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27 June 2018

Why isn’t the light commercial EV market blossoming as much as it could?

David Balchin

David Balchin
Business Management & Change Director | Supply chain and procurement | London

From announcements restricting sales of petrol and diesel vehicles to increasing legislation targeting air pollution across cities in the UK and Europe, there is a push towards EVs. So why is it that we still see few light commercial fleets converting to EV technology despite there being a commercial case based on the total cost of ownership?

Range anxiety is the most talked about issue across the EV sector and can be an issue for commercial fleet managers just as it can be for domestic EV users. This is particularly true as the true commercial EV range is dictated by a number of factors, including temperature, driving style, waiting times, and payload weight.  The availability of infrastructure & data is also key - the UK has approximately 15,000 public charging points but most are slow 3-22Kw chargers and many suffer from limited service and geographic concentration. Limited infrastructure connectivity means commercial operators don’t have much of a real-time view on which charging points are available, in use, or out of service.
EV recharge time is another factor. Most publicly available chargers take between three and eight hours to recharge a vehicle, with rapid chargers providing a 60%-80% charge in around 30 minutes. However even this is still too slow for most commercial fleets – few of which have 30 minutes spare during their daily rounds. Improvements in charge time are on the horizon however, with the latest 350kw charger technology able to provide a 120 mile recharge in as little as 8 minutes for compatible vehicles.

Unlike for passenger vehicles, commercial EV availability is still very limited. Few manufacturers provide commercial platforms designed from the ground up for electrification and they often have payload constraints. There are signs this is slowly changing as OEMs start to gear up, with improved choice expected over the next 2-3 years. Furthermore, the uncertainty in the used market for electric vans means that their residual values can fluctuate significantly. This particularly affects smaller commercial operators who require residual value in the fleet assets rather than fully depreciating them.

So what is needed to close some of these gaps? A mixture of OEMs and private enterprise, supported by government, are all likely to be required. Coordination between them will be critical to optimal market development. Some key activities should include:

  • Improving the availability and data connectivity of charging infrastructure
  • Driving coalescence in charger technology to enable a universal charging service
  • Increasing the availability of commercial EV vehicles to open up the market
  • Increasing the gross vehicle weight on Category B driving licences for alternative fuels to minimise the impact of the battery technology on payload
  • Investing in higher capacity chargers and batteries to increase range and decrease charging time.
  • Improving routing software to optimise EV fleets. 
​These will need to go hand in hand with changing regulation on air quality and fuel usage for commercial fleet, particularly within urban environments, to ensure that infrastructure, policies, and technology are there to encourage and support a transition to EVs. There is scope for innovative commercial thinking and structures to break down these barriers and open up the market, with first movers expected to set the pace and direction.