The EV arms race – how the logistics sector is tackling EV shortages 

Tristan Thomas
17 April, 23

The electric vehicle arms race is fierce. Across the world, supply chains are being impacted by political issues, which means businesses must think longer term when it comes to placing orders. 

Tightening across metal markets means core metals and other materials critical to EV manufacturing are in short supply, alongside semiconductors which are a wider auto industry concern. Arrival and Britishvolt dipping out of the market doesn’t help matters.

The pressures represent a huge opportunity for the UK to reinvest in its EV manufacturing capabilities. The focus on reducing pollution in big cities is sharpening. This, paired with the expansion of the ULEZ, means transport needs to fundamentally change to be cleaner, in line with pollution policy. Sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles will be banned in 2030, so now is a good time to commit to creating more electric vehicles, especially vans, and build them into the workforce as standard.

The EV arms race

The UK is in urgent need of more electric vans to help meet carbon emission reduction targets, but at the moment they’re in short supply. Right now, logistics businesses are competing for new vans, heavily leaning on overseas shipping. What that means in real terms is slow (and expensive) business growth.

Growth is still happening though. British-led EV manufacturers can capitalise on the current mood for sustainable transport and the desire for EV production to increase. The industry overall would welcome more UK-based suppliers that contribute to the wider global goal of reducing carbon emissions. 

Very soon, our streets will be all-electric. At a business level, EV-fleets will be the norm by the end of the decade, so it makes sense for the industry to recognise this and work hard to match demand and keep pace.

At Packfleet we’ve remained brand agnostic mainly due to the short supply of electric vans available. We operate a fleet of over 50 electric vans, with Maxus, picked because of availability, taking up the majority. 

Our competitors will soon catch on and begin to wholesale purchase cleaner vans, which will cause problems for small businesses. Rising diesel and petrol fuel costs will accelerate legacy fleet operators like Amazon and DPD to make the leap to electric sooner. The timeframe between ordering a van and receiving it is already vast – which is why manufacturing on home turf would greatly improve matters.

Infrastructure issues

Relying on importing EVs from abroad is no longer a sustainable option if we’re serious about reaching net-zero targets and cleaning up our streets. Research by Market intelligence predicts that battery supply won’t meet demand until 2023 – this year – which is actually good news. Businesses should seize this opportunity to invest in EVs as the supply chain levels out.

Beyond supply chain issues, we need to look at EV infrastructure. Securing the van is the first challenge, the second is ensuring you can charge it efficiently. Packfleet currently operates only within the M25, so locating chargers on the road if we need them en route is not usually a problem. London has begun to invest in the charging network, but the same can’t be said for the rest of the UK.

While the nationwide charging infrastructure catches up, Packfleet vans are charged at our warehouse overnight. We’ll always build chargers into our depots to reduce the amount of times drivers need to stop and refill on the road. However, we do still need to know that we can charge our vans during a delivery trip. Drivers have recently begun to notice the queues forming next to EV chargers on the street, suggesting the shortages are beginning to show.

There’s a lot of noise around this issue – charging infrastructure is under the microscope. More EVs in the UK is a good thing, but having nowhere to charge them isn’t. With the main challenges identified, governments and manufacturers can focus on working together by investing in areas in urgent need of new charging points. A positive step in the right direction.

Gradual investment

Ensuring fair access to electric vans, and investment in infrastructure, is how we tackle the problem head on. By laying the foundations for the electric transition, business confidence in EVs will grow. I predict we could even see regulatory bodies step in to help stabilise the market conditions and allow fairer access for all to electric vehicles considering the shortages.

Lorry firms, same-day grocery companies and traditional couriers would do well to invest gradually in EVs. That means scaling correctly and at a sustainable speed, rather than falling into growth for growth’s sake. This way allows for the whole fleet acquisition to be eco-friendly, rather than compromising by bringing in diesel vehicles to tackle overwhelming demand.

Replacing all petrol and diesel vehicles can rack up costs, but thinking ahead to future ULEZ expansion as well as other laws and restrictions in the pipeline, it would be wise to start building an electric fleet now. There will be no need for scrambling to meet electric vehicle quotas if you’ve already made a start in advance of the new green legislation coming in.

What’s great is that smaller firms can start from scratch and build their fleets entirely electric from the outset. Larger companies bulk buying and hoarding electric vans simply because they can, isn’t the right thing to do, but it could happen. To ensure healthy market competition and fair use, a gradual transition will mean more vans for the entire sector.

For all companies, investing in electric vehicles is a sound decision. But if we mean it when we say we want to reduce pollution and meet green targets, the industry must join forces and commit to making electric fleets happen sustainably. 

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