Hey installers: Will your next van be electric?

It’s hard to escape talk of climate change these days. Whether or not you think it’s a political issue, the weather sure is different from when we grew up. I think most people can agree on at least that much.

I think we can also agree that gas is more expensive now than it has been in the past. Near our Novi, Michigan corporate headquarters, a gallon of gas will set you back about $2.90. Closer to our west coast offices, dinosaur juice jumped close to $4.70 a gallon in the last 12 months before settling into about $3.50 lately. It isn’t cheap no matter where you are.

AT&T is taking the lead

In order to address the need for clean vehicles that are inexpensive to run, AT&T and other companies have formed the “Corporate Electric Vehicle Alliance.” According to Electrek, Amazon, AT&T, Clif Bar, Consumers Energy, DHL, Direct Energy, Genentech, IKEA North America, LeasePlan, Lime, and Siemens have all banded to promote the next generation of electric delivery vehicles. Amazon is already contracting for its own Prime delivery vans, and it’s possible AT&T could be next.

The benefits of an electric van

Electric vans really make sense for local work. Chances are you do your work in a fairly small area and probably put under 60 miles on your truck every day. Not only that you probably sit there filling out paperwork for a few minutes after every job. Unless the temperature outside is perfect, you’re running the engine so you can use the climate control.

In most of the country, running a van with electricity costs about 1/3 what gas costs on a per-mile-driven basis. Charging takes longer but that’s not an issue if the van sits all night. Best of all, you can run the climate control efficiency without the wasteful operation of an engine. Electric vehicles should be cheaper and easier to maintain over time, with the savings in energy and maintenance making up for the higher upfront cost.

But can you drag race it?

Electric cars are known for their whip-fast acceleration and fancy computer features. But, that’s not a given with electric vans. UPS has been testing electric delivery vans throughout warmer climates for some time. According to someone I know who drove one, they perform a little better than the diesel-powered variety but you wouldn’t use one to take down a Ferrari. On the other hand the low-end power does make it easier to drive away even with a full load.

It’s not “if,” it’s “how soon”

The CVEA is brand new. Chances are it’s not going to lead to you getting an electric van this year. But, if AT&T and others have their way, there will be a brand new electric van ready for you when your current van needs to be replaced. That van should be better in every way than the one you’re driving now. Having an efficient vehicle might not help you get installations done more quickly, but it will make a difference to the way your customers see you. They’ll see a lean, efficient, high-tech operation instead of a company that does business like it’s still the 1990s. That just might lead to a few less cranky customers, and let’s be honest we can all appreciate that.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.