Alternatives to battery-electric light commercial vehicles are being encouraged by transport operators, so what will the manufacturers have to offer in the near future? Steve Banner investigates

Electric vans can now tackle most urban and suburban delivery runs without drivers and transport managers being plagued unduly by range anxiety. Battery technology developments mean that today’s vehicles can travel a lot further than their predecessors before they need to be plugged into a charging point. However, intercity journeys can still be problematic because of the long distances that may be involved. Not only that, but charging times remain a challenge, as does the availability of publicly accessible charging points that can accommodate a large light commercial, while ranges drop dramatically in bitter winter weather. Towing a heavily laden trailer can deplete a battery’s charge rapidly, too.

As a consequence some light commercial manufacturers are either developing or have already developed models equipped with hydrogen fuel cells. They can offer a longer range than battery vehicles, and all they emit is water vapour.


Last year, Ford announced that it would be deploying a test fleet of eight E-Transits equipped with fuel cells in a three-year programme ending in 2025. Part-funded by the government through the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC), it involves fleet operators such as Ocado.

Before that, in 2022, IVECO unveiled a fuel cell eDaily developed jointly with Hyundai, while gas distribution network Wales & West Utilities (WWU) has been trialling a MAN TGE fitted with a fuel cell in conjunction with zero-emissions vehicle developer First Hydrogen. Last year saw INEOS Automotive unveil a version of its 4x4 Grenadier equipped with a fuel cell sourced from BMW.

A joint venture between Renault and hydrogen fuel cell specialist Plug, HYVIA has developed a fuel cell version of Renault’s Master with a range of up to 250 miles. While that is not especially impressive when compared with the range figures being cited for the latest crop of electric vans, a second-generation model based on the latest Master will break cover next year. It should be good for a more-impressive 375 miles, says HYVIA chief executive officer, Nicolas Champetier. Both the range figures quoted are achievable no matter what the weather, he stresses.

“With a fuel cell, you don’t lose 30% of your range when it gets cold,” says Brad Miller, head of product and pricing, light commercial vehicles, at Stellantis UK. A fuel cell van can be refuelled in no more than five minutes, he adds. “If you’re recharging an electric model then it can take 55 minutes to reach 80% of the battery’s capacity.”

Stellantis has developed fuel cell versions of the latest Citroen e-Dispatch and e-Relay, Fiat Professional E-Scudo and E-Ducato, Peugeot E-Expert and E-Boxer and Vauxhall Vivaro Electric and Movano Electric. A fuel cell Movano will be on sale in the UK during the second quarter of 2025, with order books opening during the last quarter of this year, says Miller. Likely gross weight is 4.0 to 4.25 tonnes with a 311-mile range and a payload capacity the same or slightly less than that of the equivalent electric model.

A fuel cell version of the smaller Vivaro has been on sale in mainland Europe for the past two years. Stellantis has nevertheless decided to concentrate on the heavier end of the light commercial market on this side of the Channel for the moment, says Miller, because the company believes it has the most volume potential.

Commercial concerns

Only Vauxhall dealers will be offering fuel cell vans in the immediate future, admits Miller. Spreading it across the three other Stellantis brands would not make economic sense at this stage of the development of the technology in Britain, he contends.

Ford, too, believes that the primary application of fuel cells is likely to be in its heavier light commercials. The programme it is involved with referred to earlier aims to determine whether it can deliver a greater zero-emission range to E-Transit customers tackling high mileages with maximum loads, employing ancillary equipment such as chillers and with limited charging opportunities during the driver’s shift. Without a fuel cell, E-Transit offers a range of up to 196 miles. The programme will also help determine the hydrogen refuelling infrastructure that will be needed; something that is largely lacking at present.

HYVIA is putting together a package that includes refuelling points and finance as well as the vehicles. “If you don’t have the infrastructure then you don’t have customers,” Champetier observes. However there is no firm indication as to when this package will be available in the UK.

Toyota began developing a fuel cell version of the Hilux pick-up in the UK in 2021 at its plant at Burnaston in Derbyshire using core elements from its Mirai fuel cell car. With government support delivered through the Advanced Propulsion Centre it has now built ten prototypes, all of which are 4x2s with a rear-mounted electric motor.

The pick-ups offer a 375-mile range and their three fuel cylinders containing up to 7.8kg of hydrogen are mounted under the floor in a steel cage, says senior manager, new product development, Katherine Chamberlain. They can be refuelled in three minutes.

“We went the 4x2 route because we wanted to prove the technology could work in a pick-up as soon as we could, and we realised that installing the extra motor that a 4x4 will require would be quite challenging,” says Chamberlain, adding that prototype fuel cell Hiluxes will appear at the Olympic Games in Paris this summer.

The fuel cell Hilux should be in series production during the next three to four years, and will be made available as a 4x4. “It’s not been confirmed that it will be built in the UK, but we’re hoping so,” Chamberlain says. It will be marketed alongside a battery-electric Hilux, which will also be produced in four-wheel-drive guise. A 48V mild-hybrid Hilux 4x4 looks set to go on sale in September/October of this year. Target payload capacity for the fuel cell models is a tonne, with a towing capacity of 2.5 tonnes.


The MAN TGE referred to earlier completed over 1,200 miles during a four-week trial with WWU in temperatures that went as low as 2°C. The van was shared by two drivers involved in emergency metering work averaging five to six call-outs daily. “It’s lovely to drive – and the fact that you can refuel it quickly is a major advantage rather than having to charge it up overnight,” says Alun Jones, one of drivers.

The trial demonstrated the full capability of the fuel cell module, says First Hydrogen. Delivering outputs of above 60kW, it showed it could cope with heavy payloads, towing and powering auxiliary equipment.

Protium Energy Solutions provided the green hydrogen that fuelled the van, while Hyppo Hydrogen Solutions provided a mobile hydrogen refuelling unit. Says WWU transport manager, Stephen Offley: “The data generated from the trial gives us a case to push for a fixed hydrogen infrastructure in our area.”

Sales of fuel cell vans across Europe are comparatively modest at present, so the economies of scale delivered by volume production are low. As a consequence, front-end prices are even higher than the steep price tags borne by electric models, admits Champetier. He believes government incentives will be necessary to encourage their more widespread adoption.

Chamberlain does not deny that cost remains an issue, but contends that this will not remain the case forever. “We believe that the next generations of fuel cell stacks will come down massively in price, and the cost of hydrogen will come down, too,” she says.

As WWU’s experience indicates, the ability to source the fuel needed to power fuel cell vans and its environmental credentials will be major influences on the willingness of operators to go the fuel cell route. To make the environmental argument stack up, the hydrogen the vehicles use has to be classed as green, produced using renewable resources such as wind or solar.

Unfortunately, the availability of green hydrogen is lacking at present. In December 2023, however, the government announced backing for 11 production projects that should deliver 125MW of the fuel over the next three years. While that is a step in the right direction, it remains some way behind the government’s aim of ensuring that 6GW of green hydrogen is being produced in the UK by 2030.

A second round of government funding for projects has recently been announced. Public spending on green and blue hydrogen projects – blue hydrogen is made from natural gas, with the carbon generated captured and stored – is set to total £2bn over the next 15 years.

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