Category Archives: Alternative Fuels

Vauxhall Combo-e

Electric van hire: Isn’t it about time?

The 2021 Vauxhall Combo-e electric van has a manufacturer-specified range of up to 171 miles (source: Vauxhall)

A recent survey by van manufacturer Fiat found that 35% of van drivers are would consider an electric van for their next model. Given this, surely it’s about time that van rental companies started to offer electric van hire?

With a few notable exceptions, electric hire vehicles are few and far between. When they are available, they’re usually cars, not vans. I’ve searched through the websites of all the main van hire companies and as far as I can tell, none of them offer electric vans.

Indeed, van hire specialist Northgate seem keen to explain why electric vans aren’t suitable for widespread use yet. Although they make some valid points, this post written in 2019 and a more recent article from 2020 both strike me as surprisingly negative.

The traditional objections to electric vans are that they’re:

  • only suitable for very local use due to limited range
  • too expensive to buy
  • too inconvenient to charge
  • have uncertain resale values

Of course, there’s some truth in these comments. But more charging points are being added every day and many electric vans now offer real-world range of 120 miles or more. The latest Citroën e-Berlingo small van (also sold as the Vauxhall Combo-e) has an official range of up to 171 miles. I guess that will be a bit lower in actual use, but it should still be plenty for many van drivers.

Early adopters

To be fair, I did find one van hire company in my search that does offer electric vans. Kudos to Yorkshire/Lincolnshire firm TJS Self Drive, which has some small electric vans for hire. TJS rightly make the point that 70% of small vans travel less than 70 miles a day. That’s well within the range of most current electric van models.

If van hire companies are lagging behind in adopting electric models, big corporate fleet operators are showing more interest. One example is television group Sky, which recently took delivery of 11 Renault Kangoo Z.E. electric vans. These will be based in London, Southampton and Scotland and will be used to help Sky work out how it can convert its wider commercial fleet to electric power in order to meet its corporate target of net zero carbon emissions by 2030.

It’s early days for electric van hire, but as we’ve been saying for years here at, electric vans are very well suited to some types of van use. Many companies operate vans in urban areas, with limited mileage or fixed routes. Electric power makes increasing sense and helps companies to meet their environmental responsibilities. We’d urge van hire companies to show leadership in this area by making electric vans available as widely as possible.

Nissan e-NV200 electric van

Van hire companies add more electric vans to fleets

Nissan e-NV200 electric van
Northgate has added an extra 25 Nissan e-NV200 electric vans to its UK van hire fleet.

Momentum is continuing to build in the electric van market, led by one of the most significant buyers of new vans — the van hire sector.

In recent weeks, two of the UK’s largest van rental firms, Europcar and Northgate, have both added extra EV capacity to their hire fleets.

Northgate has added 25 Nissan e-NV200 electric vans to its fleet, which will be available for hire from July. We expect demand for these vans to be strongest in London, where the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) now means that all pre-Euro 6 diesels must pay a £12.50 daily charge.

Europcar has added new EV capacity to the opening fleet at its new Purfleet van rental supersite, which is located just inside the M25, close to the A13.

As I’ve said many times before in these pages, EV technology is probably better suited to urban-use vans than it is to family cars at the moment. I can only see this momentum increasing as EVs become better understood, more widely used and gain longer ranges.

Beat the ULEZ with the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV van

The new Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Commercial. This plug-in hybrid is exempt from the London ULEZ and the Congestion Charge
The new Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Commercial. This plug-in hybrid is exempt from the London ULEZ and the Congestion Charge

Have you been caught by the London Ultra Low Emissions Zone charge? Are you now looking for a newer van that will be exempt from this £12.50 daily charge?

If you’re looking for a used van that meets the standard then your choice of diesel vans will be limited to Euro 6 models — as a general rule, those registered from September 2016 onwards. (You can check whether any vehicle meets the ULEZ standards here)

However, for low-mileage urban use, modern diesels aren’t ideal. The diesel particulate filters (DPF) used to reduce emissions tend to clog up fast if they don’t get regular long runs to burn off the soot that builds up.

For many city van drivers, a petrol or electric van makes sense. But while there’s a growing choice of new models on the market, availability of used models is very limited. If you only need a small van, one suggestion you might not have considered is the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV commercial. In terms of size and shape, this is similar to the old Vaxuhall Astra/Ford Escort vans of the 90s and noughties.

Inside the Outlander PHEV Commercial – it’s basically like a large estate with the seats folded down and boarded out rear windows for security and privacy.

The difference is that the PHEV — or Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle — is powered by a combination of petrol and electric motors that make it ideal for short journeys, where you can run on electric power alone.

As you’d expect, this green machine is exempt from the London ULEZ. But according to Mitsubishi, it’s also exempt from the London Congestion Charge. That means you could save £24 per day (£12.50 ULEZ and £11.50 Congestion Charge) by switching from an older diesel van.

I’m fairly sure that older models of the Outlander PHEV should also be exempt from the ULEZ and Congestion Charge – but check before you buy. This model was introduced in 2013, so there are a growing number to choose from. Although commercial (van) variants are rarer, you might be able to manage by simply tinting the rear windows on a standard Outlander PHEV and folding the seats down.

Although you’ll need a charging point at home to keep the batteries topped up, driving this PHEV SUV around town should save you money compared to petrol or diesel. It could be worth a look.

Swansea Council electric vans

Why van hire companies may soon need electric van fleets

Swansea Council electric vans

Swansea Council Fleet Manager Mark Barrow taking delivery of 40 Peugeot Partner electric vans from Day’s Fleet’s Neil Vaughan.

Car purchasing decisions are personal and not always entirely rational.

But businesses buying vans can’t afford to be swayed by emotional considerations or the latest fashion. Reliability, cost and fitness for purpose are the top requirements. And an increasing number of organisations are finding that these boxes are ticked by electric vans.

Swansea Council recently added no fewer than 40 Peugeot Partner Electric vans to its fleet. This is one of the largest local authority orders for electric vans so far and suggests a high level of confidence in this type of vehicle.

Swansea Council Fleet Manager Mark Barrow says that the organisation had already gained experience of electric vehicles by running 10 pool cars:

“An analysis of journeys and mileages clearly demonstrated their potential viability, whilst the preferred five-year lease equated to a budget neutral position that enabled us to achieve a much greener fleet.”

It’s now well understood by commercial operators that the diesel particulate filters in modern diesel engines are not well-suited to use on short, local journeys. Clogged DPFs are expensive and inconvenient.

To prevent any risk of flat batteries, Swansea Council has been able to install charging points at various municipal facilities around the city. But this isn’t always necessary as the range available from electric vans is enough to cover a full day’s operation for many business.

Town centre businesses with urban delivery routes are unlikely to do more than 50-80 miles in a day, a range that can be comfortably covered by most electric vans without needing a charge.

Another application where electric vans are well suited is for use on large industrial or transport sites, where mileages are very low and stop-start use is typical.

Looking further ahead, manufacturers such as Ford are developing plugin hybrid electric vans offering electric operation plus longer-range use via a conventional engine. These could help reduce urban emissions while still being practical for longer-range operation.

Tax incentives are fine, but charging is essential

The government’s Road to Zero report suggests that politicians want to encourage the uptake of electric and hybrid vans and will continue to offer incentives to buyers.

Pure electric vans already enjoy a £0 VED rate and often benefit from the plug-in van grant. But charging infrastructure is still limited. Improving this — so drivers can be confident of getting a battery boost wherever they stop — could trigger a big lift in electric van sales.

Rental demand could explode

I believe the future is very bright for electric vans. As organisations gain confidence in the cost and performance of these vehicles, order sizes are likely to multiply. And as companies become accustomed to electric power, they’ll expect to be able to source replacement and surge capacity electric vehicles from their rental suppliers.

Despite this, electric vans aren’t yet widely available in the van hire market. In my view, now could be a good time for van rental firms to start taking more interest in this growing market.

FUSO eCanter electric truck

Daimler Trucks launches FUSO eCanter – world’s first all-electric truck

FUSO eCanter electric truck

The Mitsubishi FUSO eCanter electric truck

The world’s first all-electric truck to enter series production has been launched in New York. The Mitsubishi FUSO eCanter is an all-electric version of the popular Canter light truck.

The new model is aimed at reducing noise and air pollution in urban environments. Production models will be delivered to launch customers starting this year in the USA, Europe and Japan. Initial production is planned at 500 units over the next two years, with higher-volume production targeted from 2019.

Marc Llistosella, President and CEO of Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corporation and Head of Daimler Trucks Asia:

“In times, when everybody is talking about electric trucks, we are the first to actually commercialize a series produced all-electric truck. Having a long history in alternative drivetrains, we are proud to step into this new era. Our FUSO eCanter comes with years of customer testing, and the assurance of parts, services, and warranty through our global FUSO dealership network.”

Daimler’s first US commercial partner for the eCanter will be parcel giant UPS, whose bespoke-bodied brown trucks are frequent sight on the streets of New York. UPS already operates more than 8,500 alternative drivetrain vehicles and presumably is keen to see if electric technology can work for the company at higher gross weights.

In Japan, the launch customer will be Seven-Eleven Co, which will take 25 eCanters onto its fleet.

Running costs, range and load

The new model has been on trial in Portugal and Germany between 2014 and 2017, so Daimler does already have a fair amount of data about the eCanter’s likely performance. According to the manufacturer, the FUSO eCanter has a range of 100 kilometres and a load capacity up to three and a half tons, depending on body and usage.

The vehicle’s electric powertrain contains six high voltage lithium ion battery packs with 420 V and 13.8 kWh each. In comparison with a conventional diesel truck, it is said to offer savings of up to 1,000 Euro per 10,000 kilometres on operating costs.

I read somewhere the other day that battery power wouldn’t work for big trucks. That’s true at the moment — this is a small truck — but who’d bet against further advances in this technology over the next five years? Not me.

Ford Transit Custom plug-in hybrid van

How do hybrid vans work? Inside the Ford Transit PHEV

Ford Transit Custom plug-in hybrid van

Ford’s planned Transit Custom plug-in hybrid van will go on trial in London later in 2017.

There’s a lot of talk about hybrids, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) and electric vans at the moment. But what does this actually mean?

Well, in simple terms, hybrids are vehicles with a petrol or diesel engine plus some form of electrical propulsion.

The most common type of hybrid uses an electric motor and a battery to provide electric assistance and perhaps electric-only operation at low speed. The battery is charged while driving and especially during braking.

The other type of hybrid is the range-extender electric vehicle. This is essentially an electric car or van with a petrol generator on board that’s used to charge the batteries if they run low while you’re driving.

What about PHEV? Oh yes. A Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle can be either of the two types of hybrid I’ve described above, with one added extra. It also comes with a mains power socket so it can be plugged in to charge the battery when parked up.

What about the Transit hybrid van?

Ford has chosen to follow the range extender and PHEV routes with its upcoming Transit Custom PHEV hybrid.

This van isn’t planned for commercial production until 2019, but a fleet of 20 PHEV Transit will be undergoing a 12-month trial in London starting later this year.

As you may soon start seeing these low-emission vans on the road, I thought it would be interesting to take a look under the bonnet. I’ll aim to answer two important questions:

  1. How do these vehicles actually work?
  2. Why does using a petrol engine in this way make sense if you’re trying to cut emissions?

How does a range-extender hybrid work?

Ford has kindly provided an ‘x-ray’ picture of the new Transit PHEV which shows all the main systems used as part of the powertrain:

The Transit Custom PHEV powertrain

Battery, electric motor. charging point, engine and generator. Under the skin of the upcoming Transit Custom PHEV (source: Ford)

Here’s how the van will work. The battery pack is a liquid-cooled unit that’s fitted under the floor, so load capacity isn’t affected.

In urban environments, the goal will be to use electric power as much as possible. Ford says that a fully-charged battery should give the van a range of “in excess of 31 miles”.

Batteries can be charged by connecting the charging points to an electric charging point, but if this fails the van’s petrol engine will kick in and start charging the batteries. The van will continue to run as an electric vehicle, but with a supply of electricity from the engine-powered generator. (The generator itself is basically a large, high-powered alternator.)

All of this may seem complex, but it means that unlike with a pure electric vehicle, this hybrid can be driven unlimited distances without needing to be charged, simply filling up with petrol as usual.

Why is it better to use an engine in this way?

There are two reasons why a range extender PHEV should produce far lower emissions than any standard internal combustion engine vehicle.

The first reason is that if the van is used as it’s intended, it will run on battery power much of the time and will be charged from the mains when not in use. For urban use, it’s possible that the engine will rarely even be needed.

The second reason is that as you’ll probably have noticed, the engine fitted isn’t the usual 2.0-litre EcoBlue diesel that’s fitted to most Transit Custom vans. Instead, Ford will be fitting its popular 1.0-litre Ecoboost petrol engine, which is most commonly found in the Fiesta and Focus cars.

This engine produces fewer harmful emissions in general than the Transit diesel. But because it’s being used to power a generator, it can also be tuned to provide optimum efficiency when operating within a narrow rev range.

I’d expect this mode of operation to provide further reductions in emissions, when compared to a regular petrol or diesel-powered vehicle, which has to operate over a wide range of revs.

Renault Kangoo Van Z.E. 33

New Renault Kangoo Z.E. 33 with 50% range boost goes on sale in UK

Renault Kangoo Van Z.E. 33

The new Renault Kangoo Van Z.E. 33 will have a 50% longer range than the old model.

Back in December, Renault promised van buyers a new version of the Kangoo Z.E. electric van with a 50% longer range. The new model — the Kangoo Z.E. 33 — is now available in the UK and the company has released pricing and specification details.

An upgraded battery and motor drivetrain means that the van can now travel up to 170 miles (NEDC figures) on a single charge. That’s about 50% further than the previous version of the van, which had an official range of 106 miles.

However, Renault makes it clear that these NEDC figures are largely nonsense in real world conditions. In today’s press release, the French firm said it estimates that the Kangoo Van Z.E. 33 “has a real-world range of up to 124 miles” in summer, reducing to “75-99” miles in winter.

Priced from £14,194.56 (after governement plug-in grant and excluding VAT), the New Kangoo Van Z.E. 33 will be available in four body styles:

  • Kangoo Van Z.E. 33
    • Available with two seats and a load capacity of up to 3.6m3
  • Kangoo Maxi Van Z.E. 33
    • Styled with two seats and up to 4.6m3 load capacity
  • Kangoo Maxi Crew Van Z.E. 33
    • Suitable for carrying a small crew of people, with five seats and a load capacity of 1.3m3
  • Kangoo Maxi Crew Van Cab Z.E. 33
    • Features an innovative multipositional bulkhead allowing a crew of up to five people or a load capacity of up to 3.6m³, whichever is required.

As is the case with many electric vehicles, buyers can opt to lease the battery on a monthly payment or buy it outright by paying more upfront. Our view is that leasing makes more sense, in order to ensure that you are protected from any future battery problems or replacement costs.

How has Renault increased the range?

The longer range of the Kangoo Van Z.E. is the result of a package of improvements.

The main change is a new, higher density 33kWh battery. This has the same dimensions as the old battery but nearly double the energy storage capacity.

An updated electric motor has been coupled with the new battery. And the whole system is tied together with an updated electronic battery management system.

To help reduce charging times, the Kangoo Van Z.E. 33 can be fitted with an optional upgraded charger that reduces charging times to just six hours and can add 21 miles to the charge in just one hour.

Another new feature is an optional heat pump, which will heat the van more efficiently in cold weather, reducing energy usage and thus increasing range. The new model will also keep its pre-conditioning system which allows drivers to heat or cool the vehicle before use while it’s still hooked up to mains electricity.

Why buy electric?

Aside from the environmental benefits, electric vans continue to offer a number of financial incentives for business owners.

These include exemption from most congestion charges and qualification for low emissions zones. They also remain exempt from UK VED (road tax) and offer zero Benefit-in-Kind (BIK) liability for company vehicle drivers.

StreetScooter WORK XL

StreetScooter unveils Work XL electric Transit van

StreetScooter WORK XL

The StreetScooter WORK XL, a Ford Transit-based electric van built for Deutsche Post DHL

Back in June, I reported on plans by Deutsche Post DHL to develop an electric version of the Ford Transit. The German group’s StreetScooter subsidiary would build the van, with plans for 2,500 units to be in service by the end of 2018.

Progress has been rapid and plans are now underway for 150 early production vans to be produced by StreetScooter’s Aachen plant during the remainder of 2017. Pictured is one of the first examples of the new model.

Charging the StreetScooter WORK XL

Charging the StreetScooter WORK XL

The Work XL is based on a Ford Transit chassis, with a battery-electric drivetrain and a body designed and built to Deutsche Post DHL specifications.

According to the firm, each van could save around five tonnes of CO2 and 1,900 litres of diesel each year. So the planned fleet of 2,500 could reduce the company’s fuel usage by as much as 4.75 million litres per year.

The WORK XL will have a load volume of 20 cubic metres and provide stowage space for more than 200 parcels. The e-van is fitted with a modular battery system delivering 30 kWh to 90 kWh of power, giving it a range of between 80 km and 200 km.

The Work XL is the largest of the three electric vans developed so far by StreetScooter. The other two are the WORK (4 cubic metres load space) and the Work L (8 cubic metres load space).

Deutsche Post DHL is already the largest electric fleet operator in Germany, with more than 3,000 StreetScooter WORK and WORK L vehicles in service, plus around 10,500 pedelecs (presumably these are electric bicycles).

Peugeot Partner electric van engine bay

Royal Mail orders 100 electric vans following trials

Peugeot Partner electric van engine bay

Under the bonnet of a Peugeot Partner Electric van. Royal Mail has signed a deal to buy 100 of these vans.

Royal Mail has orders 100 new Peugeot Partner electric vans for use as delivery vehicles throughout the UK. The deal comes following trials of the Partner Electric.

Commenting on the decision, Paul Gatti, Royal Mail Fleet Director, said that the company’s research had shown that “electric vans are a good operational fit with our business”.

Although Royal Mail still lags behind countries such as Germany, France and Norway — each of which is putting in excess of 1,000 electric vans on the road — it’s good to see that the UK’s postal operator is starting to focus on the next generation of vehicle technology.

While 100 vans isn’t much in the context of Royal Mail’s fleet of 5,500 delivery vans, deploying electric vans in scale will require a lot of new charging infrastructure at sorting offices. I’d have thought that this order will be big enough to get an idea of what’s required, while still small enough to be manageable.

The vans will be used by postmen and women on their delivery rounds. That means short overall journeys but with a very high number of stops, often in heavy traffic. These are ideal conditions for electric vans and will help reduce urban air pollution, much of which results from diesel engines.

The vans will be new Partner L2 electric vans and are expected to go into service in December 2017. The longer wheelbase Partner only became available in electric format earlier this year. The Royal Mail order is the first major fleet deal for this model.

Deutsche Post StreetScooter Ford Transit electric van

Deutsche Post plans Ford Transit-based electric van

Deutsche Post StreetScooter Ford Transit electric van

Deutsche Post will produce a new electric van using a Ford Transit chassis and bespoke electric drivetrain and body.

Electric vans may still be a rarity, but German logistics giant Deutsche Post is making a big commitment to e-power. The group has announced plans to build a new e-van based on a Ford Transit chassis. Production is due to start next month (July 2017) and expectations are for “at least 2,500” of these vans to be in use by Deutsche Post DHL Group by the end of 2018.

Deutsche Post isn’t without experience in this area. The vans will be made by the group’s subsidiary, StreetScooter. As I reported in January, this former startup has already designed and produced a smaller electric van model. The postal group is already using 2,500 of these smaller vans throughout Germany. Plans are now in place to scale up production to 20,000 units per year.

StreetScooter’s new Ford Transit-based electric van will be equipped with a battery-electric drive train and fitted with a special body construction based on Deutsche Post and DHL Paket specifications.

The company expects that this new model will help the project become the largest manufacturer of all-electric medium-duty delivery vehicles in Europe.

It may seem unlikely for a logistics group to be designing and manufacturing its own vehicles. But in my view it’s a sign of the times. Large vehicle manufacturers have been slow to take advantage of this new technology and are perhaps constricted by their need to make models with commercial appeal for a wide range of customers.

Corporate giants such as Deutsche Post have the scale and financial firepower to leapfrog the automotive industry’s development processes. They can — and are — simply producing the vehicles they want using readily available technology. It’s a similar situation to the increasing number of large US companies who are switching away from conventional electricity companies and generating their own green electricity from solar farms.

The automative world is changing, folks. And this is only the start.