A contractor’s work van is one of the most valuable pieces of equipment they’ll use. Given that importance, choosing a new one should be a careful, thoroughly thought-out decision. One increasingly central part of that decision is choosing between gas and electric vans.
Electric vehicles (EVs) are quickly taking over the consumer automotive sector and are moving into the commercial space, too. However, because they’re still relatively new, many contractors may not know how to approach them or understand their unique advantages and disadvantages.
To help, here are eight considerations to go over when deciding if your next work van should be electric.
1. Available Options
The first step in deciding between gas and electric vans is seeing what’s available in the local market. Commercial EVs are more common than some may realize and several new work EVs have premiered recently, but they’re still not as common as gas and diesel alternatives. Availability will grow, but it may limit contractors’ choices for now.
One of the best all-around electric van models today is the Ford E-Transit. It boasts the multiple configurations, convenience and space of the ever-popular Transit, which many contractors are already familiar with. GM’s answer to the E-Transit—the BrightDrop Zevo 600—offers similar size and capacity with longer ranges but a higher price tag.
Contractors should review what’s available in their area to see if an EV can meet their space, range and cost needs. From there, they can work through these other factors to make a more informed decision.
2. Local Charging Infrastructure
Charging is another crucial factor when considering an electric work van. EV ranges have come a long way in a relatively short time, but they still require more frequent stops than gas alternatives. If there isn’t much local charging infrastructure available, that limitation could make EVs too impractical for daily use.
There are almost 53,000 public charging stations in the US today, but just 6,540 are fast chargers, which recharge EVs in minutes instead of hours. Contractors in areas with more of these stations will be able to do more jobs with an EV than those without.
It’s also possible to recharge electric vans at the office or at home overnight. If contractors don’t face long routes or several jobs per day, they may be able to get by without access to fast chargers.
Like with any vehicle, it’s also essential to consider the price of an electric work van. Generally, EVs are more expensive than gas and diesel alternatives, especially for models with extended ranges or extra features. Recent supply chain issues have exacerbated that trend, with EV prices jumping 22% between 2021 and 2022, compared to 14% for fossil fuel vehicles.
Contractors can expect to pay roughly $10,000 more for an EV than a similar gas or diesel-powered van. That premium may make them unviable for some businesses, especially new or smaller operations.
4. Tax Benefits and Similar Incentives
Electric vans are expensive, but the initial price tag only tells part of the story. Contractors should also consider the numerous government incentives they can capitalize on with an EV.
Federal EV programs offer up to $7,500 in tax credits for some electric vehicles. Some states offer incentive programs, too, from tax cuts to rebates to lower vehicle registration fees. Some areas provide non-monetary incentives, like being able to use carpool lanes without a passenger while driving an EV.
Contractors should review what incentive programs are available in their area and how much the EV models they could get from them. These savings opportunities could make up for higher upfront costs.
5. Ongoing Costs
Similarly, contractors can reduce their ongoing vehicle costs by using an electric work van. While EVs require some regular maintenance steps, they don’t need as many as a gas vehicle. Oil changes and engine tune-ups become things of the past.
Because electricity is cheaper than gas or diesel, using an EV also reduces refueling costs. Contractors should review how much they spend on maintenance and fuel to discover how much they could save with an electric van. If the difference is significant enough, an EV may be the more economical option, even with a higher price tag.
Some contractors may want a more positive environmental impact, especially as climate change becomes a more prominent issue. If businesses value sustainability and want to become as eco-friendly as possible, an EV is likely the best way forward.
Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and road vehicles like light and medium-duty vans are the biggest contributors to these emissions. Consequently, switching to a zero-emissions van is one of the most impactful ways contractors can reduce their carbon footprints. It’s important to note this shift won’t eliminate vehicle-related emissions entirely, as most electricity still comes from fossil fuels, but it does make a considerable difference.
That improved sustainability can also become an important marketing tool. More than a third of consumers value ethical principles in the services they pay for, including sustainability. Driving a zero-emissions van could help contractors appeal more to an increasingly eco-conscious market in light of that trend.
How much contractors can expect to gain from sustainability-focused marketing depends on their local consumer base. These strategies may be more effective in areas with more young customers or denser urban areas, making this consideration more important. Contractors should review their local market’s sentiments and spending habits to see how effective these campaigns would be.
8. Performance and Comfort
Another easy-to-overlook factor to consider is the van’s driving experience. While it may not seem like it initially, convenience is one of the most important considerations for a service vehicle, as workers will spend much of their day inside these vans.
Because EVs are newer, many come with more modern features to make driving comfortable. Electric motors are also quieter than combustion engines, deliver more torque and accelerate faster. These factors could make a more expensive EV a better deal for contractors that spend a lot of time in their vans.
Whether contractors should use an electric van depends on their specific needs, goals and situation. An EV may be the best choice for businesses with more capital, in areas with more charging infrastructure, with more eco-conscious customers or high maintenance and fueling spending. Those with less spending room, few available charging stations or longer commutes may want to hold off on an EV for now.
In either case, making the right choice starts with understanding EV’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as the contractors’ unique market. Once businesses consider all of these factors, they can make the best decision.