Nissan's NV200 electric van

Nissan says it will produce an all-electric version of its NV200 cargo van at its assembly plant in Barcelona, Spain, beginning in 2013. This will be the company’s second electric vehicle, joining the compact Leaf in dealers’ showrooms.

Automotive World reported that leveraging the Leaf’s existing electric powertrain, the e-NV200 is expected to offer a similar range, which Nissan pegs at around 100 miles on a charge (though it can be far less in the real world depending on how and where it’s driven) and achieve a similar equivalent to its EPA-certified 106 mpg in city driving.

“The e-NV200 represents a genuine breakthrough in commercial vehicles,” says Nissan’s executive vice-president Andy Palmer. “The new model will offer all the spaciousness, versatility and practicality of a traditionally powered compact van, but with zero CO2 emission at the point of use and also provide an outstanding driving experience that is unique to EV’s.”

While it could take several leaps forward in technology and/or $6.00-per-gallon gasoline for mainstream consumers to embrace all-electric cars, given their exorbitant prices and range limitations, EVs would seem to be immediately well suited as delivery vehicles.

Range isn’t as much of a factor for businesses, as cargo vans typically make relatively short runs with multiple stops, especially in urban areas, and the savings in fuel and maintenance costs could easily offset the added expenditure. For example, unlike conventionally powered vehicles, EVs don’t need oil changes, cooling system flushes or transmission servicing and there’s no air filter, spark plugs or drive belts to replace. There’s also a $7,500 federal income tax credit offered to EV buyers to help make them more affordable, and large cities could well offer generous incentives of their own to help local firms put more zero-emissions trucks into service as a way of improving air quality.

Ford already sells an electric version of its compact Transit Connect delivery van, though production has been halted since the company that builds it – Azure Dynamics – filed for bankruptcy protection in April.