Hybrid vans: all you need to know

Hybrid vans could bring you significant fuel and tax savings, but are they right for you? Here's all you need to know

It's not just the car industry that's on a rapid shift to electrification; an increasing number of electric and hybrid vans are appearing as the technology makes its way to into the commercial vehicle sector. 

There are already a few pure-electric vans on sale or coming soon. However, because of the long mileages covered and amount of time these vehicles have to spend on the go in cities and town centres, plug-in hybrid power is proving a popular choice with manufacturers.

Today, that most iconic of British vans, the Ford Transit, can now be purchased as a plug-in hybrid (above). Read on to find out the benefits of hybrid vans, and why the industry is slowly moving towards them.

What is a hybrid van?

Much like a hybrid car, a hybrid van or a hybrid light-goods vehicle is powered by two different sources. Most often this is a combination of a petrol engine and an electric motor – the latter powered by a battery.

Currently, manufacturers are focusing on range extenders and plug-in hybrid models. Here, the petrol engine is either solely used to recharge the batteries, or acts as a back-up to drive the wheels when the battery runs out of power.

The Transit PHEV uses the company’s 1.0-litre three-cylinder EcoBoost as a range extender for its lithium-ion battery that sits between the front and rear axles. The petrol engine is there solely to boost the car’s battery. Ford says the Transit PHEV has an electric range of 31 miles, boosted to 310 miles thanks to the 1.0-litre petrol unit.

LEVC VN5 hybrid van

The Transit PHEV was the first plug-in hybrid commercial vehicle from a volume manufacturer. Before it was put into production line, Ford conducted a 12-month trial with 20 vans loaned to various businesses. Companies and organisations that took part included parcel delivery firm DPD, British Gas, Transport for London and even the Metropolitan Police.

Another firm that builds a plug-in hybrid, range-extender electric van is LEVC, the London Electric Vehicle Company. Its PHEV van (pictured above) is based on the LEVC London Taxi, using the same 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine sourced from Volvo, with an additional electric motor used to power the rear wheels.

Although LEVC hasn’t released any performance figures for its PHEV van, the taxi has an 80-mile electric range, boosted to 400 miles with the 1.5-litre petrol unit that acts as a range extender.

Ford Transit PHEV

What are the benefits of a hybrid van?

London alone sees 280,000 commercial journeys made every day, thanks to the growth in online shopping. In congested cities with a lot of stop-start traffic, a hybrid van is ideal, as braking helps recharge the batteries, thus saving fuel. They also improve the air quality in city and town centres.

As long as hybrid vans emit less than 75g/km CO2, they're Congestion-Charge-exempt in London. They don't have to pay to enter the capital's Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), either. Other UK cities are looking at bringing in similar measures, most hybrid vans should remain exempt for some time to come.

Even better are features such as the geofencing technology on the Transit PHEV. When the vehicle recognises it’s in a low-emissions zone, it can be configured to automatically switch to pure-electric mode and shut off the internal-combustion engine (as long as it has the range to do so), helping improve air quality in cities. Fleet managers can set up their own geofences too, while also keeping track of their drivers' location and driving style.

Hybrid vans also benefit from the Government’s plug-in van grant. At the time of writing, this stands at up to 20% of the van’s purchase price, with a ceiling of £8,000. Hybrid vans generally have a higher payload than fully electric vans, as they have smaller batteries. This means they’re able to transport more goods, and need to make fewer trips than their fully electric counterparts.

Why is the industry moving towards hybrid vans?

One of the big reasons for the shift towards hybrid and electric vans is the pledge made by the UK Government in 2017. The Department for Transport announced it would ban the sale of all non-hybrid vehicles, including cars and vans, by 2040. Then in 2020, this proposed ban was brought forward to 2035 and includes the sale of all new hybrids, too.

Another reason is the tax and running-costs improvements hybrid vans bring. The current 2.0-litre diesel-engined Ford Transit emits 180g/km of CO2, meaning fleet owners or individuals pay £830 in first-year tax. Emissions below 75g/km, as achieved by the Transit PHEV, mean a first-year tax rate of just £25.