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Should I buy an electric van?

Choosing an electric van can save you a lot of money – if it suits the type of driving you do. Here's everything you need to know...

Volkswagen e-Crafter

It seems like every van manufacturer is preparing to launch new electric models within the next year or two, but there are actually a surprising amount of electric vans which are already available.

Indeed, electric commercial vehicles are nothing new; the humble milk float was for years driven by electric motors and batteries so that is could silently creep around your neighbourhood in the early hours.

What’s more, some of the very first ‘horseless carriages’ were electric and among them there were a few you could call commercial vehicles, featuring flat load areas suitable for moving all manner of produce.

Technology has moved on significantly since then, of course, but until recently electric vans were very much the preserve of large fleet operators looking to make a token albeit well-meaning gesture towards cutting their carbon footprint.

Why? Well, in the early days of these modern electric vans their limited range between charges and the significant amount of time it took to top up the batteries meant a back-up diesel vehicle was often needed to compensate for the downtime in productivity of the electric one.

Renault Kangoo ZE in London

Now, though, battery capacities are much larger, motors are more powerful and software and other systems like telematics can tell you where to charge and allow fleets to really optimise their routes. All of this adds up to greatly improved efficiency and a much wider audience for electric vans.

In addition, because the batteries are stored under the floor there is no reduction in the amount of space electric vans offer over their petrol and diesel equivalents.

Electric vans produce no CO2 or NOx emissions, so providing your energy comes from a renewable source they are the cleanest vehicles to drive and the best for the environment.

They also cost a lot less to run than their diesel alternatives with savings of up to 80% in terms of the basic running costs.

There are fewer moving parts which reduces maintenance costs, and because of regenerative braking (which recycles the energy that’s normally lost when you lift off the accelerator, with the side effect that the vehicle slows noticeable) they also tend to save on the wear to brake pads.

Mercedes Citan being serviced

The biggest savings, however, come in the form of taxation and other charges. Vehicle excise duty (VED) or road tax is £0 for electric vans. If you’re working in central London, they are also exempt from the Congestion Charge and in some boroughs electric vehicles even get free parking.

Less common is free charging (unless you have to pay for the parking) but in many instances while out and about you can sign up to charging schemes which are reasonably good value. It’s not quite as cheap as charging at home, but it’s not like the premium you would pay at a motorway service station for filling up with diesel.

The downsides to electric van ownership are that they are substantially more expensive than their diesel equivalents – as much as double the price in some instances. Fortunately, there is some light relief, in the form of the government Plug-In Van Grant which can take up to 20% off the price of the van (up to the value of £8000).

Once you own an electric van you’ll have to think about charging it at your home or business. A regular three-pin power supply will do the job, but it will leave you waiting an extremely long time for the van to charge (up to 20 hours in some cases).

It’s better, then, to invest in a home charging station – or wall box, as they are known. Rapid chargers in public places can provide as much as 80% charge in as little as 30 minutes for some types of vehicle, but with a home charger you should still be able to complete a full charge within six to eight hours. Again, they aren’t cheap, but grants are available to have them installed.

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