Talking electric vans with two industry experts

Highways England is super-charging a green incentive scheme with a multi-million-pound investment that allows businesses to try electric vehicles for free before they buy.

Talking electric vans with two industry experts

Published

10 Sep 2020

Chris Plumb, air quality specialist at Highways England’s talks with Tom Callow, an electric vehicles industry expert about the scheme and the future of electric vehicles.  

Why are you passionate about electric vehicles?

"The growth of online shopping has seen a vast increase in the number of vans on our roads contributing to air pollution."
Chris Plumb

Chris: “I think that the ultimate solution to cleaner air is electric vehicles. We’ve spent time thinking about how we could get more people driving electric vehicles and have homed in on electric vans.  The growth of online shopping has seen a vast increase in the number of vans on our roads contributing to air pollution.  We know that if companies switch to electric vans, this will contribute to cleaner air and reduce carbon emissions, helping us to support the government’s target to achieve a zero-carbon economy by 2050.”

"I agree. For me, electric vehicles are the ultimate solution to deliver cleaner air on our roads."
Tom Callow

Tom: “I agree.  For me, electric vehicles are the ultimate solution to deliver cleaner air on our roads. There's the obvious caveat that we've got to make sure the energy system is clean too. The transport industry has been slower than the energy sector to decarbonise. However, I think that electric vehicles give the sector the chance to significantly make a difference by eradicating tailpipe emissions especially on pure electric vehicles.  The industry can then focus on continuing to clean up the electricity that goes into electric vehicles, as well as the way electric vehicles are manufactured.”

Why fund the electric van ‘try before you buy’ schemes?

"We want to encourage companies to buy electric vans."
Chris Plumb

Chris: “We want to encourage companies to buy electric vans. However, we needed to find out what the barriers were to companies making the switch.  We teamed up with the Energy Saving Trust who helped us work with several companies to trial electric vans funded by us. They trialled these on our network as well as on local roads for six months and told us about their experience.  We discovered that fleet managers were cautious about switching to electric vans because they had not previously had the chance to drive one long enough to ensure its suitability for their unique operation.  That’s why we’re setting up the ‘try before you buy’ schemes to enable fleet managers to see that driving electric vans could benefit their business.

“We have invested more than £9 million in the electric van ‘try before you buy’ schemes with councils in Leeds, Coventry, Kent, Nottingham, Sheffield and soon Bristol.  The schemes will give local businesses the opportunity to try these vehicles for free for up to two months; helping them understand how much money they could save if they switched and helping to deliver cleaner air around these cities.”

"Sounds great. I firmly believe that trying before you buy is the single biggest way to convert a sceptic to a supporter of electric vehicles."
Tom Callow

Tom: “Sounds great. I firmly believe that trying before you buy is the single biggest way to convert a sceptic to a supporter of electric vehicles. There's an enormous conversion rate from people who said they wouldn't consider buying an electric vehicle prior to trying one. But once they’ve experienced driving one, they love it and often go on to buy one.  

“It's great that businesses are being able to access these vehicles on a trial basis.  Technology in this space is moving quite quickly and some electric vans are expensive but hopefully prices will come down in the next six to twelve months. If people can experience that a 100-mile real-world range van works for them today, then it gives them the confidence they can adopt to a 150-mile range van. I think it’s critical that businesses can try these vans before they commit to buying one. It helps people to understand the savings that can be made and their operational capabilities.”

Chris: “You're absolutely right. It’s about giving people opportunities to try them because all the feedback I've had is that people just fall in love with them. I’ve not heard about anybody not enjoying driving them. All the drivers on the pilot scheme absolutely loved them, fleet managers love them too. If we could start converting some people then hopefully others will say, our competitors are using electric vans, so should we.  If we help generate the demand for these vehicles, then the supply will follow.”

Tom: “There’s a real consumer push now to see these kinds of products come to market. There’s much more of an awareness of electric vehicles both for consumers to adopt themselves and then they expect the businesses they interact with to have a similar sort of ideology.  With more and more consumers adopting electric cars, they're saying ‘I'm driving an electric vehicle now, why aren't you?’  

Chris: “Everybody needs to play their part.  People are worried about the number of miles electric vans can do.  Research shows most businesses typically make short journeys well within the daily range of these kind of vehicles, so won't even have to worry about charging during the day. I’d expect most of these businesses would do all their journeys by day and charge their vehicle overnight.”

What are the benefits of electric vans for communities and companies?

"The long-term benefits for communities are reduced carbon emissions and a more sustainable road network, with drivers enjoying a quieter and smoother drive"
Chris Plumb

Chris: “The long-term benefits for communities are reduced carbon emissions and a more sustainable road network, with drivers enjoying a quieter and smoother drive. I expect this scheme will demonstrate that electric vans can save businesses money, as I think a lot of companies do want to be greener but struggle to unless at a lower cost.

“The electric vans in Leeds have been put to good use during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the last five months, more than 10,000 miles have been driven by electric vehicles in Leeds as part of the city’s emergency coronavirus response. The vehicles have been used in many ways including delivering local food parcels to residents self-isolating or shielding.”

"I think it will become an increasing trend that people actually want to drive electric vehicles and for businesses to be socially responsible by driving electric vans."
Tom Callow

Tom: “I think it will become an increasing trend that people actually want to drive electric vehicles and for businesses to be socially responsible by driving electric vans.  Apart from being seen to be a greener business, there are also genuine economic and environmental points around the fact that, they are genuinely reducing their emissions and they are generally reducing their costs.”

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