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.