Making Contact: The Switch from Diesel to Electric

Switching to EVs can be a win-win for organisations if circumstances are right, enabling them to lessen the impact they have on the environment and save significant amounts of money. But what are the potential pitfalls, and what advice would those who’ve already gone down the EV route give to other organisations?

Fit for the Future members, Contact – a ground-breaking theatre and arts venue in Manchester-  shared their experience of switching from diesel to electric at our members event, the Network Harvest. Here are the key points from Contact’s Steve Curtis, along with some top tips shared on the day by other network members.


Steve Contact Theatre


Test driving

Contact Theatre’s existing diesel transit van became increasing unreliable and was ready for retirement. They researched a straightforward like-for-like replacement and did the maths on running costs, maintenance and servicing, VED, parking and insurance. They decided to investigate the possibility of an electric alternative based on possible economic benefits and the venue’s commitment to environmental sustainability. Testing of demo vehicles from different dealerships began.

Thanks to a robust monitoring system (van use had always been accompanied by completing a mileage and usage log) they were able to analyse the use of their diesel van and discovered that nearly all trips made were within a 10 mile radius. Only three or four journeys a year were beyond Greater Manchester, which meant an electric van was a viable option in terms of range and requirements.

Top tip: If you don’t already, implement a monitoring system to better understand the use of your current fleet and journey patterns. This will help you establish if EVs a realistic option for your needs and help you to make the business case.


Hearts and Minds

Contact found that winning over hearts and minds within the organisation was crucial. The teams that used or relied on the van were consulted and presented with the research, as well as arguments for and against an electric vehicle, which went something like this:

Pros: economic running, significant environmental improvement, potential for financial investment from external parties towards purchase cost, quietness and comfort of operation

Cons: reduced operating range, size of payload, time taken to connect/disconnect from charging point, journey planning required

Suffice to say, the positive aspects won the day.


Electric van for charity


Top tip: When it comes to making the case for switching to an EV, if the environmental benefits don’t have enough impact alone then the economic realities just might. As an example, the total energy cost for an EV used by the National Trust in Norfolk from Dec 2015 – Aug 2017 was £240. The previous diesel vehicle consumed around £2k of diesel a year by comparison.



Contact reports that the running costs of the van are now negligible- around 10p for full overnight or 4 hour fast charge as the range is never run very low (so far the range has never fallen below 27miles and that was just a single occurrence.)

The displayed range tends to start at around 95-100 miles in the summer and 70-90 miles approaching winter. If the vehicle heater is used on battery there is a drop in the displayed range of approximately 20 miles.


Contact Theatre electric van


The experience to-date suggests that for urban/city centre driving the displayed range and actual mileage undertaken closely match, but it seems to err on the cautious when displaying range with motorway driving. The longest journey to date has been 59 miles return:  at the start of the journey with 100% charge, the displayed range was 103 miles. The outward leg was undertaken mainly on the motorway (totalling 28 miles) – the range had then dropped to 52 miles.  The return journey was part motorway and a sizeable stretch of urban/city centre driving (totalling 31 miles) – the displayed range on completion was 27miles – much more reassuring!

The investment is well worth it, particularly if most of your journeys are local /city-wide.

Top tip: if you’re thinking about moving to EV then do a trial in winter, as that will be the worst time to have one!

Contact are also using the van as a means of communicating some of the organisation’s environmental aspiration with the public. Text on the side of the van  identifies it as zero emissions in operation and, due to Contact choosing an energy supplier that sources entirely from renewables, it is also powered by zero carbon energy.


If you are a member of Fit for the Future and are thinking of switching to an EV, we can link you up with the people who have overseen these projects for more in-depth advice. If you’re not yet a member, join us to link up with 100s of sustainability professionals from more than 90 likeminded organisations. If you don’t want to reinvent the wheel, collaboration is key.