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Hybrid vans: all you need to know

Hybrid vans can bring significant fuel and tax savings for your business, but are they right for you and your company?

Ford Transit Custom PHEV hybrid

​It’s no longer just cars that are getting the electrification treatment; an increasing number of vans are now available with a fully electric or hybrid drivetrain. Electric vans are designed to excel at last-mile deliveries, but if you need to cover longer distances in a day, frequently needing to charge an electric van might not be the best solution. Instead, a plug-in hybrid van may be your best choice for reducing emissions and fuel consumption, without compromising usability or range. 

Today, that most iconic of British vans, the Ford Transit Custom, is available as a plug-in hybrid in both panel-van and Ford Tourneo Custom minibus form, while London taxi maker LEVC has launched a light commercial vehicle of its own, the plug-in hybrid VN5. Read on to find out more about the pros and cons of hybrid vans…

LEVC VN5 hybrid van

What is a hybrid van?

Much like a hybrid car, a hybrid van (or hybrid light commercial vehicle) is driven by some combination of two different types of motor. Most often this is a petrol engine and an electric motor – the latter drawing its power from a battery.

There are hybrid, range extender hybrid and plug-in hybrid models. With a range extender, the petrol engine is solely used to recharge the batteries with the electric motor driving the wheels. With a plug-in hybrid configuration either the petrol engine, the electric motor or a combination of both can drive the wheels. With a hybrid model it’s the same combination of power sources but the smaller batteries mean the electric-only range is very limited.

The Transit Custom and Tourneo Custom PHEV models mentioned above use Ford's 1.0-litre three-cylinder EcoBoost petrol engine as a range extender for the lithium-ion battery that sits between their front and rear axles. The engine is there solely to boost the car’s battery. Ford says the Transit PHEV has an electric range of 31 miles on electric power alone, which is boosted to 310 miles when the petrol engine is used to generate electricity and recharge the battery on the move.

The Transit Custom PHEV was the first plug-in hybrid light commercial vehicle from a volume manufacturer. Before it was put into production, Ford conducted a 12-month trial by loaning 20 examples to various businesses in UK urban areas. Companies and organisations that took part included parcel delivery firm DPD, utility British Gas, Transport for London (TfL) and even the Metropolitan Police.

Another firm that builds a plug-in hybrid, range-extender electric van is LEVC (the London Electric Vehicle Company). Its VN5 van is based on the LEVC TX taxi, using the same 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine sourced from Volvo, with an additional electric motor used to power the rear wheels.

The van has a 61-mile pure-electric range, which is boosted to 300 miles by the 1.5-litre petrol engine acting as a range extender. That translates to claimed average fuel economy of over 300mpg and official CO2 emissions of just over 20g/km, while LEVC reckons the VN5 will be able to perform a day's work for almost any operator without needing to be refuelled or recharged.

If you don’t need quite a large loadbay or payload, the Toyota Corolla Commercial is a two-seat business-focused version of the Corolla Touring Sports. It’s a hybrid rather than a plug-in hybrid; it doesn’t offer the low running costs or electric driving of the PHEV vans, but is cheaper to buy and doesn’t need to be plugged in.

Ford Transit PHEV

Stuart G W Pricewww.S-P.tv

What are the benefits of a hybrid van?

London alone sees over 250,000 commercial journeys made every day, partly thanks to the growth in online shopping. In congested cities with a lot of stop-start traffic, a hybrid van is ideal, as braking helps recharge the batteries, thus saving fuel. They also improve the local air quality in city and town centres.

Like electric vans, occupants may notice a difference in how a hybrid van drives. When running on electric power, your van will offer a much smoother and more refined experience, as the motor produces little noise or vibration.

Hybrid vans generally have a higher payload than fully electric vans, as they have smaller batteries. This means they’re able to transport more goods, and need to make fewer trips than their fully electric counterparts.

What are the disadvantages of a hybrid van?

Hybrid vans are more expensive than familiar diesel vans, so you’ll need to make sure to plug in and run on electric power as much as possible if you’re going down this route to save some money.

That’s especially true now that you’re likely to find that a hybrid van no longer meets the government’s plug-in van grant requirements. Up until March 2021, hybrid vans were eligible for £2,500 or £5,000 discounts, but that’s no longer the case. Electric vans still get these incentives so, if they fit your business use patterns, they could end up costing little more (or possibly even less) than a hybrid or diesel alternative.

It’s also worth remembering that the quoted electric range figures are based on empty vans; they won’t be so efficient when fully laden. Speaking of which, you’re likely to find that payloads and towing capacities for plug-in hybrid models are down on those of diesel vans, too. 

Best hybrid vans

With many vans skipping straight to full electric or even hydrogen power, choosing between the best hybrid vans won’t take very long as there aren’t many of them. The main players are the Ford Transit Custom Plug-In Hybrid and the LEVC VN5, or there’s the Toyota Corolla Commercial.  

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