The best electric vans for business

Tom Barnard

5.3.2020

While the sexy electric cars with Ferrari-baiting performance might be grabbing all of the headlines, there is a much quieter revolution going on which is bringing zero-emissions motoring to Britain at rapid rate. It’s the swap to electric vans.

Of course, electric-powered commercial vehicles have been around for decades, most commonly delivering dairy products on the much-maligned milk float. But the improvements in technology, some pretty generous government grants and the threat of zero-emission zones in many cities have made sales boom in the past few years.

Of course, a pure-battery van won’t yet work for the type of driver who has to pound up and down the motorways for hours every day. But they have a key role to play in cleaning up the air in cities, by replacing diesel vans which do less than 100-200 miles a day. There are plenty of those doing deliveries, taking tradespeople to do jobs like service lifts and office machinery. Users will be able to save a fortune in fuel and congestion charges, and electric vehicles are much nicer to drive, with no clutch or gears to change. They’re vibration-free too, and of course you won’t be pumping out fumes.

Take them for granted – how the government will help you swap to electric

Just like with electric cars, the government is keen for van drivers to swap to electric and will give you a grant to make it happen. However it’s a little more generous with commercial vehicles, with grants which depend on the size of van you are buying. To qualify, the vehicles need to have low official CO2 emissions figures and be able to travel a minimum distance on electric power only. Because of this, the official list could includes some Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles – but be careful as these might not be permitted in future zero-emission zones.

You can claim a total of 1000 plug-in van and truck grants for your business or organisation each year. This limit resets every year on 1 April. That's not likely to be an issue for you unless you're called Mr A. Mazon or Roy L Mail.

If you live or drive regularly in London there’s even more financial help available, with grants of up to £9,500 if you are prepared to scrap an older polluting van and swap into a low-emission model. If you want more details of the complicated criteria, check the TfL website here.

Small vans

These vehicles are less than 2,500kg gross vehicle weight, have CO2 emissions of less than 50g/km and can travel at least 60 miles without any emissions at all. The grant will pay for 35% of the purchase price for small vans, up to a maximum of £2,500.

The current list is:

Small vans like the Toyota Proace City Electric get a £2,500 grant

Large vans

These vehicles are between 2,500kg and 4,250kg gross vehicle weight, have CO2 emissions of less than 50g/km and can travel at least 60 miles without any emissions at all. The grant will pay for 35% of the purchase price for these vehicles, up to a maximum of £5,000.

These are our current favourites, but subscribe for the latest updates as there are plenty more electric vans on the way – this is a real boom area for electric vehicles.

Ford e-Transit 

First is the electric version of a favourite. Transits are so much better than they really need to be - they’re just brilliant at doing a job, but are also fun to drive. The electric version is available in three lengths and two heights, including a bare chassis for sticking specialist equipment onto, a double-cab set up for extra people, and various other configurations. There's a smaller 'Custom' version coming too.

The battery - like an electric car - is mounted out of the way under the floor, and the heavy duty rear suspension has been redesigned to cope with proper loads and still make the e-Transit handle properly whether loaded or unloaded. Again, it depends on the version, but it’ll take up to 1,758kg.

Simply, the E-Transit is a revelation. It’s cheaper than rivals, has more range and is super to drive. With the big ‘Ford Pro’ support package from the manufacturer on offer as well, it’s probably a more significant vehicle for Ford than something like the Mach E.

Ford E-Transit, Race Red, front tracking action shot, German registration

Volkswagen ID.Buzz

The ID.Buzz is Volkswagen's most anticipated remake since the Beetle - but this time it's electrified and won't just be for hippies and surfer dudes. In the Cargo version there will be the option of a three seat bench at the front up front and a fixed bulkhead partition separating off the 3.9 m3 cargo space. 

It will have a maximum load 650 kg, which doesn’t look particularly impressive next to rivals – a cheaper Citroen e-Berlingo has a 3.8 m3 of space and a 751kg capacity. The VW fights back with some impressive technology though. The most interesting is bi-directional charging, which will allow the Buzz to be a ‘power bank’ and feed stored energy into the domestic mains (vehicle-to-home) in times of high demand or during a power cut. It will also be possible to charge other VW electric cars in an emergency.

No prices have been mentioned yet, but expect a basic van to cost around £50,000.


Volkswagen ID.Buzz, blue/white, van, rear three quarters

LEVC van

It’s pretty common practice to convert a van into a taxi, but now the new electric London Taxi is going the other way and being converted into a van. With a range of 58 miles on electric only and a little 1.5-litre petrol engine to keep you going if you need to go a bit further, it has an overall range of about 300 miles

The owners suggest this makes it suitable as more than an urban delivery vehicle, as it has the capacity to do inter-city drives and swap into pure electric mode when arriving in the towns. 

Like the e-NV200 it has the capacity to carry two standard-sized Euro pallets, but it has a little more weight capacity as it’s able to lug around a full tonne.

Being based on the taxi means it has all of the driver comfort and a legendary turning circle too, which will make it great for manoeuvring around city streets and negotiating tight spots in loading bays. 

The only real issue is the price. LEVC have promised the overall cost of ownership will be comparable to a diesel Ford Transit Connect, but the £46,500 starting tag may put many businesses off.

LEVC VN5 electric van

Renault Kangoo ZE

Like the Nissan e-NV200, the Kangoo has been around for a while now and is a fairly common sight in big cities and running around big estates or factory sites. It also borrows its running gear running gear from an electric car, in this case it’s the popular Zoe hatchback.

It doesn’t (yet) get the biggest battery from the Zoe though, and has to make do with the 33kWh pack from the old model. That’s still enough for an official range of 143 miles, but the range will be dependent on how heavy the load is and the weather.  Renault quite honestly say it’ll be between 75 and 124 miles in real world conditions, although it could be more in towns where you’re stuck in slow moving traffic.  

The Kangoo is also available with a number of different body types to match your business needs. These include Kangoos with bigger load spaces and even a five-seater. 

If all you need is a smaller van and don’t do that many miles, the Kangoo could be a good lower-cost option. There's a new model due imminently though.

RenaultMaster ZE

If the Kangoo isn’t big enough, then how about Renault’s other electric van offering - the Master ZE? It is huge, being a size larger than a normal Ford Transit type of vehicle. Despite this it uses the same motor and battery as the smaller Kangoo. As you might imagine, that means it’s not particularly fast and nor does it have a spectacular range - expect to get only between 50 and 75 miles. But that might be enough for some businesses – 75 miles is quite far in a city and you’ll save a fortune in fuel.

The Master’s main advantage is that you can order it with all sorts of body styles, so you can tailor it to your business. Choose a chassis cab and you can build a removals van, tipper or cherry picker. Or there’s a minibus, high roof van or pretty much anything else you can think of. The main issue with the Master is the price – it’s nearly £60,000. There are also rivals on the way, in the form of the Volkswagen e-Crafter and Mercedes eSprinter. Both use electric car motors and batteries to give them ranges of about 100 miles. 

Arrival

This van shares a name with Abba’s biggest selling album, and it looks as though it could be almost as popular. The new company is making its all-electric delivery van in Britain and has had some significant investment from Hyundai and Kia. 

It looks like nothing else on the road and the first prototypes are doing trials with the Royal Mail, DHL, and BT. UPS have ordered a whopping 10,000 of the vans worldwide too.

The van is particularly clever as it uses a ‘skateboard’ chassis, battery and motors onto which companies can bolt whatever design of body they want. 

Rather than build them in one factory and ship them expensively to the other side of the world, Arrival has a vision that there will be ‘micro factories’ in countries where there is local demand. They can also be updated over time and easily repaired – Arrival claim the running costs could be about half that of a conventional van.

Morris J-Type

If the Arrival is a bit too modern looking for you, then how about the Morris J-Type? This van is a thoroughly modern electric vehicle underneath but looks like something from the 1940s.

The company who builds it has bought the rights to use the old Morris badge and has borrowed the look of one of the brand’s most loved products – the J-Type which was built between 1949 and 1961. 

The new model has a useful 1,000kg capacity and a range of about 200 miles according to the maker. It’ll be on sale from 2021 with a price of around £60,000 before grants. That’s much more than other electric vans of similar size, but it’s expected that most buyers will see the J-Type as an advertising medium as well as a van. It will be available in a variety of custom finishes and two-tone paint shades which will make it stand out from other vehicles in a traffic jam.  

Vauxhall Vivaro-e

Vauxhall's first attempt at al all-electric van looks impressive. The Vivaro-e has an official range of 188 miles and is able to carry up to 1,226kg – that’s 130kg less than a diesel Vivaro but more than the plug-in hybrid version of Ford’s Transit or the full-electric Nissan e-NV200. 

Two sizes of battery will be available with the smaller, cheaper version using the Corsa-e’s 50kWh battery to give a range of up to 125 miles while a bigger 75kWh unit takes the total range up to 188 miles. 

The Vivaro-e is capable of accepting a 100kW DC feed from a rapid charger to take the 50kWh battery to 80 per cent in around 30 minutes, while the 75kWh version takes 45 minutes. For slower charging, a 7.4kW charger is standard which will take either 7.5 hours or 9 hours depending on the battery size. An 11kW capability is offered as an option which should knock about an hour and a half off those times. 

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