Category Archives: Alternative Fuels

Government must act to combat killer diesel pollution in cities

Nissan e-NV200 electric van

Electric van like the Nissan e-NV200 make perfect sense for London — and are competitive on cost, too.

The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, hit the headlines over the weekend with a call for diesel cars to be banned from the streets of Paris by 2020, as part of a plan to reduce pollution.

In London, monitoring data show that the capital City has the higest levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution in Europe, according to Bloomberg.

The government’s own figures show that 29,000 people die in the UK from air pollution every year.

NO2 is one of the most harmful emissions from diesel engines, and is linked to a range of respiratory diseases. However, when those clever people at the EU decided to focus on lowering CO2 emissions in 1998, they decided to ignore NO2, leaving the door open for a vast increase in the number of diesel vehicles on the road.

As we’re now discovering, despite their superior fuel consumption and lower CO2 emissions, diesel cars aren’t they healthy for urban residents — petrol would be a lot better. A new report from the government’s Environmental Audit Committee says that diesel is now “the most significant driver of air pollution in our cities”.

Of course, diesel remains the only viable option for most lorries and buses, but it isn’t necessarily the only option for cars and vans operating in urban environments. As I’ve written many times before, vans typically have predictable route and usage patterns and are often parked up off-road overnight, making them ideal candidates for conversion to electric power.

Of course, the EU is in full-scale denial mode: according to Bloomberg story, EU spokesman Joe Hennon claims that the EU’s stance on cutting emissions “is and always has been technologically neutral”.

Er, yes, except for the decision to focus obssessively on CO2 emissions, while allowing diesel cars to pump out 3 times the level of NO2 that petrol engines are allowed to emit. As a result, around half of the cars on UK roads are now diesel, up from less than 10% a couple of decades ago.

Regulatory action is needed for this situation to change: van manufacturers have their hands tied by the current tax regime, which is solely linked to CO2 emissions. Similarly, van operators will continue to buy diesel models because petrol alternatives are thin on the ground — and often cost more to tax.

Nissan launches e-NV200 electric van — the shape of things to come?

Nissan has launched its e-NV200 electric van, which the firm claims offers a 106 mile range, a top speed of 76mph and fuel costs as low as 25% those of a diesel-fuelled van.

Nissan e-NV200 electric van

The Nissan e-NV200 electric van

These claims should be more realistic usual, too, as the e-NV200 has been one of the most widely-trialled vehicles of recent years, thanks to trials with a number of large fleet operators.

At least one trial customer, British Gas, has already placed a 100-van order, suggesting that the e-NV200 does live up to expectations.

For my money, Nissan could sell a lot more e-NV200 vans than LEAFs, thanks to the more predictable and repeatable usage cycles of vans, many of which travel less than 60 miles a day on a fixed route, every day for years, returning each night to off-road parking in a secure yard, where they can be easily and safely charged.

Compare that to the average private car usage scenario: vans have the edge, and as I’ve mentioned many times before, I believe vans, not cars, will be the first vehicles to achieve commerical success in the electric vehicle marketplace. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say the the e-NV200 could be the van that tips the balance.

What about the van?

I digress. Getting back to the e-NV200, the van itself is based on Nissan’s NV200 diesel-powered van, while the e-NV200’s drivetrain comes from the Nissan LEAF, the firm’s electric car offering.

Nissan e-NV200 motor

The view under the bonnet — far fewer oily mechanical bits than usual. Plus it’s almost silent.


However, it isn’t just mash-up of two existing vehicles — 30% of the e-NV200’s parts are unique to the model, and the chassis, interior, battery pack and regenerative braking system have all be altered from their original (NV200 or LEAF) specifications.

The e-NV200 has a cargo volume of 4.2 cubic metres and can carry two Euro pallets.

Nissan e-NV200 can carry 2 euro pallets

The Nissan e-NV200 can carry two Euro pallets in its 4.2 cubic metre load compartment.

Scheduled maintenance costs are expected to be 40% lower, thanks in part to the lack of engine oil, engine belts and conventional gear box and clutch.

Although the e-NV200 van will be built at Nissan’s plant in Barcelona, the UK — a major European manufacturing base for Nissan — will get some of the action, as Nissan’s battery plant in Sunderland will produce the van’s lithium-ion battery cells.

Nissan e-NV200 cab interior

Inside the cab, it’s almost like a normal van — just a few control differences. Ideal for van drivers switching between vehicles.

The battery can be recharged overnight in 8 hours using a domestic 16-amp single-phase 3.3 kW charger, or in just four hours if the optional 6.6kW/32-amp charger is fitted and a suitable supply is used.

Alternatively, a dedicated CHAdeMO DC 50 kW quick charger can recharge the battery to 80 percent capacity in as little as 30 minutes, if the battery still holds some charge, meaning that e-NV200 can be charged while it is being loaded with goods for another delivery, for example.

In my view, it all adds up — especially as the e-NV200 has been priced in the UK to go head-to-head with diesel vans, with prices starting from just under £14,000.

Nissan e-NV200 plugged in to charge

Nissan e-NV200 electric van prices go head-to-head with diesel

Nissan e-NV200 electric van at CV ShowNissan has announced pricing details for its e-NV200 electric van, which will be available from July in the UK. As I’ve written before, I believe this vehicle could be the tipping point for electric vans, and indeed British Gas has already ordered 100 e-NV200 vans following its extended winter trial of the model.

Prices have been set to start from just £13,393, after the £8,000 government plug-in van grant has been subtracted — meaning that the cost to buyers will be almost exactly the same as a standard diesel-powered van, such as the new Ford Transit Courier, which starts at £13,350.

It’s worth noting that this price applies to the ‘Flex’ purchase option, which means that you buy the vehicle, but lease the batteries, which cost from £61 per month. An outright purchase option for van and batteries is also available, and this puts the van’s starting price at £16,562, again after the government plug-in grant has been subtracted.

Nissan claims that electricity costs will be just 2p per mile, whereas a similar diesel-powered van will cost 12p – 14p per mile in fuel, meaning that the fuel savings from switching to electric are considerable — as long as you don’t need to exceed the e-NV200’s claimed 100-mile range, and have the facilities available to recharge it every night.

Although the additional cost of the batteries — whether leased or purchased — has to be factored into total cost of ownership calculations, so too does the van’s zero-rating for road tax and London Congestion Charge exemption, and in my view, it looks very competitively priced.

The e-NV200 will initially be offered in two trim levels, Acenta and Tekna, and two body styles — a panel van, and a five-seat combi.

Manheim predicts sparky future for electric vans

Nissan e-NV200 British Gas trial van

Manheim’s head of commercial vehicles believes that the June 2014 launch of the Nissan e-NV200 electric van, see here on extended trial with British Gas, could be a tipping point for electric vans.

With impeccable timing, given the smog blanketing much of the UK, vehicle auctioneers Manheim have declared that 2014 could be the tipping point for electric van adoption.

James Davis, head of commercial vehicles at Manheim, says that technical and economical hurdles remain for electric vans in the used market:

These vans were expensive to buy new and were often funded from major PLC marketing budgets to satisfy their ‘green’ agendas.

In the used market, a buyer has to justify their price premium versus tried, tested and trusted heavy oil technology; without the budget or turnover of the original PLC owner. Diesel will win the day for a long time yet, until LCV running costs and taxes are more closely linked to emissions.

Nervousness over longevity and battery lease agreements are also deterring buyers, says Davis, although occasional hybrid models have seen strong demand at auction; Davis cites two AshWoods Transit hybrid conversions, which sold for between 125% and 131% of their CAP book prices at a sale in late 2013.

However, Davis suggests that that tipping point could come this year:

“Looking ahead, the official launch of Nissan’s e-NV200 in June 2014 will be a major landmark in the eVan market. A volume fleet order, most likely from one of the PLC fleets currently on trial, will surely launch used electric OEM vans as a real alternative to fossil fuels, with a viable dealer and charging network to follow.”

Strangely enough, Davis’ views about the Nissan e-NV200 echo my own exactly — as I explained in a post on this site at the start of March.

I strongly believe that the van market is currently the most realistic target for volume sales of electric vehicles. Time will tell if I’m right, but frankly, the competition from other alternative fuels is pretty thin. Hydrogen and fuel cells are still too experimental and complex, while looking back, LPG might have been a good idea, but the economic advantages were only ever based on fuel duty rates, not underlying fuel costs, and as Manheim’s James Davis explains, the game is now nearly over:

“In our view, LPG is all but extinct among mainstream fleets. Operation, tank size and its position in the payload area, coupled with a fragmented refuelling network infrastructure, conspire against the technology.”

I’m bullish on electricity and believe that when combined with range-extender and hybrid technology, it’s a logical and complementary way for internal combustion engined vehicles to evolve, while retaining the practicality we all value so highly.

Indeed, I’ll go further and say that in a few short years, hybrid technology will become a standard feature on many new models — to the point that it isn’t even badged anymore. After all, I remember a time, not so long ago, when vehicle manufacturers badged their vehicles to advertise the presence fuel injection, catalytic converters and turbos (on diesel engines).

Today, any new car or van without these features wouldn’t be fit for purpose, and I’m pretty sure the same thing will happen with hybrid technologies.

Will the Nissan e-NV200 electrify the UK van market?

Nissan e-NV200 electric van

The Nissan e-NV200 electric van goes on sale in the UK in June

Nissan’s e-NV200 electric van goes on sale in June.

The company is hoping that it will be the first electric van to break through to the mainstream market, and Nissan has spent a lot of time and effort preparing the ground for this launch.

Large fleet operators have enjoyed a high level of access to the e-NV200, thanks to a number of long-term operational trials aimed at proving the commercial and operational viability of the van.

Companies that have participated in the UK include FedEx and British Gas, which aimed to make a substantial part of its fleet electric by 2015. Further afield, names such as Coca-Cola, DHL, IKEA, EDF and the Japan Post Office have also been involved in trialling the e-NV200 in everyday operational use.

The basics

Nissan says that the electric version of the NV200 has been re-engineered where necessary, to ensure that it is not simply a converted NV200, but a well-designed van in its own right. According to the firm, the e-NV200 has a unique part count of more than 30% — i.e. 30% of its parts are made specially for this model and are not common with the conventional NV200.

Nissan e-NV200 interior

The dashboard and controls in the e-NV200 have been designed to be as similar as possible to a conventional van, in order to aid drivers who have to switch between vans regularly.

The e-NV200’s homologated NEDC [official] range of 170km is greater than the average 100km daily driving distance required by more than half of the fleets who use this size van, says Nissan, while its payload and cargo area (4.2 cubic metres) are the same as the standard NV200.

The battery can be recharged overnight using a domestic 16-amp single-phase 3.3 kW supply which reduces to four hours if a 6.6kW/32-amp supply is used. A dedicated CHAdeMO DC 50 kW quick charger can recharge the battery from 0-80 percent in just 30 minutes or less if the battery is already partially charged. More than 1000 public CHAdeMO quick chargers are now installed across Europe, in addition a number of companies have installed their own dedicated quick charging facilities at their home depots or offices.

Will it work?

I have believed for several years that the big opportunity for mainstream adoption of electric vehicles is in the light commercial vehicle sector.

Nissan e-NV200 electric van being used by florist

Many vans do less than 60 miles a day and never venture outside the city — the ideal usage scenario for electric vehicles.

Nissan shares this view and has made a big commitment to electric vehicles, in both car form (the LEAF) and through the e-NV200. What’s needed now is for a few major van operators and forward-looking looking SMEs to bite the bullet and commit to operating a significant slice of its fleet on electricity.

I believe this is both possible and increasingly likely, and for my money, Nissan has the best chance of any manufacturer yet of delivering an electric vehicle that gains mainstream acceptance.

Watch this space.

Nissan and British Gas Launch UK’s Biggest Electric Van Trial

Nissan e-NV200 British Gas trial van

One of 28 British Gas Nissan e-NV200 trial vans that will be in service from November 2013 – April 2014 to test the vans’ winter performance.

Nissan’s long-term trial programme for its e-NV200 electric van has been a considerable success, as I’ve reported before. The company has now returned to one of its early test partners to launch the biggest electric van trial yet seen in the UK.

British Gas will be operating 28 e-NV200 electric vans on a pilot scheme that will run nationwide from November 2013 until April 2014, to assess how the vans perform in winter conditions during typical British Gas home services daily usage patterns.

Battery performance in electric vehicles worsens at low temperatures, and the scheme should enable British Gas, Nissan, and the wider van operating sector to determine whether electric vans are truly viable for fleet use.

The vans will only form a small part of British Gas’ 13,000-strong home service fleet, but if the trial is successful, it could be a significant boost for Nissan and other electric van manufacturers.

Total cost model and driver training

One of the challenges facing electric vehicle operators and manufacturers is cost. Electric vehicles are more expensive to buy than conventional alternatives, but savings are available on fuel. The Nissan-British Gas trial is being run in collaboration with Hitachi Capital Commercial Vehicle Solutions and Gateshead College, and will also include work to generate an accurate total cost of ownership model, so that 100% electric technology can be compared with conventional internal combustion engine drivetrains.

Gateshead College is close to Nissan’s Sunderland plant, and is a leading training facility for LCV development. The college has provided training for all of the British Gas drivers to ensure that they are aware of how to drive, and live with, the e-NV200, and all drivers have been provided with a home charging point and access to public charging points.

The e-NV200 goes on sale in the UK next year, and a successful and high-profile trial with British Gas could give it a major head-start over lower-profile peers, which haven’t benefited from the same widespread fleet exposure and trial opportunities.

Is this a tipping point?

I’ve long thought that the biggest opportunity for electric vans is in the fleet market, and if successful, this trial could be the tipping point that prompts widespread adoption. The potential is considerable — imagine how many electric vans Royal Mail might buy for urban delivery use, for example — but what’s needed is a clear demonstration that both costs and usability can match those of conventional vans. This trial could provide that.

Renault Kangoo Van Z.E. Retains ‘Electric Vehicle of the Year’ Title

Renault Kangoo Van Z.E. electric van

The Renault Kangoo Van Z.E. electric van has already sold more than 11,000 units, making it the best-selling electric van in Europe.

The all-electric Renault Kangoo Van Z.E. (Zero Emissions) has retained its GreenFleet Awards ‘Electric Vehicle of the Year’ award at the Public Sector Information magazine GreenFleet Awards ceremony, which took place on 17th October at London’s Emirates Stadium, the home of Arsenal Football Club.

Judges, including the editorial and research team and independent representatives from the likes of ICFM (Institute of Car Fleet Management), said Kangoo Van Z.E. “was more than a worthy winner again” and had no hesitation in reinstating it as the Electric Vehicle of the Year.

GreenFleet’s Colin Boyton, one of the judges, said:

“As well as winning last year’s Electric Vehicle of the Year award from GreenFleet, it scooped ‘Ecovan of the Year’ and ‘International Van of the Year’ accolades.  It is more than a worthy winner again.”

Kangoo Van Z.E. is Europe’s best-selling small electric van with sales of over 11,000. Since its launch at the end of 2011, it has been acclaimed repeatedly by the media and secured International Van of The Year award in 2012.

The zero-emission LCV was restyled in June and now features Renault’s new styling identity. In the cabin, the dashboard has been refreshed and enhanced, and owners can now programme the battery to charge remotely to benefit from off-peak electricity rates using their computer or smartphone thanks to the ‘My Z.E. inter@ctive’ pack.

We’ve yet to see electric vans make their way into mainstream van hire fleets, but they are making inroads into large urban van fleets, where their limited mileage and need for overnight recharging is not an issue, and their zero emissions at the point of use are a major benefit.

Nissan e-NV200 Is A Hit In London’s Square Mile

Nissan e-NV200 electric van

Nissan e-NV200 on trial with the City of London Corporation. The e-NV200 is due to be launched in 2014.

The City of London Corporation is the ‘local council’ for the square mile — London’s financial district, which has just 9,000 residents, but has 350,000 daily commuters and nine million annual visitors.

The dense, congested, urban environment in which the Corporation’s vehicles operate should be ideal for electric power, and two trials this year have confirmed this.

Earlier this year the City of London Corporation took part in a successful trial of the Nissan LEAF electric car, and it’s just completed a week-long trial of Nissan’s electric van, the e-NV200.

The Corporation found that the van could complete a typical daily usage cycle on one charge and received positive feedback from all of the drivers who tried the vehicle.

Using an all-electric vehicle means zero CO2 emissions at the point of use, and the cost of charging an electric vehicle is significantly lower than the equivalent cost of diesel.

The London trial is just one of several trials that Nissan has undertaken with the e-NV200, all of which have been successful. The van is due to be launched next year, and I expect it to be one of the first commercially successful electric vans.

Through its extensive trial programme, Nissan has provided key commercial users with a thorough understanding of how the van can be used, and assuming it is sufficiently affordable, I expect demand to be strong.

E-Up! Lad, That Must Be An E-Load Up! You’re Driving

Volkswagen e-load up! electric van

The Volkswagen e-load up! electric van is still a concept, but VW says a van version of the up! could make it into production if there’s enough demand.

One of the most ‘wrong’ posts I’ve ever written was one suggesting that small car-derived vans like the Fiesta Van had had their day.

The post was triggered by the news that Peugeot was to discontinue its 207 Van model, but since then, a number of new car-derived vans have hit the market — not least the gorgeous and desirable MINI Clubvan.

Volkswagen has now upped the ante with a suggestion that it might put a van version of its up! small car into production. To tantalise would-be buyers, its put an electric-powered concept model on display at the current IAA motor show in Frankfurt.

Catchily named the ‘e-load up!’ (they might need to work on that…), the e-load up! is aimed at the city courier, technician and pizza delivery market. Volkswagen says that the up! van would be suitable for all types of drive system and thus could be made available as a regular diesel-powered van, too.

The idea is simple, and very apt, given today’s sky-high fuel prices: a small van that’s full can operate more efficiently than a larger van that isn’t full.

Volkswagen has already prepared an electric production version of the up!, called the e-up!, so converting this to a van wasn’t a massive challenge and it certainly could work well.

Compared to the passenger model, the cargo capacity of the load up! rises from 951 litres to more than 1,400 litres. Maximum payload is 306 kg, which should be ample for the kind of load and usage it is likely to get in a city environment. The electric power train is slick and impressive, according to Autocar, which has tested a pre-production e-up!, and should have a range of in excess of 100 miles.

This isn’t the first electric concept van Volkswagen has rolled out at a motor show, but something tells me that the up! van might make it into production. Volkswagen says that given the right level of demand, a commercial vehicle version of the up!, such as the e-load up!, could be available soon. Watch this space.

All-Electric Renault Twizy Cargo Offers New Choice For Business Users

Renault Twizy Cargo electric vanElectric vans are fast becoming a meaningful alternative to petrol and diesel-powered models, especially in urban environments and on large sites where mileage and duty cycles are predictable, and recharging points are readily available.

Renault has been a firm believe in the potential of electric vans and has just added a second electric van model to its range.

While the company’s existing model, the Kangoo Van Z.E., is simply an electrical model of the conventional Renault Kangoo van, the Renault Twizy Cargo is rather different and is a single-seater, small capacity niche van aimed at users with very precise requirements.

Introducing the Twizy Cargo

Renault Twizy Cargo

Parking the Twizy Cargo is much easier than with a conventional small van.

The Twizy Cargo is based on the standard Twizy — which is pretty wacky in the first place. The rear passenger seat is swapped for a 180-litre boot with an opening and lockable door.

The load area can take loads of up to 75kg and the rear door opens to 90 degrees, making it easy to load small packages quickly. The Twizy’s small size also means it can be parked at right-angles to the pavement, rather than parallel to it, as the picture alongside this article shows — this makes for speedy parking and getaways, even on busy streets.

As a car-derived van, with fully recoverable VAT, the Twizy Cargo is £650 cheaper than the standard model, at £6,241. According to Renault, VAT can also be reclaimed on its battery hire, from £36 per month (excluding VAT), making it even more financially attractive.

Although it could be used as a grounds vehicle on a large private site, the Twizy Cargo is clearly aimed at urban users and may tempt London businesses as it is exempt from the London Congestion Charge and offers eye-catching styling that should make it a great marketing tool.

Renault says that the Twizy Cargo has a real-world range of around 50 miles and can be charged from a standard three-pin electrical socket, by way of the in-built charging cable. A full charge takes just three and a half hours and will cost around £1, according to the French manufacturer.

Technical Specification

Top speed 56 mph
Range 62 miles (NEDC). Real world conditions circa 50 miles
Power 17hp
Boot capacity 180 litres
Boot dimensions 550mm (d) x 500mm (l) x 950mm (h)
Max load 75 kg
Vehicle dimensions 2338 x 1237 x 1454mm
Unladen weight 375kg
Kerb weight 474kg

Although the Twizy Cargo’s 56mph top speed isn’t going to tempt drivers out of town — and no doubt would be a slightly scary prospect on a motorway– it is more than adequate for urban use and sits well with the electric Twizy’s claimed real-world range of 50 miles.

With companies like Renault producing electric vehicles of this quality, I think that the future is looking good for electric cars and vans, although it will still be a long time until they become anything like mainstream choices, thanks to the continued problem of limited range and slow charging.