Electric is on the charge

By Ged Henderson

18 Oct 2022

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Growing numbers of Lancashire businesses are plugging into the electric vehicle revolution, their journey driven by the national move towards a carbon zero future and fuelled by rising petrol and diesel prices.

The rising demand for EV vehicles is explained by Robert Wardle, head of tax at Azets in the North West, who provides advice to employers looking to move away from diesel and petrol towards a green fleet, including plug-ins.

He says: “The UK’s net-zero carbon strategy is rightly focusing minds in a way we’ve never witnessed before and this is showing through increased demand for electric battery company cars.

“Around 90 per cent of our advisory work on company cars used to involve internal combustion engines with the remaining 10 per cent covering electric – now the position seems to have reversed.

“The trend is toward a very strong focus on the provision of electric vehicles as part of the overall employee reward package. This seems to be the trend across the UK.

“Not only that, employers, with Environmental, Social and Governance on the boardroom agenda, feel it is the right thing to do for the environment as we move away from polluting fossil fuels.

“There is the perception aspect to consider these days – pulling up to a meeting in a diesel car may leave customers wondering if your company is practising what it preaches.

“There’s also the regulatory side – companies are looking to pre-empt any bans on diesel and petrol vehicles in certain locations.

“And it is worth bearing in mind that the government has announced new proposals which would see more than 50 per cent of all new cars sold to be fully electric by 2028, just six years away. One more factor is also driving demand – diesel and petrol costs at record highs.”

Lancashire based property and construction group Eric Wright is one of the businesses working towards a full electric fleet. Fleet and transport manager Steve Openshaw is leading the conversion project.

He says: “Two years ago, only 20 per cent of our fleet was EV or hybrid but today our order bank is currently 95 per cent electric and we’re proud that we will meet our 2025 commitments two years early.”

To support the group’s drive to a fully electric fleet the power supply to its head office in Bamber Bridge is being upgraded and a further  20 charge points have been installed. Another 30 are being installed across its North West property portfolio.

Steve says: “Before deciding on the type of electric vehicles you or your fleet need it’s a good idea to record your trips and see what kind of mileage you actually do day to day.

“You will probably be surprised at the results. It really makes a difference what type of trips you are making, whether you are commuting the same distance every day or doing shorter trips less often, or whether you are traveling up and down the motorway regularly.”

He advises businesses setting out on the conversion journey to appoint an ‘EV champion’.  He says: “It is essential to have someone within the business, someone who can go out and speak to drivers.

“They can include them in early discussions and listen to the issues they have and then educate them on how easy it is to transition.”

Forward planning is also important. Steve says: “We’re probably planning 10 years ahead in upgrading the head office electricity supply.” Miles Roberts, innovation development manager at car retail business Chorley Group, is working with companies looking to make the transition.

He says the increasing choice of vehicle and their greater range is making it easier.

He adds: “You need to ask what the vehicle you are looking to replace does at the moment. What do you need from it? Also do you need a car park with lots of chargers? That may be a significant investment but may not be a requirement.

“Do your research and find out what is going to work for you. Also get buy-in from your staff, especially if they are going to have to modify or change what they are used to doing.”

Miles points to businesses that have successfully made the transition, such as Blackpool based Premier Cabs, one of the early movers. The company began switching to EVs in 2015.

It has now invested more than £3.5m in EVs with a fleet numbering well over 100. Premier also owns and operates a network of charging stations across the resort for its drivers’ exclusive use.

In the drive towards the increased use of EVs in commercial fleets Tesco, the UK’s largest  supermarket chain, is rolling out its first 18 tonne 100 per cent electric truck, with a refrigeration body created by Rossendale based Solomon Commercials.

Solomon sales director Anthony Clegg says: “The government has already announced plans for all new HGVs to have zero emissions from 2040 and will ban sales of fossil-powered trucks weighing 26 tonnes or less from 2035.

“So, it’s not a case of if there’ll be a transition to operating electric vehicle fleets; it’s more of a case of how soon.

“We’ll also start to see more fleets using hydrogen, particularly as the technology and the infrastructure develops as the government wants to eliminate emissions.”

Burnley based CoolKit is the UK’s number one builder and convertor of temperature-controlled vehicles. Founder and chief executive Rupert Gatty says: “There are many good reasons for businesses to consider going electric, not least the sustainability case.

“Right now, the Plug In Van Grant (PIVG) is available to support purchases on new electric light commercial vehicles to the value of 35 per cent of the purchase price, up to a maximum of £5,000 for larger vans, or £2,500 for smaller vans up to 2,500kg gross vehicle weight.

“Also, if comparing the cost of electricity and diesel prices and their consumption when powering vehicles relative to one another, the cost per mile for electrically powered vehicles is roughly half the cost of the diesel-powered equivalent – a truly worthwhile saving.

“But alongside the positives — which also include less noise, lower emissions and bills for fuel, maintenance, taxation and congestion charges — there are challenges too. There’s a price to be paid that goes beyond the additional costs for the vehicles themselves.”

Rupert adds: “The obvious ones are the costs of the charging points and for the professionals needed to carry out the install – although these costs are also presently supported by grants.

“Plus, you may need to upgrade the supply coming to your premises from the grid – only a properly qualified electrical survey could determine whether that would be necessary.

“Much thought is needed about how a van driver taking a van home at night is to recharge, or how to recharge at service stations, as presently there are no designated van recharging bays.

“Another factor to keep in mind is the vehicles themselves. It’s not just a question of list price.

Electric vans tend to be heavier, meaning that the payload – the amount they can carry - may be compromised, whilst their range is typically more limited than their fossil fuel equivalent.

“That means fleet managers will face planning and productivity headaches, with a potential outcome being that more vehicles will be required to carry out the current workload, which is not going to help ease congestion. In turn, that will generate greater demand for clever logistics optimisation software.”

There is another current challenge for businesses looking to make the switch. Steve Openshaw explains: “There is a wider problem in the industry with EV supply, we just cannot currently get enough to meet demand. If we could fulfil our order book, we would be operating at around 80- 90 per cent full electric on our car fleet.”

Enjoyed this? Read more from Ged Henderson

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