The Nissan e-NV200 van has a payload of 705 kg and 4.2 cubic metres of load space. The 40 kWh battery enables a range of over 120 miles, while the 80 kW motor (driving the front wheels) generates up to 254 Nm of torque. This model is built in Barcelona, Spain. It is based on a diesel model introduced in 2009, and was due to be superseded by a new design based on the Renault Kangoo ZE in 2021. However, it was still being marketed early in 2022.
Although the e-NV200 only comes in one size, an e-NV200 XL conversion is available to increase the body height and length to give eight cubic metres of load space. The conversion was engineered by Voltia of Slovakia and is carried out in the UK by the Bevan Group.
In February 2020 logistics company DPD announced it was ordering 300 e-NV200s, adding to the 91 it was already running.
Paneltex is a large producer of insulated and specialised vehicle bodies and trailers, founded in 1991 and based in Hull. Sensing a probable move towards electric vehicles, but seeing no existing electric chassis for its products, the company produced a prototype electric box van in 2007. The first experimental machines worked with operators from 2008.
This work eventually led to a production version, based on Isuzu Grafter chassis in weights from 7.5 to 11 tonnes GVW, which was unveiled in 2014. The first examples went to Kuehne + Nagel, for transporting food and drink products for the Whitbread group. They were fitted with Thermo King V500 refrigeration units. The electric drive system was supplied by Magtec, including a P 144 motor and a P 146 controller. Their unladen weight of 5,060 kgs permitted a payload well over 2 t.
The current range is known as the Z75 and it was launched in 2017. The electric drive system continues to be sourced from Magtec and the base chassis cab is from Isuzu. The chassis cab is supplied with ICE components, which are removed so the electric drive line can be installed. Available lithium-ion phosphate battery packs sizes are 80, 100 or 120 kWh and a maximum 150 mile range is claimed. Gross weights can be from 5.5 t to 11 t. although 7.5 t appears to be the most popular option. Major operators include Asda, Costa Coffee and Warburtons. Islington Council bought six cage-tippers in 2021 to add to its waste and recycling fleet.
The Norwegian Loyd company had a longstanding relationship with Posten Norge, Norway’s postal service, to supply special equipment for its delivery vans. The firm developed the Paxster as a lightweight electric vehicle in response to Posten Norge’s interest in providing an environmentally sustainable last mile service.
The engineering and external design was done by Eker Design. The original Paxster went into production in 2013. In 2015 the Paxster operation was split out from Loyd, and the new company set about building international sales.
In 2020 the range was updated, comprising two basic models – the Delivery 1.000L with a cubic metre of cargo space, and the Cargo 1.250L with 25% more. All the Paxster vehicles are similar in appearance. There have four wheels and the motor is mounted on to the rear axle. An electro-magnetic brake provides regenerative braking. There is a front cowl and windscreen but no doors, and only room for the driver, who needs to dress for the weather. Speed control is through a scooter-style handlebar arrangement, using a twist-grip throttle. Behind the driver is the cargo box, accessed through rear doors.
The Cargo is just under 2.4 m long and 1.2 m wide over the mirrors – making it very compact. Different combinations of battery (6 to 10 kWh) and motor 6 kW or 7.48 kW allow payloads up to 240 kg, speed up to 60 km/h and a range up to 110 km.
In the UK, Royal Mail ordered an initial fleet of Paxster Cargo machines which entered service in 2021. They were to be put into trials, alongside the slightly larger Liger Pulse 4, in Crewe, Edinburgh, Liverpool, London and Swindon.
REE Automotive is an Israeli start-up whose mission is not to build and sell complete vehicles, but to supply other vehicle makers with low running platforms. These platforms feature a wheel in each corner with has independent but coordinated drive, suspension, braking and steering functions. The final vehicle is built on to the platform, which is available in various sizes to match the required gross weight.
The P7 platform is specifically designed to underpin urban delivery vehicles. Even though it will be fitted with a steering wheel and foot pedals, control of the vehicle functions is through fly-by-wire technology. This gives great flexibility in the interior design and layout.
In May 2002 REE announced it would open a plant in Coventry with the capability of building up to 10,000 platforms a year. This enterprise is part of an initiative with Rockwell International and Expert Technologies. The very high level of automation means that the plant will be able to operate with a staff of fewer than ten people.
One of the most well-established electric vans in the UK was the Renault Kangoo ZE, launched in 2009 and entering production two years later. It helped to prove the viability of electric vans, and could claim a range of 143 miles, although its payload was modest. It also won the accolade of International Van of the Year in 2012.
The Zoe ZE minivan, based on the Zoe electric car, also came out in 2012, going on sale in the UK the following year. A more efficient R90 motor was fitted from 2015, extending the Zoe ZE’s range to 149 miles. That went up to 186 miles in 2016 when a more efficient battery became available. The even more powerful R110 followed in 2018, demonstrating a continual steady improvement in electric vehicle technology over a remarkably short time.
The original electric Master ZE was launched in 2018, to compete in the 3.5 t panel van and chassis cab segment.
By 2021 Renault had refreshed and expanded its range and the electric versions of its light commercial vehicles were given the E-Tech label – the Zoe E-Tech, the Kangoo E-Tech and Master E-Tech.
The second-generation Zoe was introduced in 2019, with the Zoe Van E-Tech joining it in 2020. The EV.50 battery enables a claimed range of 245 miles. As with the first-generation, the Zoe van has the same bodyshell as the saloon car, so in reality is the car minus the rear seats, and a permanent cargo floor and opaque rear windows. There is about 1 cu m of load space, and the potential payload is around 450 kg.
A new generation Kangoo was introduced in 2021, with a Kangoo E-Tech electric version part of the line-up from the outset. The van has a 76 kW motor, a payload of 612 kg, and a potential 186 mile range. The next-generation Nissan e-NV200 is expected to be based on this design.
The Master E-Tech is a 3.5 tonne GVW machine, with a 75 mile range. It appears to be an update of the Master ZE, rather than a fundamentally revised design. The three available formats are panel van, chassis-cab and platform cab. The payload capacity on the panel van is up to 1,425 kg, but the two seater cab could be a handicap for some applications. The 57 kW motor drives the front wheels, and the battery capacity is a modest 33 kWh. Compared with the size of battery packs in the past, the compactness of the Master E-Tech’s is remarkable.
Rivian is an automotive company founded in 2009 and now based in Plymouth, Michigan, close to the heart of America’s motor industry. It is backed by Amazon and Ford, and their substantial investment has allowed the development of an SUV, a pick-up (which we shall look at shortly) and a van. The van is specifically designed to meet the needs of Amazon, which envisages buying 100,000 of them by 2030. The first production examples were put into service in Los Angeles in February 2021.
The van is based on a scalable architecture that can be the basis for a variety of electric vehicles. Needless to say, it boasts an array of devices to aid the driver, including Amazon’s Alexa which will respond to voice commands. The claimed range for the van is 150 miles.
Rivian vans running Amazon deliveries in the UK can be expected in due course. The company is also scouting for the site of a European manufacturing plant which could be in Britain, Germany or Hungary.
The R1T pick-up was unveiled in 2020 and is expected to be on sale in Britain from 2022. It delivers 750 hp of power through four wheel motors and promises up to 400 miles of range, depending on the battery and how much the 0 to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds performance is exploited.
Sevel is a joint venture (initially between Fiat and PSA, and now a part of the new Stellantis business) which produces a series of light vans built in France and Italy and carrying Citroen, Opel, Peugeot, Vauxhall and latterly Toyota branding. The current generation of diesel models was introduced in 2016 and electric versions across these brands arrived in 2019. The battery is in a flat box in the wheelbase, and the motor and controls occupy the space normally taken by the engine and gearbox.
All brands except the Opel are offered in the UK, as the Citroen e-Dispatch, the Peugeot e-Expert, the Toyota e Pro Ace and the Vauxhall Vivaro-e. They are built at the Sevel Nord plant in Valenciennes, north east France.
Each of these electric vans, as they are sold in the UK, have the same basic specification, but vary in terms of front-end appearance, cab trim and accessories, choice of body lengths and layouts, and exact electric drive system specification. Broadly speaking, one van option offers a 50 kWh battery, giving a range of 230 km and a payload up to 1,226 kg. The alternative 75 kWh battery pack enables a range billed at 330 km and payload up to 1,002 kg.
Lengths of 4.96 m or 5.3 m can be specified, and the maximum load space is either 5.8 cu m or 6.6 cu m. As well as a panel van, the longer model can be built with a second row of seats. The 100 kW motor promises a top speed of 130 km/h.
Following its takeover by the Tanfield Group in 2004, Smith Electric Vehicles started developing entirely new electric vehicle designs. To lead that work Tanfield recruited Doug MacAndrew, from McLaren. Taking advantage of the next generation batteries becoming available, the company embarked on a programme to develop and build high-performance urban delivery vehicles at a large scale. Key parts of the technology were taken from the rail industry, scaled down for road vehicle use to a point where they became a viable choice in terms of price.
The first manifestation of this work was the Faraday prototype built in 2005. This was built on a Smith chassis and could run at up to 50 mph with a range of 60 miles. Its payload was 2 t and the GVW was 5 t. Consultations with operators like Sainsbury’s and TNT showed this was an awkward size – too heavy to meet the 3.5 t GVW limit up to which drivers did not need an HGV licence, yet not taking full advantage of the less onerous regulations affecting vehicles up to 7.5 t GVW.
Even though they were keen to explore the use of electric vehicles, another reservation that TNT had was that the basic vehicle engineering was unproven for long-term high-intensity fleet operation. It wanted to have an electric based on a donor chassis from a diesel model which had an established service record. A further long-standing complaint was that the driving environment of these vehicles was too basic, with an almost upright steering control, awkward pedal locations, hard seats, and so on.
In response the 7.5 t GVW Newton was unveiled in 2006 as a city delivery truck with a proven glider chassis imported from Avia in the Czech Republic. Its range was 130 miles and it could get up to 50 mph. Smith claimed it was entirely equivalent to a diesel vehicle doing the same job. The battery was a 278 V sodium-nickel-chloride unit weighing 800 kg. The use of ultra-light composites in the construction of the body by Omnia meant that a payload of 4 t could be achieved. With the Newton the engineering challenge had flipped. It was no longer a case of tuning the motor and control system to coax the best out of a lead-acid battery. Instead, the challenge was to get motors and drive trains that could cope with the abundant energy coming out of the sodium-nickel cells.
TNT tested two prototypes in London with a view to ordering 400 trucks over two years, worth £24 million. In fact it took 100 Newtons (costing £7 million) between 2009 and 2011. Marks & Spencer put one on trial in London, as did Royal Mail in 2007. With promising talks taking place with other large fleet operators, Smith hoped to achieve an annual turnover of £100 million. Late in 2006, it opened a new factory in Washington, County Durham, a few miles from its original home on the Team Valley industrial estate.
Alongside the Newton, Smith also produced the Edison, which had a GVW of 3.5 t and could therefore be driven on a car licence. It was based on the Ford Transit, although to what extent Ford was involved in the project is not clear; it was certainly not prepared to supply glider chassis as that would disrupt its production line. Therefore the base vehicles arrived at Smith complete and time and money had to be spent to take out the engine and gearbox before installing motor and battery. It was available in a variant of formats; Smith exhibited a crew cab version in 2011. Sainsbury’s bought 50 in 2007 to replace 20% of its local delivery fleet. DHL, Royal Mail, Starbucks and TNT also ran examples, which were part of a 250 strong ‘seed’ fleet that Smith produced. The firm was optimistic it could build 1,500 electrics in 2008 and as many as 10,000 by 2010.
In 2008 it signed a deal with Valance Technology of Austin, Texas, for the supply of lithium-phosphate batteries for all of its vehicles. The kit featured an integral control unit to optimise output. It also placed an order for 1,000 90 kW and 120 kW drive trains from Enova, another American company. At this point Smith’s attention turned away from the UK and towards America. The Newton was successfully demonstrated there and the firm entered a deal with Ford to develop the Ampere, a lithium-ion powered version of the long wheelbase Transit Connect for the US market. This project did not come to fruition because in 2009 Smith pulled out, reckoning that the electric light van market was becoming too competitive. It elected to focus on the heavier Newton and Edison models where it felt it had an edge. Over time the Newton range expanded to cover GVWs from 6.4 t to 12 t.
A small operation had been set up in Fresno, California, but in 2010 much bigger facilities were taken at the former Trans World Airlines maintenance base at Kansas City airport, with capacity to build 10,000 electrics a year. Newtons found their way into the fleets of AT&T, Coca-Cola, Frito-Lay, Pacific Gas & Electric, Staples and the US Marine Corps. This was the high point for Smith. Sales in the UK, US and other markets stalled in the face of the global financial crisis of 2008 and its after-effects. Operators were reluctant to take a chance on novel technology; economics won out over environmental kudos.
Smith’s most successful model was the Newton, of which 800 were sold. But in 2013, Avia Trucks was shut down by its then owner, Ashok-Leyland, owing to a general lack of demand for its products. This meant Smith had no source of glider chassis. By then Smith was effectively an American company with limited activities in the UK. The Washington factory was closed in 2017, and the US operation has since been mothballed.
Whereas the medium weight Stellantis group electric vans like the Vauxhall Vivaro-e are made by Sevel in France, the lighter models (like the Vauxhall Combo-e) are built at the Stellantis factory in Vigo, Spain.
The Combo-e was launched in the UK in 2021 as part of a revised small van range developed by Stellantis where ICE and electric drive were conceived as alternatives from the outset. Alongside the Combo-e, there are the Citroen e-Berlingo, the Peugeot e-Partner and the Toyota Pro-Ace City Electric – all fundamentally the same product and all marketed in the UK.
Individually, they offer an 803 kg payload within a vehicle length of up of 3.3 m or 4.4 m. On each model a common 100 kWh battery drives a 50 kW motor connected to the front wheels. That permits a top speed of 130 km/h or a potential range of 275 km.
In 2022 Stellantis completed its refreshed line-up with the introduction of the new Opel/Vauxhall Movano, Citroen Relay and Peugeot Boxer large panel vans. Again, the electric version was fundamental to the basic design, which was led by a team from Opel. The vans are being produced at the Stellantis plant in Gliwice factory in Poland, although the electrics are actually finished at a third-party factory.
All three models are being sold in the UK, including their electric variants. They are available in 6 m and 6.36 m long versions, with a 75 kWh battery and a 88 kW motor. The interior space can be up to 15 cu m and the maximum payload is 1,150 kg. The maximum range is 224 km.
The StreetScooter electric delivery vehicle was the outcome of a research project at RWTH Aachen University in Germany which aimed to identify the kinds of product that could profitably be made in high wage countries in the twenty-first century. The first prototype appeared in 2011 and attracted interest from Deutsche Post, which invested in the programme. The design was optimised for package delivery applications and fifty examples were put into trial service in 2013. Deutsche Post, through its DHL subsidiary, acquired StreetScooter in 2014. By that time around 200 vehicles had been built at an operation set up in a former Talbot/Bombardier plant in Aachen. DHL was already heavily committed to having the greenest possible fleet of vehicles and was prepared to be a pioneer.
Production expanded considerably, with output peaking at 4,200 units in 2018, most destined for DHL’s operations in Germany and continental Europe. DHL did not operate any StreetScooters in the UK, but 200 were ordered by Milk & More, for use on delivery rounds. Milk & More is a subsidiary of Müller, the German dairy products company. The vehicles were nothing like traditional British milk floats, but based on the Work L delivery van used by DHL and adapted for milk and grocery delivery.
The Work L StreetScooter had what looks like a typical normal control chassis cab, carrying an eight cubic metre box van body. The payload was 905 kg, and the range a fairly modest 75 miles. The left-hand drive configuration would help with kerbside access in the UK, but having hinged cab doors would surely slow down driver movement between driving and delivering.
The Milk & More examples may well have been the only StreetScooters sold to operators other than DHL. In the face of heavy costs and a lack of external sales, DHL announced the closure of the StreetScooter business in March 2020, having failed to find a buyer. Even so, by the time outstanding factory orders were completed, DHL would have fleet of over 15,000 StreetScooters. The trouble was, the operation was consuming over 300 million euros a year.
Tesla is already the world’s largest manufacturer of pure electric cars and has a growing presence in the UK, so it is a familiar name in Britain. In 2017 it unveiled the Tesla Semi large articulated truck, which is very much shaped for the North American market. However, it has developed a pick-up which may eventually be sold to British customers. The Cybertruck is a radical take on what a pick-up should be, with a stainless-steel body that makes it look like a stealth fighter. It will have a 1.6 t payload and up to 500 mile range. Its dramatic road performance and high price tag mean that if and when it comes to the UK it will probably find more buyers among rich-list celebrities than farmers and builders.
The VW Transporter is a well-established contender in the UK van market to which the e-Transporter 6.1 has been added. This vehicle is not entirely produced in-house. Instead VW partnered in 2019 with the Bavarian company, ABT e-Line. ABT takes the Transporter base vehicle and installs the electric drive system.
Its range is fairly modest at 82 miles, but it offers a higher standard of refinement than most of its rivals. The motor is rated at 83 kWh and 200 Nm, and the maximum payload is 996 kg. As with other electric vans derived from mass-produced front-wheel-drive diesel-powered machines, the battery pack sits in the wheelbase under the floor, and the motor and ancillaries are placed under the bonnet.
Volta Trucks is a start-up company, originating in Stockholm in 2019 and dedicated to producing a range of light and medium-weight electric trucks for goods delivery in and around towns and cities. Its ambition is to sell 27,000 units in 2025 and grow strongly beyond that. The concept is a custom-made approach to production, and the provision of a ‘truck-as-a-service’ model where vehicle availability in guaranteed.
In 2019 the 16 t and 18 t GVW Volta Zero models was announced. Customer evaluation trials are due to begin in London and Paris during 2022, with first deliveries of the 16 t variant by the end of the year, and production of the 18 t variant in mid-2023. The range is claimed to be 150 to 200 km. Series production will take place at Steyr in Austria.
Volta has partnered with Magtec for the supply of the drive systems for all its prototype vehicles, which are being built in Banbury. Prodrive and Conjure are also development partners, focussing on areas like road performance and driver information systems. The essential Volta Zero configuration is a cargo box, and in 2022 Paneltex was selected as the supplier of ambient cargo boxes for the 16 t and 18 t trucks.
A distinctive aspect of the Volta Zero is the cab. It is set so that the driver’s line of sight will be around 1.8 metres above the road service, so recognising pedestrians, cyclists and other hazards will be easy. A central driving position, and sliding cab doors, will facilitate safe egress to the pavement whichever side of the road the vehicle parks.
The next stage of range development came in December 2021 with the announcement of the 7.5 t and 12 t GVW models. This was in response to feedback from potential customers that vehicles in this weight category are essential for urban delivery work. They have been developed in the UK by Volta engineers and Astheimer Design in Warwick. They share the basic configuration of the larger machines, with a similar but subtly different cab appearance.
The 7.5 t variant will have a 4 x 2 layout, whereas the heavier vehicle will be 6 x 2. A fleet of pilot vehicles is due to enter customer trials in 2024, with series production beginning the year after. The prototypes are being built at E-VO (E-PPL Vehicle Operations) in Coventry.
By the end of 2021, Volta Trucks was accumulating orders. Petit Forestier (a large French renter of refrigerated delivery trucks) placed an order for 1,000, and soon after DB Schenker (a German logistics company) placed an order for 1,470. In total, by spring 2022, Volta Trucks declared it had orders for 6,000 lorries worth around €1.3 billion.
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