A number of well-known auto-makers marketed battery electric vans in the early 2000s, but rather than repeat details already set out in the history text, this section focusses on their most recent developments, along with other outfits which or may not have had a mention.
Allied Electric was a part of the Glasgow-based Allied Vehicles company. It marketed electric versions of Peugeot light commercials. The 2009 range included the 350 kg payload ePartner, the 375 kg eBipper, the 650 kg (2.9 t GVW) eExpert, and the 895 kg (3.5 t GVW) eBoxer, plus cars and minibuses. Each offered a 100 mile range and a top speed of 70 mph. Energy came from lithium-ion (lithium-nickel on the eBipper) batteries and the power train was by Ansaldo.
The target market was smaller businesses; the vans could be charged up using a domestic power supply. 50 vehicles were built for a scheme in Glasgow managed by the Scottish Government’s Technology Strategy Board.
Arrival was founded by Denis Sverdlov, a Russian venture capitalist based in London. Having set up a number of high technology businesses, he moved into electric vehicles in 2015. Experience with the RoboRace autonomous electric vehicle racing project informed the development of a light van at a company called Charge Automotive set up in Yarnton, outside Oxford. In 2016 the operation was renamed Arrival and further development and pre-production assembly took place at a 110,000 sq ft facility in Banbury.
That year, a partnership was set up with UPS to build 35 electric delivery vehicles for trials in London and Paris. The prototypes were compact 3.5 t GVW forward-control vans, designed very much to UPS’s particular requirements. In 2018, Royal Mail took nine Arrival vans for trials in London. Three of the batch were to the same design as the UPS examples. Three were 6 t GVW and the remainder 7.5 t GVW. The bigger six vehicles appeared to have modified OEM cabs.
Further work led to the production design which was announced a couple of year later. This is a semi forward-control layout. The design embodies an aluminium frame, and panelling made of thermoplastic and glass fibre composite panels. This is about 200 kg lighter and stronger than a traditional pressed steel structure, improving payload and making the vehicle more resistant to scratches and scrapes. All the principal traction and control components are made in-house.
The Arrival van is currently marketed in two basic versions, a delivery van with sliding door and easy interior access to the cargo area and rear roller shutter door, and a cargo van with hinged cab doors and rear twin doors to the cargo area.
The vehicles can be configured into some combinations of three heights and lengths. Thus, the delivery van can be either an H3L3 with a cargo volume of 13.5 cu m or a 17.5 cu m H3L4. The cargo van can also come in H2L2 and H2L3 formats.
Gross weights go from 3.5 t to 4.25 t across the range, and advertised payloads from 861 kg (H3L3 Cargo) to 1975 kg.
The maximum payload is 2.1 tonnes (presumably on the heaviest GVW models). Battery capacity can be specified from 44 kWh to 133 kWh, with a potential maximum range of 350 km.
The exact electrical and mechanical layout has not been disclosed, but Arrival offers either front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive – having either one or two traction motors and providing a two-speed gearbox. Designing the vehicle so that as much of it can be reused or recycled is a central priority.
The cab arrangements reflect what is going on in the volume car market. Driving information, route guidance and entertainment are portrayed on a large interactive screen in the middle of the dash. There is full climate control, and safety features like lane-keeping assistance. One interesting item is the aerodynamic exterior rear view vision cameras, which are claimed to offer a small but useful increase in range over conventional mirrors.
The big breakthrough came with the order for 10,000 cargo vans from UPS. Production of these vans (with ranges from 150 km to 340 km and payloads from 975 kg to two tonnes) is slated to begin in the summer of 2022. Production of a longer cargo van, with a payload up to four tonnes, is set to begin at the same time and Arrival claim they have orders for 2,500 of this model. A number of pre-production vans were expected to enter trial service during 2021, including with UPS.
As well as producing advanced electric vehicle designs, Arrival has also developed a ‘microfactory’ concept. This involves building small assembly plants, even inside existing buildings, to put together Arrival vehicles using cell, rather than production line, techniques. Such plants can be close to the customer and take advantage of local supply chains, thereby reducing the environmental impact of moving completed vehicles long distances, and also facilitating some customisation to better meet local conditions.
Each micro-factoriy will each occupy about 20,000 sq m, cost about $45 million to build, and be able to assemble 10,000 vehicles per year. Once sales ramp up, Arrival plans to open up to four of these plants every year.
Each vehicle is designed against a grid-based dimensional framework. This facilitates the extensive use of robots that will cut assembly costs significantly. Indeed, this efficiency is claimed to offset the greater material cost in the vehicle compared with electric versions of conventional rivals, leading to lower retail prices and halving operating costs.
The first UK factory will be in Bicester, employing 200 people. Production is scheduled to begin in Q3, 2022. It has been announced that the first US facility will be in Charlotte, North Carolina, which is also the site of Arrival’s US headquarters. Production is set to commence there in Q4, 2022.
Although the van was the first model line announced, Arrival is now marketing an electric bus and electric car, designed and manufactured on the same principles.
The scale of investment at Arrival indicates how the nature of the battery electric vehicle business has changed. The company anticipates spending over $400 million on capital investment in 2022, on top of huge expenditures in research and development. This has to be on the expectation that production volumes will be in the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands per year. Indeed, by early-2021, Arrival claimed to have secured $1.2 billion-worth (around £870 million) of orders. As further evidence of its ambitions, it has secured investment from Hyundai and Kai – two large South Korean automotive OEMs. In 2020 the firm was valued at $5.4 billion.
In common with other electric vehicle makers, Arrival found itself having to lay off staff in the middle of 2022. Citing supply chain difficulties, the ongoing effects of the covid-19 pandemic, geopolitical tensions and rising inflation the firm announced it would cut up to 800 jobs among its workforce of 2,700 people in Britain, Germany, Luxembourg and the United States. Even so, Arrival continued to plan to deliver the first of 10,000 electric vans to UPS I the third quarter of the year
BD Auto was founded in 2012 as the British subsidiary of the Turkish company BD Otomotiv. Until about 2019, BD Auto sold conversions of various light commercial vehicles to electric traction, but whether the practical work was done in Britain or Turkiye is not clear as the same range of conversions were marketed in both countries. It is also unclear whether the conversions were carried out on brand new vehicles or used ones.
The range of conversions available in Britain included the Fiat Ducato, Fiat Doblo and Renault Trafic. The potential of this marketing approach became less obvious once electric versions of the Ducato and the Master ZE started to appear.
The brand name BEDEO was adopted and in 2019 the firm concluded a deal with PSA (now Stellantis) to install battery electric drive systems into a selection of its light commercial vehicles, including refrigerated delivery trucks. Rather than always sell vehicles direct, this deal means that the conversions can be sold through the various Stellantis brand outlets.
The base vehicle is the Ducato family, built at the Sevel operation in Italy. The range embraces the BD eVan, BD eChassis (a chassis-cab unit) and the BD eBus, including e-chiller and e-tipper variants on the van and chassis respectively. Gross weights go from 3.5 t to 4.25 t, with a payload up to 1,500 kg.
Conversions are also offered on the Renault Trafic and Fiat Doblo.
BEDEO reports that over 400 examples have been supplied to customers in Turkey, continental Europe and the UK, including DHL, FedEx, Ocado and Sainsbury’s. It recently established new UK headquarters is in Farnham, Hampshire.
Bluebird Technologies was based in Pontardawe, in south Wales. It briefly held the world land speed record for an electric car when its Electric Bluebird reached 137 mph in August 2000 on Pendine Sands. It was driven by Don Wales, the grandson of Sir Malcolm Campbell. The Bluebird company, in its various forms, had an association with the Campbell Bluebird story, through pursuing and achieving records in battery-powered vehicles. In the mid-2010s it was a pioneer in developing racing cars for Formula-E.
The firm’s innovative approach to design was manifested when it revealed the XDV, which was developed in association with Express Dairies. The dairy firm bought a prototype and ordered six subsequent vehicles. The design had a complete wrap round windscreen, easy driver access on and off the vehicle behind the cab, and a choice of body styles. Even with lead-acid batteries it promised a 55 mile range with road speeds up to 60 mph. Parcelforce tried it out for package deliveries in Northampton.
The venture was supported by the Welsh Development Agency through its Accelerate Wales initiative, and in 2001 Bluebird announced plans for a factory capable of producing 2,500 vehicles a year in Wales. This seemed highly ambitious given the market sentiment towards battery electrics at the time and a year later government backing was withdrawn. The Express Dairies prototype remained unique, and the six production vehicles never materialised.
Bluebird Technologies was wound up, but its sister outfit, Bluebird Automotive, continued work on battery electrics – albeit less exotic ones. The firm was approached by Golden Vale Dairies of Bridgend, which wanted to continue employing electric milk floats but could not find a source of new ones. Bluebird developed a prototype, which was delivered in 2002, followed by one production example.
Flush from its electric car success, in 2003 the enterprise grabbed the world land speed record for an electric milk float when its Electron E150 got to 73.39 mph, driven by, Richard Rozhon, a Welsh Formula Three racing driver. This machine had a chassis constructed by Llandaff Engineering and bodywork designed by Amalfi Design.
In order to be able to build electric vehicles in quantity, Bluebird partnered with Llandaff Engineering to form Q Electric Vehicles. A range of high-performance milk floats was announced, based on the Golden Vale duo.
The QEV70 was promoted as a functional-looking local delivery model, available for payloads of 1.5 to 2.5 tonnes. A QEV90 and QEV120 were contemplated, the largest vehicles going up to 10 t GVW. ‘QEV’ stood for Q Electric Vehicles, and who exactly owned the rights to that trade mark was at the heart of a dispute between the partners that led to the demise of the whole enterprise in 2007.
The Bluebird name re-emerged however, and in 2012 Bluebird Performance Engineering (now of Coventry) announced that it had teamed up with a Chinese company called Suzhou Eagle Electric Vehicles to bring a 3.5 t milk float to the UK market, called the BE-1. It would have a payload of 1,700 kg. The plan was that the bulk of the design and manufacture of the chassis-cab would be done in China, with bodywork and final assembly being done in Wales.
Eagle is a major manufacturer of golf-carts and the kinds of people-carriers that move people round airport terminals. The BE-1 was clearly based on this technology. Indeed, part of the deal was that Bluebird would assemble Eagle products for the European market.
The 6 kW motor would drive the rear wheels through a five-speed gearbox, giving a maximum speed of 30 mph and a range of 40 mph. An optional 9 kW motor could push the top speed up to 40 mph.
A flat-bed example was illustrated on the company’s web-site but it is not clear if the deal with Suzhou Eagle came to anything.
At an investor presentation in 2012, plans were also announced to market the Bluebird City. This would be an electric urban delivery vehicle designed to compete with the Ford Transit and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. It would incorporate a ‘hot swap’ battery system that would enable a depleted battery to be quickly replaced by a fresh one – effectively doubling a vehicle’s daily range. Again, its status is uncertain.
Bollinger is a start-up electric vehicle builder that has its base in Detroit – once the heart of America’s battery-electric motor industry. The B2 electric pick-up is quite obviously inspired in its looks by the first-generation Land Rover. Its payload will be a whopping 2.2 t and the absence of an engine under the bonnet means that (thanks to a series of hatches) a load the length of the vehicle can be stowed along the load deck, through the cabin and into the under-bonnet area. Four motors are specified, with a combined power of 614 hp, and a range of over 200 miles is claimed. It is likely to come to the UK in due course.
John Bradshaw Plant & Equipment Limited started making electric vehicles in the 1970s, and concentrated mainly on industrial trucks and vehicles for site applications. They were based on American Taylor-Dunn designs. Until the 2010s road versions were rare. In 2000 the Borough of Sandwell in the West Midlands purchased an ET2 one tonne vehicle for street cleaning duties with a caged dropside body. It was well able to keep up with traffic as it had a top speed of 32 mph.
The company is now a UK distributor for Club Car light electrics, built in the United States, and Goupil electric vehicles, built in France.
Club Car produce a range of light electric vehicles which are developments of the golf cart. The Carryall range features an aluminium chassis, and is fitted with a 48 V battery. Royal Mail acquired an example in 1999 that looked like a golf-buggy with a primitive cab and a demountable box body.
DAF was established in the Netherlands in 1928 and since 1996 has been owned by Paccar of the US. In 1986 DAF took a controlling interest in Leyland Trucks in the UK, and most of its lighter-weight trucks are built at the Leyland factory.
The UK government set up the Technology Strategy Board to invest in promising technologies and in 2010 the £25 million Low Carbon Vehicles Innovation Platform was announced. Among the projects supported was one in which Leyland Trucks led a partnership to develop a second generation 12 tonne lorry. Valence in Northern Ireland supplied the 96 kWh lithium-ion phosphate battery and MAGTEC of Rotherham provided the 150 KW, 600 Nm permanent magnet motor. The aim of the 15 month project was to refine vehicle design to improve performance, road manners and efficiency. The DAF LF chassis cab weighed 4,660 kg unladen, and could carry a payload of 5,540 kg when fitted with a box body and tail lift. It could travel 100 miles on one charge, reach 50 mph, and surmount a 16% gradient. Only one example was built and it is on display in the British Commercial Vehicle Museum, which happens to be in Leyland.
DAF continued with its in-house development of electric vehicles. It collaborated with VDL E-Power Technology in the Netherlands to create the CF Electric tractor unit, capable of handling an articulated rig of up to 40 t GCW.
The production version, rated at 37 t GCW, features a 350 kWh battery pack which provides energy to a 210 kW (240 kW peak power) electric motor. A 6×2 version (three axles, one driven) is also offered for roles like refuse collection, rated at 29 tonnes GVW.
DAF delivered five CF Electric tractor units to Amazon UK early 2022. They were the first electrics to join Amazon’s ‘middle distance’ fleet, able to haul box trailers on regional, rather than national, routes. On average, these trucks will clock up 400 miles per week, although DAF claims the electric CF can operate up to 500 km per day with the optimum charging regime.
On a smaller scale, two CF tractor units were placed in service in 2021 by Freight Systems Express Wales (FSEW), with support from the Welsh government.
In 2021 DAF announced that an all-electric version of the LF range would be built at its factory in Leyland. Development took place in close co-operation with Dana. The 282 kWh lithium-ion phosphate battery supplies a 250 kW motor. The battery is interesting in that it contains no cobalt or magnesium. A range of 280 km is claimed. The GVW is 19 tonnes with a body and payload allowance of 11.7 tonnes. Wheelbases of 5.3 m and 5.85 m are offered. One option is a 400 V e-PTO to run auxiliary equipment like an electro-hydraulic crane (as on a building merchant’s lorry).
The LF Electric has a combined charging system which means it can either be connected to a 415 V three-phase supply for overnight charging, or to a 650 V DC rapid charger which will take the battery from 20% to 80% charge in just one hour.
In spring 2022 it was announced that a fleet of twenty DAF LFs were entering service as part of the UK Government’s Battery Electric Truck Trial (BETT). All the operators were public sector, including the National Health Service (NHS) and local authorities. The trucks were equipped with devices to acquire real-time operating data. The box bodies on all the vehicles were built by DAF, and a number of them had temperature-controlled load spaces. They were to be allocated to 13 sites, and the duty cycles were deliberately chosen to present a range of operational challenges, so provided a diverse set of data.
Dennis and Eagle are two long-established names in municipal vehicles which were merged in the 1970s when both companies became part of the Hestair Group. However there was no longstanding interest in electric vehicles. Dennis Eagle, now based on one site in Warwick, became part of the Dutch Terberg RosRoca company in 2016.
The e-Collect is a development from Dennis Eagle’s Elite range of three axle refuse collectors. The protoype was displayed at a trade show in Germany in 2018, and production began in late 2020 with the first two examples going to Nottingham City Council. Further early vehicles went to Cambridge, Dundee and Islington in London. Oxford and York are also prospects.
The basis of the eCollect is the 6×2 rear-steer Elite Narrow chassis fitted with a 19 cubic metre Olympus Narrow body and a Terberg automatic split bin lift. The 300 kWh battery provides energy to a 200 kW motor and a PTO to drive the refuse handling equipment. The power train layout is fairly traditional. With no pressure to achieve a low floor line, the traction motor sits inside the chassis in the wheelbase, and the battery panniers are slung off the chassis between the front and second axles.
One design priority was giving the e-Collect as close to the driving feel of its diesel-powered cousins as possible. Drivers are said to particularly like the high torque from rest which enables the rounds to be covered more quickly.
The DFSK was the first brand to be marketed in the UK by Innovation Automotive, which announced it early in 2022. The make is from China and the target market appears to be small firms and individual tradespeople, rather than fleets.
The EC35 model’s 1,015 kg payload is competitive but the 166 miles falls a bit short of mainstream rivals, as does the internal cargo volume of 4.8 cu m. A road test by EV Powered concluded that whilst the EC35 had plenty of driver-friendly features like air conditioning and wi-fi, the road performance lagged behind that of vehicles from major European OEMs.
According to its website in early 2021, Electra is a British company, based in Skelmersdale, west Lancashire, specialising in converting diesel-powered Dennis Eagle and Mercedes-Benz refuse collection vehicles to an all-electric specification. Operators include the City of London, which has employed a three axle Mercedes unit with a gross weight of 26 tonnes. This had a 250 km range and the ability to run the power take-off (for tasks like compressing the refuse load) across a nine hour shift.
In 2021 the firm was offering conversions to products built by DAF, Iveco and MAN. Possible configurations included a low entry 26 tonne GVW refrigerated vehicle with underslung tail lift, and a 26 tonne builders merchant delivery truck with on-board crane. At the lighter end of the spectrum, Eagle offered conversions of a 7.5t Isuzu chassis, including a dry freight box with tail lift and a utility dropside tipper.
Electra is currently located in Blackburn, and indeed its website now declares the firm was established there in 2017 and has always been based there, although marketing communications emanate from Skem.
Its current focus is to take glider chassis from major OEMs and fit its own electric traction and control equipment. This means that the OEM builds a chassis designed to accept these components, without a diesel driveline. The Electra design is approved by the OEM, and the vehicle benefits from the highly engineered base vehicle with all its well-proven features, like roadholding and steering and braking systems. It offers vehicles based on Dennis-Eagle, Isuzu, Iveco, Mercedes-Benz glider chassis – spanning gross weights from 7.5 t to 44 t.
Vehicles are in service with, among others, councils in Brighton, Dumfries and Galloway, Glasgow, City of London (through Veolia), Manchester (through BIFFA), North Lanarkshire, Stockton-on-Tees, as well as haulage operators like Eddie Stobart. The majority of these are refuse collectors, but a growing share are cargo carriers.
Electra lorries can be leased to customers through its partner company NRG Riverside, which has been actively promoting the range.
For example, from late 2020 a 19 t Electra SEIV 19-350 (based on the Iveco Euro Cargo) went round the UK demonstrating its capability as a fully electric temperature-controlled truck. It ran for a time with Gregory’s Distribution on behalf of Brew Dog, the Aberdeen-based brewer. This was one of a fleet of four temperature-controlled vehicles, including an articulated unit, all fitted with Thermo King Frigoblock refrigeration systems, optimised for battery electric applications.
In April 2021 Electra delivered a 27 t long-wheelbase curtain-side truck to CCF, a subsidiary of Travis Perkins. It would be used to deliver interior building products in west and central London from a base in Harmondsworth. It featured a low-slung cab to improve drivers’ visibility of cyclists and other vulnerable road users. It could be charged from a 32 amp or faster 63 amp supply using an on-board charger.
Based in Dursley, Gloucestershire, Refuse Vehicle Solutions is a company that specialises in supplying refuse collection vehicles of all kinds to customers throughout the UK. Its offerings include remanufactured vehicles which have been brought back to as-new condition, with the addition of more modern features and equipment.
In September 2020 RVS announced the e-One. This is a remanufacturing package to convert diesel-powered RCVs to battery electric power. The first example went to Recycling Partnership, based in Crawley.
The electric drivetrain of the e-One was supplied by EMOSS, a Dutch company, and the base vehicle was a 6 x 2 Dennis-Eagle. A top speed of 56 mph was claimed, which is going some for a bin wagon.
At the beginning of 2021, Fiat announced that the e-Ducato would be available in the UK by the middle of the year. Based on a model built for some years, this is Fiat’s first foray into a pure-electric van, being unveiled in 2019. Recognising the age of the base model, the e-Ducato is offered in a wide range of configurations to suit the maximum number of possible applications.
The 90 kW, 280 Nm motor drives the front wheels. The maximum payload is 1,885 kg and the top speed is limited to 100 km/h to conserve energy. There is either a 47 kWh or 79 kWh battery which enables a 113 or 230 mile range respectively. The biggest version, the e-Ducato XL, provides 17 cu m of load space – much more than most of its immediate electric rivals.
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