The mere mention of a ‘hybrid’ would once be met with sniggers from mocking petrol heads, however could it be that green cars are changing their expensive novelty image to one of practicality? The UK government recently announced details of the first nine cars that will be eligible for grants of up to £5,000 as part of new subsidy scheme in an effort to increase electric car usage. If that’s not enough, vans and trucks are getting in on the act too in the United States.
With falling battery costs and the improvement in technology, indications are that a healthy future lies ahead for electric vans and trucks. For a number of years the electric van and truck market has been touted as a potentially money-spinning market. The stop-and-go nature of delivery driving combined with the standard practice of parking fleet vehicle on company property overnight make the electrification of fleet deployment vehicles a conceivable notion for businesses across the globe.
In recent years we have started to see some progress in this industry.Three electric manufacturers in the US – Smith Electric, Navistar and a joint venture between Ford and Azure Dynamics –stepped in to fill the niche market.
The US government recognized the potentially lucrative sector and awarded Navistar $39.2million grant as a part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to manufacture electric trucks in the U.S. Ultimately, the Navistar eStar was developed, a 100-mile-per-charge, 2-ton electric van. Unlike other electric trucks that are remodelled from fueled trucks, the eStar is purposely-built for electric power.
The US government scheme to launch a competitive grant program for manufacturer prompted the involvement of IC buses, Holiday Rambler RVs and International Trucks within the market. However, the development of this industry from scratch will take time. It is estimated that 1 per cent of the 135,000 medium duty trucks purchased this year will be electric. Navistar have built 78 eStars thus far.
Sales are expected to increase as the cost of batteries is expected to fall substantially within the next 5 to 10 years. Batteries currently amount to one-third of the cost of electric trucks but the drop in prices may lead to a lower sticker price. This may signal an upturn in fortunes for the eStar which at $150,000 is substantially more expensive than its competitors such as the Ford Transit Connect which is priced at$57,000.
However, despite the US government’s financial incentives, the market for electric vehicle fleets will eventually need to depend on their own financial incomes to compete against gas powered vehicles which could take a significant number of years. But such is the improvement in battery technology, the same knowledge could be used to improve the functionality of electric passenger vehicles of the future.