There is much brouhaha in the media about the latest electric cars being launched in any given week, as manufacturers put all their effort into developing battery-powered cars ahead of the government's forthcoming ban of new petrol and diesel cars. However, there seems to be comparatively little excitement about electric vans.
Vans are the workhorses of the road, driving millions of miles across the country carrying tradesmen, parcel deliveries and all sorts of goods, so it's really important that van manufacturers keep up the pace of change.
Owner drivers and commercial vehicle fleet managers will be looking anxiously at the spiralling costs of fossil fuels to power their petrol and diesel versions, and electric power could prove to be the solution to reduce running costs through fuel and servicing.
For those who aren't quite ready for electric versions of their trusty vans, there is a decent choice of hybrid vans on the market. However, for those brave enough to take the step to pure electric power, there is an ever-increasing choice of electric vans on the market, letting van drivers in on the wonders of all-electric driving. Let's have a look at a few of the best electric vans on the market right now.
Nissan has an impressive track record with electric technology, as demonstrated by its Leaf family hatchback, which has been a firm best seller since it was launched a number of years ago. So it stands to reason that Nissan would be capable of producing an equally excellent electric van.
The Nissan Townstar is based on the Leaf and uses much of the same technology, helping Nissan build on its success while keeping development costs down. It is a mid sized van with plenty of load space, and is a great companion in the city with its silent drive and instant acceleration. It is also available as a five seater Combi van, offering flexibility for those with both family-lugging and load-lugging needs.
It comes with a 40kWh battery which offers an official range of up to 174 miles, but expect this to be less in the real world. This might not be enough to see the Townstar pounding the motorways all day, but more than enough to nip round a city for the day without needing a charge.
It is a practical van, with a larger payload than its diesel equivalent, and a low loading height thanks to the neatly packaged batteries under the load floor. The ride can be a little bouncy without a load on board but otherwise the Townstar handles well.
The Renault Kangoo ZE is a small electric van that is well suited to city driving. It is available in three versions; a short wheel base version, a long wheel base version and a crew van with rear seats, making it a practical small van for a broad range of commercial drivers.
The Renault Kangoo is made for city driving, with a 59bhp electric motor attached to a 33kWh battery which provides up to 170 miles of electric range, similar to the e-NV200. The running gear is the same as the Renault Zoe, which means that it should be very reliable. The power and range may not be quite enough for long distance drivers, but both are optimised for urban driving conditions, meaning that the Kangoo is perfect for driving emission-free around towns and cities for the day.
It accepts up to a 7kW charger and charges to 100% in six hours. Unfortunately a rapid charger is no use to the Kangoo, which is a pity and puts it behind some rivals, but hopefully this will improve in time with further development. The Kangoo will need this if it wants to become one of the best electric vans.
It is easy to drive and park, with a single speed gearbox making it a doddle to drive around town. This small electric van will be your friend on your city errands, and its compact size means it can fit into small spaces and down narrow streets.
The Renault Kangoo ZE is due to be replaced in 2022, so look out for some technology improvements with the next version.
Now on to the largest van in the Renault commercial range. The Renault Master ZE is a popular large electric van, made even better by the addition of an electric drive system to the standard range. These vans have maximum gross vehicle weights of 3.5 tonnes and come in a multitude of different versions to suit your business need. Whether you want a dropside, a tipper, a Luton van or a standard panel van, the Renault Master has the perfect option on offer with three body lengths to choose from and plenty of personalisation options to make it the perfect fit for your van fleet.
It has the same 33kWh battery pack as its smaller sibling, but due to its extra size and weight over the Kangoo the electric driving range is reduced to around 75 miles. Charging takes a similar 6 hours using a 7kW charger. Speed is limited to 62mph in the lighter version, demonstrating that the Master ZE is definitely intended as a tool for towns and cities rather than long distances on open roads. If you need much more than this from a large electric van, it may be worth considering a hybrid van rather than an all electric van to give a bit of extra backup.
The Master has a 76bhp electric motor which originated in the Zoe supermini. This is a tried and tested, popular unit which works well in the Master and allows for instant acceleration away from the traffic lights. It isn't quite as sprightly out on dual carriageways and motorways, however, but that's not what this electric van was designed for. The driving experience is calm and quiet; Renault has done a good job of keeping the noise down in the absence of a clattery diesel engine, with its boxy shape meaning that the only real noise is wind noise.
The Master ZE starts at around £65000, making it an expensive asset to purchase, but fleet managers will like the zero emissions, lower maintenance costs and reduced fuel costs. Plus, in terms of sheer flexibility of body styles and load volume, the Renault Master ZE is one of the best large electric vans currently on the market.
The cheeky little Renault Zoe Van claims to be the UK's first and only electric car-derived van, which could mean that this is the very smallest electric van on the market. So if you only need a small load-lugger and want to maximise your electric efficiency, this could be the van for you.
It is only subtly modified, and looks identical to the car version at first glance. The Zoe's diminutive size will help it nip easily around town and find those gaps in traffic that its bigger siblings wouldn't dream of. Conversely, it has a much bigger battery pack than the other Renault vans, boasting a 52kWh battery that will return almost 250 miles of driving range in good conditions. It offers 108bhp from its electric motor, which makes for a very usable vehicle, and perhaps one of the best small electric vans on the market.
The Renault Zoe Van will charge from 0-100% in 6 hours if you have got access to a 7kW wallbox, which is pretty impressive. It also boasts an 8 year or 100,000 mile battery warranty to offer ongoing reassurance that the battery won't let you down.
Maximum payload is 457kg, and the Zoe has a flat load area with a mesh bulkhead to protect the occupants and keep those bulky items exactly where they should be. The load space is very reasonable for its size, but don't expect to fit a grand piano in it. It perhaps isn't a serious contender in the small van sector, but it definitely has its place in a growing market of electric commercial vehicles.
The Volkswagen Transporter enjoys something of a cult following as a reliable and dependable medium sized van, so a Transporter with battery power is a very good move indeed for Volkswagen. The ABT e-Transporter represents VW's first foray into the world of electrified vans, but the electric unit is actually a retrofit from a standard diesel van, thanks to the expertise of ABT which is licensed by VW to do electric van conversions.
Again, this is a van best suited to city driving, with an official range of just 82 miles. However, it will support a 50kW charger, so it will accept a rapid charge during the day if you need to go further. The other drawback of the eTransporter is that the weight of the battery pack reduces the payload to 996kg, so while the cargo volume is around the same as the standard diesel Transporter, you'll need to watch the weight.
Volkswagen and ABT have got the driving experience right though. The combination of high build quality and the silent driving experience make this electric vehicle one of the nicest panel vans to drive. In the absence of a diesel engine any rattles or squeaks would be noticeable, but the Transporter is put together very well and doesn't make any irritating noises.
The e-Partner is the brainchild of a tie-up between Vauxhall, Toyota, Citroen and Peugeot. Each of their respective small electric vans are very similar to each other and difficult to differentiate, but sharing of technology and materials creates economy of scale and keeps costs down, which can only be a benefit to commercial buyers.
The Peugeot e-Partner has an official driving range of 171 miles from its 50kWh battery pack, which is more than enough for a day's work. Expect a real world driving range of around 150 miles, or less if you mainly drive along motorways at higher speeds. It will also support up to 100kW charging, so if you do need to top up it will only take around half an hour if you can find a rapid charger. With 136bhp on tap, it is sprightly and more than capable of keeping up at motorway speeds or in urban conditions.
The interior is functional and well screwed together with an attractive digital dash which is unusual to see in a van range, and there is also a switch which allows you to toggle between three driving modes depending on how energy efficient you need to be.
The e-Partner is a practical companion, with a 800kg payload, a load volume of 4.4 cubic metres and a low load lip. It also comes in two body lengths, essentially giving you a choice between two electric vans depending on how much space you need in the rear. If you need more space, look to the Peugeot e-Expert, which is the next size up. The Peugeot e-Partner is heavier, more expensive and slightly less practical than its diesel equivalent, but the welcome addition of a battery pack promising zero emissions and a reasonable driving range combine to make this an appealing package.
This review has covered a few of the best electric vans on the market at the moment, but the selection continues to grow as battery technology improves and manufacturers invest more in developing an electric version of their most popular commercial vehicles. The holy grail for a practical and usable electric van is to find the perfect combination of driving range, load volume and reliability.
There are appealing models such as the Vauxhall Vivaro e and Mercedes eVito which have translated well from traditional diesel to technological electric power. Fleet buyers, owner drivers and tradesmen will be keen to start replacing their fleets with the newest models and investing in battery technology, but no doubt the best electric vans are still yet to come.