What is the future for hybrid vans?

Hybrid vans could bring you significant fuel and tax savings, but would one be right for your needs? Here's all you need to know

If you’re thinking that only cars are going electric, you are very mistaken. The whole vehicle industry, from large HGVs to motorcycles, is eyeing or experimenting with electrical powertrains – and light-goods vehicles, or vans, are no different.

There are already a few fully electric vans on sale. However, because of the long mileages and amount of time these vehicles have to spend in cities and town centres, firms are looking into hybrid versions of vans.

It perhaps speaks volumes that the most iconic van on British roads, the Ford Transit, can now be purchased with a plug-in hybrid option. Read on to find out the benefits of hybrid vans, and why the industry is slowly moving towards them.

What is a hybrid van?

Much like a hybrid car, a hybrid van or a hybrid light-goods vehicle is one that is powered by two different sources. Most often this is a combination of a petrol engine and a separate electric motor powered by a battery.

Currently, makers are looking towards range extenders and plug-in hybrid models. Here, the petrol engine is either solely used to recharge the batteries, or it acts as a back-up to drive the wheels when the electric battery runs out of power.

The Ford Transit PHEV, due for volume production in 2019, uses the company’s 1.0-litre three-cylinder EcoBoost as a range extender for its lithium-ion battery that sits between the front and rear axles. The petrol engine is there solely to boost the car’s battery. Ford says the Transit PHEV comes with a fully electric range of 31 miles, boosted to 310 miles thanks to the 1.0-litre petrol unit.

The Transit PHEV is the first plug-in hybrid commercial vehicle from a volume manufacturer. Before it’s put onto the production line, Ford is conducting a 12-month trial with 20 vans scattered between various businesses. Companies and organisations taking part in the feasibility trial include the likes of parcel delivery firm DPD, British Gas, Transport for London and even the Metropolitan Police.

Another firm gearing up for a plug-in hybrid electric van is LEVC, the London Electric Vehicle Company. Its PHEV van will be based on the new LEVC London Taxi using the same 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine from Volvo, with an additional electric motor used to power the rear wheels.

Although LEVC hasn’t released any performance figures for its PHEV van, the new LEVC London Taxi has an 80-mile electric range, boosted to 400 miles with the 1.5-litre petrol unit that acts as a range extender.

Benefits of a hybrid van

London alone sees 280,000 commercial journeys made every day, thanks to the growth in online shopping. In congested cities with a lot of stop-and-go traffic, a hybrid van is ideal as the braking will help recharge the batteries, thus saving drivers fuel. They will also improve the air quality in city and town centres, and drivers will unlikely face any of the current or upcoming vehicle charges.

As long as the hybrid vans pollute less than 75g/km CO2 they will be Congestion Charge exempt. They won’t face other driving restrictions, either, such as London’s T-Charge or forthcoming Ultra Low Emissions Zone. Other cities such as Birmingham, Leeds and Derby are looking at bringing in similar measures, and hybrid van owners will be spared.

Even better are features such as the geofencing technology on board the Transit PHEV. When the vehicle recognises it’s in a low emissions zone, it will automatically convert to pure electric mode and shut off the internal combustion engine (as long as it has the range to do so), helping improve air quality in cities.

Hybrid vans will also benefit from the Government’s plug-in car grant. At the time of writing, this stands at up to 20 per cent of the van’s purchase price, with a ceiling of £8,000.

Hybrid vans will also likely have a bigger payload than fully electric vans, thanks to the lighter batteries on board. This means they’ll be able to transport more goods, and make fewer trips than their fully electric counterparts.

Why is the industry moving towards hybrid vans?

One of the big reasons for the shift towards hybrid and electric vans is the pledge made by the UK Government last year. The Department for Transport announced it would ban the sale of all non-hybrid vehicles, including cars and vans, by 2040. This is why the industry is busying itself for a switch towards greener technologies.

Another reason is the tax and running cost improvements hybrid vans will bring. The current 2.0-litre Euro 6 diesel unit on board the Ford Transit emits 180g/km of CO2, meaning fleet owners or individuals pay £830 in first-year tax rates. Emissions below 75g/km would mean a first-year tax rate of just £25.

Running costs will be improved from hybrid vans, too, helping fleet owners save money on fuel.

Should I consider a hybrid or electric van?

At least for the moment, this isn’t possible. Until Ford’s 12-month feasibility trial comes to an end, you won’t be able to buy one of the company’s Transporter PHEVs. However, if a hybrid van is something you think might benefit you or your company, it’s worth registering your interest with either Ford or LEVC. This way, when the models do become available in 2019, you will be able to register for early test drives and demonstrations to help make the decision.

What are other companies doing?

The concept of hybrid vans is a very new one, and so far only Ford and LEVC have made any real commitments to them. However, Citroen and Peugeot both have electric vans in their range, as does Nissan and Mercedes. Vauxhall has also confirmed it will build a fully electric van in the future.

Ford and LEVC may be the only two firms currently committed to hybrid vans, but these vehicles’ future still looks bright.