Clean Van Commitment: UK fleets join forces to kick-start electric van switch

Tesco, Network Rail, and Anglian Water join new coalition that will today set out plans to replace 18,000 diesel vans with electric models by 2028

Some of the UK’s largest companies will today send a signal to auto manufacturers that the market is ready for electric vans, pledging to invest £40m in rolling out zero emission models over the next two years as part of plans to replace 18,000 diesel vans over the next decade.

Sixteen of the UK’s largest fleet operators are to formally launch the Clean Van Commitment ahead of the government’s hosting of the inaugural international Zero Emission Vehicle Summit in Birmingham next week.

Anglian Water, ENGIE, Network Rail, Tesco, and United Utilities are amongst the business to sign up to the group, including a raft of public sector bodies such as the Environment Agency, Yorkshire Ambulance Service, Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust, and councils from Gateshead, Leeds, Hackney, Waltham Forest, and Oxford.

Backed by the Department for Transport, the group will commit to deploying 2,400 electric vans by 2020 alongside a longer term pledge to deliver zero tailpipe emissions by 2028 “if sufficient charging infrastructure and competitively priced electric vans are available”.

The hope is the market signal will help encourage auto manufacturers to step up investment in electric vans and accelerate the roll out of the technology, delivering economies of scale that will further reduce the up-front cost of electric models. Increased demand from corporate fleets is also expected to stimulate the second hand EV market in four to six years’ time, making it easier for the two million independent van owners working in the UK to switch to cleaner models.

Bex Bolland, Head of Air Quality at Global Action Plan said, which helped organise the new commitment said today represented “a significant moment for the UK’s van sector”.

“For the first time, we know just how quickly van fleet leaders aim to adopt electric vehicles,” she said. “Their collective purchasing commitments show manufacturers that demand is thriving, and will help energy sector, local authority and central government planning. These 16 fleets will pave the way for the national fleet of four million vans to become zero emission, significantly improving the air we all breathe.”

The launch came alongside new research from the University of Oxford and University of Bath, which calculated that the total health cost to the UK from pollution from vans amounts to £2.2bn each year.

The research suggested the cost of the damage to public health caused by vans is over three times the impact compared to a car, reaching £24,555 per annum in highly polluted areas such as inner London.

There are also fears the trend could worsen given vans are the fastest growing vehicle type in the UK with approximately four million vans on UK roads, only 4,400 of which are electric.

Roads Minister, Jesse Norman MP, said the new commitment was part of the government’s wider strategy to cut carbon emissions and air pollution from road transport.

“The government’s Road to Zero strategy outlines its intention to lead the world in the design and manufacturing of zero emission vehicles – delivering significant environmental, health and economic benefits,” he said. “The Last Mile Call for Evidence, published in July, will allow us to explore new opportunities for replacing vans with electric cargo bikes, vans and micro vehicles.

“This latest research further highlights the very serious potential impacts of nitrous dioxide pollution, and underlines the importance of the transition to greener transport. That is why the Clean Van Commitment is important, encouraging some of the biggest van fleet operators in the UK to switch to cleaner vehicles.”

The launch came just a day after Veolia launched a new trial project to test the use of electric bin lorries, while plug-in Black Cab company LEVC launched a new incentive programme to encourage cabbies in Coventry to switch to plug-in hybrid models.

Meanwhile, new auto industry sales figures from the SMMT yesterday confirmed plug-in vehicles last month enjoyed one of their strongest performances to date.

The trade body said EV sales, including hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and pure electric cars and vans, reached record levels, accounting for one in every 12 new cars purchased in the UK.

Just under 7,500 electric and alternative fuel vehicles were sold during August, up from 3,968 sold in August 2017 and accounting for eight per cent of all new vehicle sales.

However, SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes noted that while the performance was encouraging August tended to be an anomalous month for vehicle sales. “It would be wrong to view the market as booming,” he said. “August is always a small month in new car registrations ahead of the important plate-change month of September.”

But advocates of EVs will be encouraged by the results, which provide further evidence that the sector is increasingly appealing to mainstream motorists.

The news also comes in the same week as Mercedes unveiled the EQC, its first all-electric SUV boasting a dual electric motor and a 450km range.