Electrifying change: transforming Europe’s commercial vehicle market 

Picture of Thomas Folqué
Thomas Folqué

Research Director

A compelling story is unfolding in the rapidly changing world of the automotive industry —one that goes beyond data and trends. Amidst the pandemic, I, like many others, revamped my shopping routine, shifting from in-store experiences to the online platforms that have reshaped how products reach our doorsteps.  

The unsung heroes of this transformation? Delivery vans. 

The European light commercial vehicle (LCV) sector has seen almost a decade of consistent growth. This trend is set to continue, fuelled by the continuing surge in delivery demands from e-commerce, the expanding online grocery sector, and the recreational-van market’s reliance on LCVs. 

Speeding towards a new era of eco-friendly delivery 

The transition from internal combustion engines (ICE) to electric vehicles (EVs) has been nothing short of remarkable. In less than a decade, EVs have evolved from niche products to the inevitable future of automotive, and commercial vehicles are no exception. As the UK and Europe commit to ending ICE sales by 2035, the message for fleet managers and business owners is crystal clear: adapt or risk falling behind. 

Yet, this shift isn’t without its challenges. Our research reveals concerns among UK fleet managers and LCV drivers about transitioning from ICE to EV. Issues such as high initial costs, insufficient charging infrastructure, ongoing operational expenses, and limited EV range are reasons for apprehension.  

“The cost at the moment is high and I could not afford to replace the vehicle I have. I do not have any electric points, places where I can re-charge a vehicle and I do not know how much it would cost to re-charge a vehicle. Do not know how reliable it would be or if anyone could service it.”

“Available charging points may be an issue. The cost to run will probably be better but the initial costs to install charging points at the office would be difficult and the guys take the vans home in the evenings and won’t have access to charging stations.”

“They are more expensive, only the wealthy can afford them. Also, they are stressful to re-charge at times, you do worry about running out in the middle of nowhere.”

Despite these concerns, 52% claim that environmental sustainability will influence their next van purchase. This creates a gap in the market, with SMEs and larger fleets struggling to obtain affordable electric commercial vehicles (ECVs) due to high demand, and limited supply from traditional automakers. 

New players are leading the charge

The void left by established automakers in Europe has paved the way for new entrants, particularly those from Asia. ECVs from innovative brands are already hitting the streets at breakneck speed – these players have spotted the opening and are wasting no time in seizing the opportunity. 

Take Maxus, from China’s SAIC Motor Corp., as an example: with the eDELIVER3 priced at £34,000 (ex VAT), Maxus has already made substantial sales in Western Europe and Scandinavia and is planning further expansion across Central Europe. In 2022, Maxus already held around 6% of Europe’s new ECV market, surpassing Ford, Nissan, and Fiat. 

Maxus isn’t the only brand with eyes on Europe: Geely’s Farizon aims to enter the market by 2024 and B-ON (which acquired the StreetScooter ECV brand) is expanding German production. Meanwhile, in the United States, General Motors’ BrightDrop brand is following suit with its own expansion plans. 

The road ahead is long, but the time for action is now

In this evolving landscape, LCV incumbents must prioritise EV adoption to meet customer needs and maintain market share. Every day of delay risks ceding ground to new competitors, as they gain momentum, build brand awareness and acquire customers. The electric van revolution is underway, and the question is whether traditional brands can catch up or risk being left in the fossil fuel past.  

The presence of these newcomers also prompts important considerations for commercial van owners and fleet managers. Are they contemplating these new brands for future purchases, potentially disrupting the dominance of traditional van makers? It’s a critical moment in the industry, demanding careful consideration of options. 

In concluding my journey from traditional shopping to the heart of the ECV revolution, the path forward appears promisingly electrifying. E-commerce continues to surge, driving demand for last-mile deliveries and cleaner, more sustainable transportation options. 

Amidst this transformation, my personal shift from traditional to online retail is a small part of a larger narrative emphasising innovation, adaptability, and the evolving nature of urban logistics. ECVs are no longer a futuristic concept; they are today’s reality, reshaping how we receive online purchases and paving the way for a greener, more eco-friendly future. 

What lies ahead for the European van market? The future of electric vans shines brightly, but for traditional brands, clarity remains elusive. One thing is certain: the road ahead is filled with opportunities for those ready to embrace it. 

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