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In the driving seat

Industry operators speak out about electric vehicles

Industry operators speak out about electric vehicles

In a bid to address ongoing environmental issues and improve air quality across the UK, the government has launched several national and regional initiatives, such as its Road to Zero strategy. Earlier this year, the UK became the first major economy to legislate for a net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emission target by 2050, encouraging the logistics industry to decarbonise its fleets.

Recently, there has been a huge increase in the use of electric vehicles (EVs), with 5,395 plug-in electric light commercial vehicles (LCVs) registered on the UK’s roads by the end of 2018. This summer, the Department of Transport invited FTA, the voice of the logistics industry, to provide case studies of those involved in commercial electric vehicle operations to understand how industry operators are responding to the policies and regulations and to flag any wider issues. FTA conducted telephone interviews with 30 of its members, ranging from small, local operators to those with large, international fleets. These businesses covered a wide range of sectors, including hauliers, retailers, public authorities, vehicle leasers and more.

In this article Denise Beedell, FTA’s Policy Manager for Vans and Urban, presents the key findings. Firstly, those surveyed voiced their frustrations about current vehicle availability and capabilities, with many respondents noting that they are seeking suitable heavier 3.5T and 4.25T vehicles. It is also widely felt that vehicle types on the market are currently limited, with calls for a broader range of models to be made available, such as tippers and pick-ups. Furthermore, many operators found that the actual minimum mileage range is less than the manufacturers claimed, including a substantial reduction in mileage when the vehicle is fully laden.

Along with reports of inexplicable day to day range variations, early adopters also found that battery range decreased in bad weather. Although this appears to be an issue that manufacturers are addressing in their newer models, it is particularly concerning for operators who noted problems with energy supply in the winter months, when depots traditionally use more electricity for utilities such as heating and lighting which results in lower supply availability and higher costs.

While acquisition costs for EVs remain prohibitively high for most operators, leasing is becoming an increasingly popular choice, with many more options now available on the market. Encouragingly, operators have noted that overall running costs are cheaper for smaller EVs, when items such as fuel, maintenance, road fund licenses and emission zone charges are taken into account. Those who are looking to purchase second-hand EVs have found the current market to be challenging, due to high demand and low supply, with those who are successful in obtaining suitable EVs having to pay the full cost to install charge points as there are no grants available for second-hand buyers.

Charging is a primary concern for operators, due to long lead times on infrastructure installation, changes that may be required to landlord contracts and challenges for those whose drivers take their vehicles home. The issue of energy reimbursement can be complicated and there are concerns regarding insurance and liability in the event of an incident such as a fire with the charger. It has also proved challenging for drivers who rely on on-street parking overnight: these operators are suffering due to a severe lack of public residential charging infrastructure. This must be a key consideration for the government, which has pledged an additional £2.5 million to support the expansion of the country’s on-street residential chargepoint scheme and ensure better access to charging infrastructure to those who do not benefit from off-street parking.

Overall, FTA has found that while there is a strong desire to go electric, with many respondents citing ‘doing the right thing for the planet’ as the primary reason for investing, the market is not yet able to supply the types of vehicles the industry requires. And, with grid capacity and infrastructure costs a major concern amongst operators, especially in the event of converting their entire fleet, vital government decisions need to be made soon on how to accommodate the increasing demand for charging capabilities.

Efficient logistics is vital to keep Britain trading, directly having an impact on more than seven million people employed in the making, selling and moving of goods. With Brexit, new technology and other disruptive forces driving change in the way goods move across borders and through the supply chain, logistics has never been more important to UK plc.  A champion and challenger, FTA speaks to government with one voice on behalf of the whole sector, with members from the road, rail, sea and air industries, as well as the buyers of freight services such as retailers and manufacturers.

For more information please visit FTA

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