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Tristan Thomas, CEO & co-founder of Packfleet, explains that it’s a constant struggle to acquire electric vans. Firms are being forced to place orders months in advance, and the collapse of businesses like Arrival & Britishvolt is only making things worse.

Tristan Thomas, CEO & co-founder, Packfleet

We’re losing our EV capabilities here in the UK, at a time when we need to be accelerating the green transition. With the expansion of the ULEZ (and other clean air zones across the UK) on the horizon and the sale of new ICE vehicles set to be banned by 2030, the UK is in desperate need of electric vehicles, especially vans.

Fighting for vans
Electric vans are in short supply. Logistics businesses across the country are competing to get their hands on new vehicles, and they rely on shipping them in from abroad – making business growth slow, ineffective and expensive.

This presents a real opportunity for British-led EV manufacturers to seize – the industry would benefit hugely from a strong set of UK-based manufacturers. All-electric fleets are going to become the norm in the next few years, so we need a manufacturing sector to keep pace and match demand.

At Packfleet, we operate with a fleet of over 50 electric vans. Whilst Maxus makes up the majority of our fleet, we’ve had to remain brand agnostic given the short supply available and we’ve had to fight tooth and nail to procure them.

As the incumbents begin to transition to electric vans, we’re going to face an even greater demand issue. The wait between ordering a van and actually receiving it is already long enough, and businesses like Amazon & DPD will start to clog up supply chains very soon. Their mass orders will dry up supplies, and businesses will suffer as a result. Smaller competitors will have to wait patiently in line to get their hands on a clean vehicle.

It’s not just delivery firms like us. Other sectors will all be boxed out of the EV market if we’re forced to rely on importing from abroad.

The supporting infrastructure
Once you’ve got the van , you need to charge it, and infrastructure needs to keep up if we’re going to transition successfully. At the moment, Packfleet operates solely within the M25, and most boroughs have plenty of chargers. As soon as we begin expanding across the UK, though, it becomes more problematic.

Chargers are sparse, or are designed for local residents to charge their car overnight. They’re slow, expensive and not practical for business needs. We make a point of charging our vans at the warehouse, and we’ll always build chargers at our depots to ensure we have juice in the tank, but sometimes drivers will need a top up en route.

On the off chance our drivers are caught short, we need to make sure they have the ability to charge on the road. The further from London we go, the harder it is to guarantee that they’ll be somewhere external that we can do this. Even some London Boroughs are lagging behind when it comes to EV chargers. The last thing any operations manager wants is a driver stranded without charge.

When the ban on new ICE vehicles is introduced, the problem will only get worse. With more electric vehicles on the road, the limited infrastructure simply won’t be fit for purpose. The mass adoption of EVs will cause headaches for logistics companies if chargers don’t keep pace.

Fixing the issue
If we’re going to make sure that the entire industry can smoothly transition to electric, we need to ensure that we all have fair access to electric vans, and that supporting infrastructure is in place. The transition needs to be smooth if we want to hit our green targets in time and keep emissions low.

You don’t have to be a traditional courier for this method to work. In theory, this gradual transition could apply to lorry firms and same-day grocery companies too. It’s about scaling correctly, and at a sustainable speed. Rather than growing too fast and bringing in ICE vehicles to deal with overwhelming demand, businesses should build with EVs in mind.

It can be a painstaking process replacing all your petrol and diesel vans with electric ones, and setting up the infrastructure can be a lengthy procedure too. This doesn’t even factor in the cost.

Your growth may be steady, but you’ll be better off in the long run. You can scale properly when you have a good starting base – you won’t need to scramble to electrify your fleet if you’re already working with that in mind.

It’s about sharing the load too. There would be less fighting over availability if smaller businesses scaled with electrification at the forefront. If you’re an incumbent with thousands of vans in your fleet, don’t attempt to replace whole swaths of vans in one go. Gradual transition will mean more vans for the entire sector, and we can make the most impact collectively.

If we’re serious about keeping the UK’s air clean and hitting those green targets, we should be prepared to tackle it as an entire industry. Without a collective approach, we’ll never clean up the logistics sector.

Tristan Thomas, CEO & co-founder, Packfleet