End of the road for diesel?

With fuel costs and vehicle taxes continuing to rise – combined with the advances in the electric / hybrid market and government incentives for switching to greener travel, is it the end of the road for the traditional diesel van asks Greg Bedson 

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the government actively encouraged the switch to the more fuel efficient, cheaper to tax and supposedly better for the environment diesel vehicle, it appeared to be a win win scenario for millions of UK drivers. Data collected from theSociety of motor manufacturers and traders (SMMT) found market share in diesel vehicles in the UK rose from under 10% in 1995 to more than 50% in 2012.

Fast forward to 2019 and the picture is very different. The introduction of the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) in Central London is the latest in a series of charges to hit diesel drivers, as the government stance now appears to be very much in favour of alternative fuel methods. 

With 97 percent of the 3.9 million UK vans and light goods vehicles currently powered by diesel, what are the viable options for landscapers at this moment in time? 

The plug-in van market is certainly set to gain momentum in the near future, with some of the biggest players now launching models to meet the new standards. In April 2019, there were approximately 8,500 plug-in vans registered in the UK, with the Nissan e-NV200 and Renault Kangoo ZE dominating the market. However, according to market research company Technavio, the global electric van marketis set to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate of just over 50% between 2018 and 2022. These figures are perhaps boosted by the all-electric versions of the VW Transporter T6 and the all new Vauxhall Vivaro, as well as a hybrid version of the Ford Transit Custom, which are all due to go on sale in 2020.

Are alternatives to diesel fit for purpose? 

One concern raised is whether the plug-in versions are up to scratch for tradesmen in terms of payload, especially as the weight of the actual batteries is pushing the overall weight of the vans up – meaning they can carry less with a standard license. 

This weight limit was increased to 4,250kg in 2018 for electric and hybrid vehicles, although this lead to confusion for motoring groups since the change in legislation states that drivers must undergo ‘a minimum of five hours training by a registered instructor on the driving of an alternatively fuelled vehicle with a maximum authorised mass exceeding 3,500kg’. The government however has issued next to no details on the mandatory 5 hours’ training required. 

Another consideration is the cost of running a diesel van compared to electric or hybrid vehicles.

According to a recent study by the International Council for Clean Transportation (ICCT) the new electric vehicles are already cheaper to own and run than their petrol and diesel counterparts. 

A nonprofit research organization, the ICCTlooked at the purchase, fuel and tax costs of Europe’s bestselling car, the Volkswagen Golf, in its battery electric, hybrid, petrol and diesel models across the UK, Germany, France, Netherlands and Norway. Over four years, the pure electric version was the cheapest in all countries owing to a combination of lower taxes, fuel costs and government grants for the initial purchase.

Nissan state that their plug-in e-NV200 costs approximately 2p per mile to charge, whereas the diesel equivalent costs approximately 11.5p per mile (based on May 2019 prices). Based on 12,000 miles per year, that’s a saving of £1140 for the electric version. For those working in central London and who own an older diesel model (pre 2015), the introduction of the ULEZ means they are now faced with an additional £24.00 a day fee for entering the zone, in comparison with electric models which are exempt from both the ULEZ and the congestion charge. 

Additional benefits of purchasing a plug-in van from new include access to a government grant, which pays for 20 percent of the purchase price, up to a maximum of £8,000. To qualify for the grant, the vans are required to have CO2 emissions of less than 75g/km and can travel at least 16km (10 miles) without any emissions at all. 

Transport for London (TFL), also have additional scrappage schemes in place for drivers who are most affected by the introduction of the new ULEZ. 

Is the infrastructure of charging pods in place?

Although showing signs of growth, the electric van market is still very much a niche and there remains concern that the infrastructure is not yet in place to accommodate mass ownership any time soon. Earlier this year, Freedom of Information requests found that more than 100 local councils say that they have no plans to increase the number of charging points they offer, a policy industry experts fear could hinder the expansion of electric vehicles in the UK. This comes after the Government launched its Road to Zero Strategy in 2018 stating that at least half of new cars (and 40% of new vans) should be ultra low emission by 2030.

Nicholas Lyes, RAC head of roads policy, says: “These findings show that despite the Government’s ambitions to accelerate the take-up of cleaner vehicles, charging infrastructure is presently something of a postcode lottery, and patchy at best in some parts of the country.”

Research carried out by RAC found that the lack of charging infrastructure is one of the main barriers for electric vehicle take-up and offered this advice.

“Clearly, we need to improve this access to charge points as a whole, but special attention needs to be given to installing more rapid chargers on the strategic road network as well as adding charging capability at car parks where people spend longer periods, such as at shopping and leisure centre car parks,” continues Lyes.

“The key is to give drivers the confidence to go electric, which will not happen quickly unless they are given the right incentives to do so, alongside easy access to reliable charging infrastructure.”

For those who can take advantage of the government incentives and who live in an area with good charging infrastructure, a plug-in van may well be a viable option within the next few years, especially with some of the biggest brands traditionally selling diesel models set to join the market for the first time. The range of plug-in options is however still fairly limited compared to the diesel counterparts, particularly if your business requires vehicles such as a pickup or tipper truck. 

So in conclusion there are many factors to consider the viabilty of these new vehicles for your business.

  • For further details on the TFL scrappage scheme visit https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/driving/ultra-low-emission-zone/scrappage-scheme
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