Fueling the Big Green Dream

by Andrea Willoughby

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

Bosses at Eagle Couriers, Scotland's largest independent courier firm, are calling for a radical improvements in the green vehicle sector to make them viable for businessBosses of Scotland’s largest courier firm are appealing for greater investment in the electric-powered vehicle industry after several failed attempts to incorporate plug-in vans into their business.

Directors of Eagle Couriers have sought to switch from diesel vans to a fleet of eco-friendly electric vehicles for a number of years, but say the slow pace of advances in technology are frustrating the company’s ambitions.

The firm has road-tested a series of models since 2001, in the hope of finding viable, sustainable transport solutions for its 100 experienced drivers.  Now, approaching 25 years in business, director Jerry Stewart has big ‘green’ ambitions.

He said:  “We undoubtedly want to do our bit for the environment. Going forward, it’s important to invest in our business’ future – and Scotland’s future – by implementing sustainable solutions.

“Following 12 years of trials, I’m impressed with some changes that have been made.  In 2001, I was quoted £30,000 for one particular van that didn’t even include the battery. The battery was an additional £20,000. Now, prices are more affordable and the government is offering helpful grants to drive up levels of interest.

“Back then, I couldn’t invest in the vans as the batteries took almost nine hours to charge and for that, you’d get 25-30 miles out of the van before the fun was over. It felt like we were driving dodgems.

“That situation has certainly improved today, but the vans still aren’t good enough to be used in day-to-day business. I’m looking for advancements that can prove these vehicles are real contenders to replace our diesel vehicles.

Viable for Business

“These vans need to be good for the environment and good for my business. If any vehicle manufacturer has a viable product that can go the distance, I’ll be the first person to want a test drive.

“I’m really banking on both government and industry experts to provide quality products and resources for people who are interested in hybrid and electric-powered vehicles before we can realistically take the next step.”

At the most recent trials in Bathgate that took place in late October, Eagle Couriers’ bosses were presented with a new, top of the range electric vehicle. With 12 years of technological process behind it, the firm were hopeful that 2013 could finally be the year in which to invest.

However, the van went just 26 miles further than a 2001 predecessor, before it needed to be charged – this time for eight hours.

Jerry Stewart added: “The van was a dream to drive. But to give an indication of where this technology is compared with our normal vans, if we tried to send the electric van to London it would take almost six days to get there and back.

“In theory, everyone wants to be as green as possible but no one is willing to put that into practice until the industry really pushes with new advancements and breaks out of the niche market.”

Lack of Resources

Added to current concerns about battery life and extensive time needed to charge the vehicles, Mr Stewart has also been dissuaded from purchasing a fleet of plug-in vans, to date, due to a lack of charging point and other support infrastructure available in Scotland.

He said: “Our business is located all over the country. Before I can commit to anything, I need to see more support services for electric-powered vans. At present, there are several charging points cropping up in Edinburgh, but there’s not enough elsewhere to guarantee we could carry out business as usual.

“If I bought the vans today, I’d have serious worries about them running out of charge regularly, miles from the nearest charging point.  While this would be an obvious nightmare for our drivers, it would ultimately let down our customers. They’ve relied on us for 25 years to provide fast, efficient service.

“In the near future, I’m hoping we can reach a point where our dedication to the environment can match our commitment to our customers. We’ll see where the road takes us.”

Private: Andrea Willoughby

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