Sainsbury's orders 50 electric vans

Sainsbury's has bought 50 Smith Electric 3.5-tonne vans to operate from London-based stores as part of its online groceries delivery fleet.

The move follows a two year trial of 20 electric vehicles (EVs), with four differing specs - a number of Smith's Edison vehicles based on the Ford Transit using either zebra or lithium-ion battery technology, and a lithium ion powered Microvett based on Iveco Daily and LDV Maxus chassis.

Simon Bond, Sainsbury's delivery operations manager, says: "We found the lithium ion technology to be significantly more reliable during trials."

The EVs will have a slightly lower whole life cost compared with an equivalent diesel powered van, based on a five year term.

"Once you calculate in the factors such as the congestion charge, lower fuel costs and maintenance costs (electric vehicles have significantly fewer moving parts) the higher purchase cost is absorbed," says Bond.

Each vehicle is restricted to 40mph and will cover a route of about 60 miles operating out of a number of key stores, where they will be parked and charged overnight. The drivers have ben trained on the different characteristics of the vehicles over diesel equivalents, including the regenerative braking function which recaptures energy when the vehicle is slowing to help recharge the battery.

Sainsbury's says balancing payload against the vehicle's plated weight at 3.5 tonne was one of the key challenges. "We worked with our chosen partners Smith's and RVL (Refrigerated Vehicle's Ltd), to develop a lightweight solution in order to maintain the payload of one of our existing diesel vehicles," says Bond.

After the initial roll-out of the vehicles over the next three months Sainsbury's anticipates there might be scope for more EVs in the near future, operating in other major UK cities.

The company is also investigating other green technologies to reduce its carbon foot print.