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The petrol vs diesel van debate has gone on for years, now add electric and hybrid engines into the mix and it doesn’t seem as simple a decision as it once was. With four main fuel types to choose from we know it’s not always a straightforward decision and that there’s lots to think about.

In this guide, we will examine the latest information on each fuel type, along with the pros and cons associated with them to help you make the right choice.

Petrol

It’s fair to say that in the commercial van market place, the diesel engine still dominates, with around 75% of owners opting for this engine type. There have been attempts from manufacturers in recent years to launch petrol options in larger vans, but it’s proven to be a difficult task to compete against their diesel counterparts.

That said, there are plenty of petrol vans available, and actually, they are increasing in popularity within the small van category. Why? Because petrol vans have greater fuel efficiency for shorter distances and so it suits the driver looking to do shorter trips around towns and cities with less reliance on carrying heavy loads.

Some of the most popular choices today are:

  1. Citreon Berlingo
  2. Peugeot Partner
  3. Volskwagen Caddy

When it comes to green credentials, petrol engines are seen to be more environmentally friendly than diesel with lower C02 emissions, but because they consume more fuel comparatively, most are not eligible for free operation in ultra-low emission areas.

Petrol vans are often a little cheaper to lease or buy, but we should point out that they also have lower residual value and this affects the chance of selling the van for the desired price when it’s time to move on to the next vehicle.

Pros

  1. Vehicle choice – especially in the smaller van category.
  2. More environmentally friendly than diesel engines.
  3. Good fuel efficiency for shorter journeys.
  4. Less expensive at the pump than diesel.
  5. Can be cheaper to buy or lease.
  6. Slightly less noisy.

Cons

  1. Higher CO2 emissions than electric or hybrid vehicles.
  2. Less fuel efficient for longer journeys.
  3. Vehicle choice is more limited than diesel engines.
  4. Lower residual value.
  5. Not eligible for free operation in ultra-low emission zones.

Diesel

Pretty much all van manufacturers have a diesel van in every make and model, so it’s hardly surprising that it remains the number one choice when looking for a large commercial vehicle. Despite some negative publicity around diesel engines, the benefits to the driver generally continue to outway the  current alternatives. Some of the biggest benefits are around fuel efficiency and their ability for moving heavy loads and travelling long distances. Let’s look at the Ford Transit as an example. The Transit not only has a wide range of models, it’s practical, comfortable and ranks in the top commercial vehicles year in year out.

Like the Ford Transit there are lots of other popular large vans, such as the Vauxhall Movano and it’s the huge variety of payload ranges that these manufacturers offer; anywhere from 2.6 to 4.3 tonnes that helps with this popularity.

The main issue with Diesel vans is the harmful gasses that the engines emit. As a direct result of this, the Government is taking steps to limit the use of diesel vans in towns and cities by 2025 – with a full sales ban from 2030, forcing people to seriously consider alternatives. Another common drawback is that diesel particulate filters (DPF) are easily blocked, especially if it’s used more often around urban areas. It’s a costy fix, up to a few thousand pounds in some cases, and a reason that modern diesel vans aren’t really suitable for those only doing short town and city centre distances.

Pros

  1. The best fuel economy for longer distances.
  2. Van choice – small, medium and large.
  3. Huge variety of payload ranges.
  4. Efficient and powerful engines.
  5. No restrictions on driving range.
  6. Hold their residual well.

Cons

  1. Higher fuel price.
  2. Not environmentally friendly – high CO2 emissions.
  3. DPF (Diesel Particulate filters) can clog and prove expensive to fix.
  4. Create more noise.

Electric

Research from the Freight Transport Association (link), suggests that up to a third of the vans we see on the road never actually travel more than 80 miles in a day – making electric vehicles a viable option for many. There are lots of positives; not just the obvious one of helping the environment, but also cost saving too, with running costs starting from as little as 2p-per-mile. It’s also less expensive to service and is exempt from road tax and congestion charges. Battery technology is also constantly improving in terms of  both power and range seeing the main benefits and there are currently more than 10,000 charging points in the UK, with ambitious plans to increase this.

Van choice is often noted as one of the main factors holding people back, and there is definitely truth in that. There is simply not the volume of larger vehicles on the market, and this contributes towards its current status of being a more expensive option. That said, the signs are promising. More manufacturers are investing heavily in the production of eco-friendly vans. We’ve already seen Peugeot, Citroen, Nissan and Renault add electric to their ranges of small and medium sized vans, and the choice is set to increase rapidly with Mercedes, Ford and VW joining them soon.

Pros

  1. Zero emissions – it’s the best option for the environment.
  2. Less expensive to run vs diesel and petrol engines.
  3. Perfect for urban and shorter distance journeys.
  4. Growing number of charging stations.
  5. Servicing can be less expensive.
  6. Exempt from congestion charges.

Cons

  1. Van choice is limited.
  2. No Vehicle Excise Duty (VED).
  3. Less reliable for small journeys.
  4. Reliant on the availability of charging points.
  5. More expensive to lease or buy (then petrol or diesel engines).

Hybrid

Hybrid vans have come a long way in recent years, with the principle of a combination of a traditional combustion engine and a battery powered one seen as a good step forward to a greener transition.

They fall into three categories:

Full hybrid – can run solely on the combustion engine, or the battery powered engine, or a bit of both.

Mild hybrid – where the electric motor and the combustion engine have to work together for the van to run.

Plug-in hybrid – where the van runs on electric, and when that runs out the petrol or diesel engine kicks in.

How much the electric motor is used therefore varies between models, generally the more basic the model, the less ground is covered by the electric motor alone. Whilst their popularity is some way off the traditional diesel or petrol, manufacturers continue to invest in hybrid technology with Ford leading the way on the number of models available and Mitsubishi as one of the longest serving hybrids available.

A hybrid van is a great choice if a business or individual is environmentally conscious, but worried about committing to a full-electric van and the potential limitations they bring around charging points or running distance. Similar to electric vans, the hybrid is particularly good for urban journeys, and most vans will be able to go through the low emission zones with no charge. They offer lower running costs than diesel or petrol engines since they use the electric motor and are known for keeping their residual value well. That said, they are generally more expensive to lease or purchase.

One downside is that maintenance is known to be expensive for hybrid vans, with specialist skills required and replacement batteries expensive to purchase.  On the whole, they come with smaller engines which aren’t seen as favourable for carrying heavier payloads.

Pros

  1. Lower emissions  (in comparison to petrol and diesel engines).
  2. Less expensive to run.
  3. Most models are congestion charge free.
  4. Vans are quiet – ideal for evening deliveries.
  5. Great for shorter, urban journeys.

Cons

  1. More expensive to lease or buy.
  2. Less reliable for longer journeys.
  3. Expensive to repair.
  4. Reliant on the availability of charging points.
  5. Less environmentally friendly than fully electric vans.
  6. Van choice is limited.

As you can see, there is lots to think about when it comes to making the decision on fuel type, and it largely depends on each individual business and the factors that are important to them. Hopefully this article has gone some way to helping clarify the difference and supporting the decision when it comes to leasing or buying your next van.

If you’d like to know more our team is alway on hand to help.

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