to a charging point is an essential requirement for anybody who is thinking about running one. However, if these two factors aren't limiting your choices, then an electric van could be a great showcase for your company, especially if you work in the environmental or gardening fields.

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There are some other issues with electric van ownership that you may not have considered, so we've broken down the key factors in finding out if an electric van works for you, from payload amounts to lease and purchase costs.

Battery range

The distance that you can travel on a single charge is going to be a major factor in deciding whether an electric van is right for you. At the moment, the two leading electric vans on sale in the UK are the Nissan e-NV200 and Renault Kangoo ZE. As both models use a similar electric drive system, they both have a claimed range of up to 106 miles. However, this can be shortened by cold weather, and as soon as you add a payload or passenger, or use the air-conditioning and heating, then this range will drop even further.

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Both vans have the facility to pre-heat the cabin while still plugged in, which saves the battery charge for driving, and extras such as heated seats can reduce the demands put upon the battery when on the move. While a range of just over 100 miles doesn't sound like a lot, Renault has conducted research that reveals the average van driver covers about 70 miles per day, so these electric vans should have range to spare.

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Of course, long-distance travel is out of the question unless you know there are going to be charging facilities when you get to your destination, and if you have enough time in your schedule to factor in the time it takes to recharge your van.

Charging

The second major factor when evaluating electric van ownership is whether you have the ability to charge it up. The first thing you need is a convenient place to park the van so that you can access a charging point, whether it's in a garage or an off-street parking space near an electricity supply.

The best way to charge a van is by using a wall box, as this can deliver a faster charge than if you plug into a conventional plug socket. Do this, and whenever you leave your van parked up overnight, you can plug it in and have a fully charged van ready to go in the morning.

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Manufacturers are installing rapid chargers at locations such as dealerships, motorway service stations and some commercial sites (such as Ikea stores across the country), and these can deliver up to an 80 per cent charge in half an hour.

If you're going to be relying on a charging point at home or on business premises, then these can recharge the batteries in 4-8 hours, depending on how powerful the wallbox is. In the worst case, a fully flat battery can be recharged from a conventional three-pin plug socket in 12 hours. If you do take the plunge, you'll soon get in the habit of plugging your van in overnight to keep the battery topped up, just like a mobile phone or power tools.

Payload

Adding weight to any van has a negative effect on energy consumption, whether it's powered by a diesel engine or an electric motor. However, just because a van runs on electricity, it doesn't mean it's any poorer at carrying big loads.

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Take the Nissan e-NV200 for example. It has the same cargo volume as the standard NV200 diesel, so it has room for two Euro pallets in the back. However, it has a payload of 770kg, which is around 40kg more than the best offered in the diesel version. In comparison, all versions of the Renault Kangoo ZE have a payload of 650kg, which is 20kg more than the standard Kangoo van, but 150kg less than the Kangoo Maxi diesel.

The big minus point for an electric van is the reduction in range that this extra weight will cause. You'll need more power to get moving, so the van's range will be shortened, once again making the case that an electric van is better suited to short trips rather than longer drives.

Price

One area where electric vans are competitive is on list price, and that's because the Government's Plug-in Van Grant is bigger than it is for electric cars. You can get £8,000 off the list price of an electric or hybrid van that is able to travel at least 10 miles on zero emissions electric power alone. That means the Nisan e-NV200 starts from around £15,000, which is about £400 less than the NV200 with a 1.5 dCi diesel.

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Unfortunately, Government incentives to install EV charging points at home were withdrawn in 2016, but electric van makers do have contact details of companies that are willing to fit charge points for business users at competitive rates.

Running costs

Another factor to consider is the overall running costs of an electric van. While you'll never be at the mercy of fuel station prices, you won't be accessing free energy. If you're charging a van overnight, then the cost is estimated to be around £1.50 to fully charge a flat battery. As a rough estimate, you'd need to spend around £15 on diesel to cover 100 miles, so the savings an electric van can deliver are plain to see. If you're registered as a company, you should also be able to write off some of your household energy bills against VAT, as the energy used to recharge your electric van is a legitimate business cost.

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Servicing should be relatively cheap for an electric van. As there is no engine to maintain, there are fewer parts to inspect and replace on an annual basis. Manufacturers offer maintenance plans to suit the number of miles you cover in a year.

Van security tips

If you're looking at a Renault Kangoo ZE, then you have the option of buying the van for a lower price and hiring the batteries on a separate contract. Prices for battery hire range from about £33 to £78, depending on how long your contract is and how many miles you cover.

The benefit of this set-up is that you don't pay as much for the van in the first place, while the batteries are guaranteed up to 75 per cent of their capacity, after which they can be replaced. However, that does mean the margins between running an electric van and a conventional diesel one are narrowed even further.

Have you ever used an electric van? Tell us what you thought in the comments section below...

Get the latest electric car news, reviews and analysis on DrivingElectric.com

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