Is there an affordable EV suitable for Australian tradies? | The Driven

We are encouraging questions from readers about electric vehicles, and charging, and whatever else you want to learn. So please send them through and we will get our experts to respond, and invite other people to contribute through the comments section.

Our latest question comes from Leon, who asks:

Hey guys I own a small plumbing business and I’ve been looking towards getting an electric work vehicle. All I could find was the SEA E4 delivery van but for 80k I just can’t justify it. Are there any other ways that I don’t know of or brands to try that might be cheaper. Any advice/help would be greatly appreciated. TIA


Hi Leon – had this one forwarded to me via a subscriber to your Facebook group.

EV vans are a slow starter in terms of market development. As an aside: I actually have one – but it was converted from ICE 8 years ago, and I am still waiting for a significantly better one to be offered in Australia. (BTW: if you find the cost of the SEA van conversion prohibitive, any quality conversion will cost a similar amount: conversion is just not an option for the average cost-conscious business user. That is why we our business never built more than a couple of EV conversion vans).

To answer your question though: there is one mass-market EV van on sale, but it is marketed as a light delivery van rather than a tradies van – and you will see why when I describe its features.

The one I am referring to is the Renault Kangoo ZE. It is the ‘maxi’ version, so it does have a pretty decent load area. (Max load volume of 4.6m3, load length of 2.1m). It is likely a bit payload constrained for your use, given plumbers generally carry a heavy load of tools and materials than the average delivery driver. (Payload 650kg, tow capacity 322kg).

Sadly, the compromises for a tradie doing the usual site-to-site travel don’t end there. With a 33kWh battery, its real-world range is at best 200km, plus it only charges using single phase power (unlike the Renault Zoe) so a full charge using a wall-mounted, 7kW EVSE takes 6hrs. (BTW: using a portable EVSE to plug into a power point – which is limited to around 2.4kW – a full charge will take almost 17hrs!).

Therefore you’ll either need to do rather less than 200km in a day’s work, or have decent EV charging facilities available to top-up to get even a bit more distance in the day, as plugging into a power point will only get you an additional 12km of range for an hour’s charge.

For many EVs, DC fast-charge solves this problem and you could easily get an 80% charge over a 20 – 30 min lunch break.

However the Kangoo ZE does not have a DC fast-charge option.

In Europe, Renault offer their bigger Master van as an EV – however it uses the same electrical drive system (and battery) as the Kangoo ZE, so its range and carrying payload are even more constrained. (Given the Master ZE is a bigger, heavier vehicle than the Kangoo!)

Again, for a light delivery van doing local deliveries – the Master ZE has a place in small European towns and cities. In Europe, both the Kangoo ZE and Master ZE sell quite well, but it is no accident that Renault have no current intentions to bring the Master ZE to Australia.

Summing up – for a tradie, a mass market EV van will be the best choice for reliability and availability of repair workshops. Whilst the passenger EV market is growing rapidly in terms of market segment offerings – vans are way behind on that curve – so there is no real EV van option for the ‘average’ Australian tradie.

The issues for EV vans are range and charging speeds. Vans carrying loads need bigger batteries, and that is currently the costliest part of an EV.

Given vans are a low-cost, volume market for manufacturers – selling EV vans with the range expected by a weight carrying tradie are not going to be within cooee of a similar sized petrol/diesel version. (For instance: the Kangoo ZE and the Master ZE market for roughly double the cost of their petrol/diesel brethren).

Basically, until battery costs come down – EV vans are going to be a costly, niche offering. By the way, whilst there are several EV vans from China that may be coming here soon – they will also be marketed as ‘light delivery vans’ with smaller batteries (but at least will come with DC fast-charge!). You can find one example here.

Another example is the start-up light commercial vehicle builder ACE here in Australia. See here for further details.

Another example of a good EV van is the joint Ford/ Deutsche Post collaboration to build the Streetscooter. Initially being produced for the German postal service, it is also available to the public in Europe.

However, given its use as a set-run, short trip postal vehicle, it too has a max range of 200km and no DC fast-charge.

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