Electric vehicles: environmental saviour or over-hyped baloney?
The debate rages, with critics questioning whether the cost and practicalities of this new technology will ever mean they are a realistic proposition for fleets.
Wait a minute, did we say ‘new’? Dairy Crest begs to differ. Electric vehicles (EVs) have been the cornerstone of its fleet for more than four decades.
The lead-acid technology used in its vehicles might be somewhat archaic compared to the ultra-modern lithium-ion batteries employed in today’s electric cars, but it serves Dairy Crest’s purposes.
The company has 1,800 electric vehicles on its 2,910 fleet, ranging from three-wheelers for tight urban streets to refrigerated 7.5-tonne HGVs.
It is currently regenerating the motors, replacing the old DC units with AC motors typically found in fork-lift trucks, built onto new chassis. This will extend the range of the vehicles from 35 miles to 50 miles.
So much, then, for the range anxieties raised as an issue by fleets about lithium-ion EVs capable of travelling twice this distance.
“We looked at other electric vehicles but we don’t need all that range,” says Dairy Crest national fleet manager Sean Smith.
“On an urban cycle, 50 miles gets you a long way. Our drivers have to do their route; they can’t deviate because of the range, and this reduces risk for the business.
"We also don’t need the higher speeds – our AC vehicles are limited to 25mph.”
The 7.5-tonne EVs carry 48 cells, each outputting 2.2 volts. They are exempt from the London congestion charge and the low emission zone and are crucial to the delivery of produce to hotels and businesses within London’s theatre land where quiet transportation is a must.
So, range isn’t an issue; what about price?
“We have to take into account the capital cost,” says Smith.
“We can recycle lots of equipment which makes the donor vehicle quite cheap. We can put a vehicle on the road without the battery for £12,000. The battery pack adds another £4,500-£6,500 depending on the number of cells and amp-hour rating.”
He estimates that the fuel saving achieved by using an EV compared to a diesel alternative is “probably £80 per week” on current fuel prices. That equates to a massive saving of £144,000 across the 1,800 vehicles.
The vehicles can last more than 15 years – indeed, some of those that are currently being ‘upgraded’ with AC motors are 40 years old and are likely to see another 15 years of service after the refit.
When length of life and electric power are taken into consideration, Dairy Crest could be considered one of the UK’s greenest fleets.