In the context of the current Electric Vehicle sales surge, it is diesel that still dominates the van market with only 3% of our comprehensive research sample of van drivers and van fleet owners choosing alternative fuels.

This belies the huge potential for this market and audience right now, as Electric Vehicles continue to rise and lead growth in the car market, even amidst component supply issues. Many “name” delivery businesses have embraced alternative fuels; Amazon and the Post Office have notably submitted huge orders for electric van fleets.

The market also looks incredibly competitive. New van manufacturers including Arrival, LEVC and even the revived Morris Commercial, look set to challenge traditional automotive manufacturers, with range extension beyond 60 miles a key element for the industry to get right.

Our research with YouGov– the 4th wave of our Connector series into Electric Vehicle trends and the first specifically among a van owner audience – asked 1,000 van owners and drivers in November 2021 questions on perceptions, drivers and barriers around adopting alternative fuel vans.

So, what is the prospect for short and medium term growth and acceptance of electric vans?

The decision-maker audience still needs convincing. It lacks awareness and a real understanding of the benefits that can overcome scepticism around factors, already largely embraced in the EV car market.

There is, however, some appetite for change. 18% expect to switch to an EV van, but only in the next two years (and only 11% in the next 12 months). A further 23% expect to switch after another two years.

But there remains 57% who are either resistors to change (27%) or those who just don’t know (30%). This suggests a need for incentive, education and improvement in the offer – given many users are constantly on the road. 57% of our sample, for example, use motorways regularly.

Clearly there are roadblocks to acceptance, even active consideration. This pattern looks incredibly similar to what we’ve seen with EV cars, only lagging behind. Half of our van driver sample refer to cost as the key barrier, but this number is lower than we saw for EV car resistors. Convenience hygiene factors – range (46%), charge time (43%) and battery longevity concerns (37%) – are key elements and all greater concerns that have now largely been addressed in the car market. Similarly, access to charging points is a barrier to 36%, so key usage and infrastructure elements look like they haven’t addressed the specific van audience to any degree.

A hybrid alternative doesn’t appear to be a short-term solution, summarily rejected by 40% of our sample.

36% do see the environment as a reason to purchase, but most remain stuck behind the traditional roadblocks that are simply not shifting perception and therefore behaviours.

Behind this, awareness of economic and tax benefits remains low, again suggesting a fundamental job to engage the opportunity. 44% expect the cost to be higher, removing any key incentive presented by the environmental upside. 57% are concerned by the cost of routine servicing, with SME audience awareness of grants not really cutting through. Meanwhile van emissions continue to outpace those in cars, with little shift in market penetration that we’ve seen in cars for some time now.

A fundamental lack of understanding of vehicle range and charge time are such dominant factors as to present an opportunity to start a conversation with this audience. Pointedly three quarters would be more likely to consider an electric van if they could charge it in under an hour.

They would particularly consider a vehicle from their trusted manufacturer and 57% would be more likely to consider change once they see more electric vans on the road. This is where 2022 appears a critical point for the van market. Real potential for change exists. Education, awareness and the communication of benefits are critical to kick start the revolution.

Our experience over four waves of Electric Vehicle research highlights that change can happen very quickly. 2022 is the opportunity for this van audience – a chance to shift the Don’t Knows and EV resistors (57% of this community), and to accelerate those clearly happy to embrace the wider sentiment towards Electric Vehicles. With competitor brands emerging fast, the time is right to truly engage a thoroughly neglected audience and start shifting behaviours to benefit the many.

Ian Webber is Sales Consultant, Motors, at i-media