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Commercial vehicles go green

At the Commercial Vehicle Show at the NEC, for the first time in this sector, almost all the exhibitors were heavily promoting green credentials of new or prototype vehicles. This ranged from Renault and Vauxhall displaying vans that can run on 30% biodiesel, to Mercedes showing off their hybrid truck.

Possibly the most significant news for businesses who are genuinely committed to reducing the carbon footprint of their operations is the fact that it’s now becoming easier to buy electric delivery vehicles.

In addition to Modec’s electric vehicle in Tesco livery, Smith Electric Vehicles (SEV) had on display a new generation of battery-electrics including repowered versions of established diesel-engined models, including the familiar Ford Transit van (as if to reflect the different approach of the two companies, in Sainsbury’s livery).

As opposed to Modec, which is a new company whose key personnel have a background in Bronze Manganese taxis, SEV’s background is in the milk-floats that have been going into service with dairies all over the UK for well over 40 years. In addition to their Transit, SEV are also producing vehicles with a gvw of 7.5 and 9 tonnes.

Adoption of Zebra sodium nickel chloride batteries in place of the previously common lead-acid type are at the heart of what is claimed to be the technology breakthrough for SEV (and Modec). They are some 80% lighter than lead-acid units with the same energy storage and deliver more performance. The converted Transit on show in Birmingham has a claimed top speed of 80km/h in combination with a range of up to 240km. Its kerb weight is quoted at 2049kg including its two battery packs. (A third battery can be specified to meet different range versus payload priorities.)

Both Smith and Modec are hoping to benefit from transport companies being concerned about the planned Low Emission Zone (LEZ) restrictions in London, and other companies simply keen to show their green credentials, through dramatic CO2 emission reductions.

Green-Car-Guide sees diesel-electric hybrids as being the next big thing for cars, and the commercial vehicle sector shares the same view for their own way forward. However there are, as yet, no hybrids available on the UK market. Most are still at the prototype stage and involve such heavy on-costs which most would-be contenders are unwilling to discuss. In the meantime the LEZ and green motivations are driving a resurgence of interest in battery-electric vans and trucks. They are simpler and less costly than an equivalent hybrid, but with obvious range and performance shortcomings. Supermarkets are pushing to be at the forefront of early adopters for this technology, so watch this space for how Modec, SEV and other companies such as Mega perform…