ELECTRIC cars are still a rare sight on Britain’s roads but electric vans are rarer still.
Renault has had a decent go with the Kangoo ZE – winner of our Best Green Van Award 2014 – but now Volkswagen is taking the subject seriously as well.
Volkswagen has been showing off two VW electric vans in Germany – one that would be easy to put into production, and one that’s been used in trials with important customers to test how practical electric commercials can be in day-to-day use.
Business Vans was there to bring you the full story.
Volkswagen e-load up
First, the Volkswagen e-load up. This is nothing more or less than a light van conversion of Volkswagen’s tiny electric city car, the e-up (if you want to know more about this car, click here: The Volkswagen e-Up – don’t worry Dad, batteries are included.
The rear seats and trim are stripped out, and the load area is lined with materials more suitable for commercial use.
There’s a wire mesh bulkhead that reaches the roof-lining, so the e-load up can safely be filled to its full interior height while preserving rearward visibility when there isn’t a full load on board.
Since the e-up’s battery pack encroaches only minimally upon the cabin, this means the rear loading volume is an impressive 900 litres – just under the volume of a Ford Fiesta Van.
One interesting point – most small supermini-based vans use a three-door body-shell, but the e-load up VW showed us was a five-door model. According to Markus Arand from Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, this is much more convenient in terms of loading and unloading, or fitting in awkwardly-shaped items.
The e-load up we saw also seemed to have kept many of the high-quality trim materials in the forward cabin that make the standard up and e-up such pleasant places to spend time – it will be interesting to see whether any production version follows the same approach or offers something more basic instead.
The passenger-carrying e-up is already on sale, so there are no surprises when it comes to the e-load up’s drivetrain.
There’s a 60kW/82PS electric motor which can whisk the e-load up to 62 mph in 12.4 seconds on the way to a top speed of just over 80mph.
Range, according to official tests, is rated at about 100 miles, although this is likely to vary substantially in real world conditions according to driving style, temperature and weather.
Even with a big battery pack under the rear floor, the e-load up only weighs 1164kg (heavy for an up, light for an electric vehicle), which means it can carry 306kg (less than a MINI Clubvan at 500kg).
Will we see the e-load up in Volkswagen showrooms alongside the Caddy, the Crafter and the rest?
Certainly the modifications compared with the standard plug-in up are minimal – it all depends on there being “the right level of demand.”
If the e-load up does arrive in the UK, the initial price can be expected to be pretty steep; the passenger-car version of the e-up costs £19,250 including VAT, even after the UK government’s £5000 plug-in car grant.
Low, low running costs
On the other hand, running costs should be far lower than a petrol or diesel van. A charge from the mains will only cost a couple of quid and servicing should be cheaper too, as there are few fluids or consumable items on an electric vehicle.
Brakes have a light time of it too, as most of the stopping on an electric car or van comes through the drive-train’s regenerative braking, which dumps power back into the batteries.
And electric power is great for the stop-start pattern of use typical of delivery vehicles, and relaxing in town traffic as well.
If the e-load up seems like a good bet for production, much of the ground has been prepared by an electric workhorse that probably won’t make it into the showroom, at least in its current form.
Volkswagen eCaddy fleet trials
Volkswagen has been running a small fleet of eCaddy models with customers since 2011, with the aim of proving the concept for modern electric vans and getting valuable feedback from real-world use.
As the name suggests, the eCaddy is an electric version of the familiar Caddy van. It looks just like a normal Caddy but it has a slightly raised load-area floor to accommodate the batteries, which occupy the space normally reserved for the tank on the natural gas powered versions sold in some markets. Practicality and space are only marginally affected.
Initially, there were 11 eCaddys on test, but this number has risen to about 40, which are being run in Germany and the Netherlands by customers such as the German postal service.
Volkswagen says the feedback has been positive, and companies are especially interested in electric vans for the Zero Emissions Zones that are being introduced in increasing numbers of European cities.
A quick drive in the eCaddy reveals a well-developed vehicle that feels like it could be offered for sale tomorrow – power delivery is quiet and smooth, and acceleration should be well up to the job of keeping up with busy urban traffic.
The main limitation of the current eCaddy is that it is based on the same platform as the last-generation Golf, which is nearing the end of its life and doesn’t offer the same flexibility for accommodating different drivetrains as the MQB architecture used by the current Golf.
But it would be very surprising if VW forgot the positive eCaddy experience altogether. The company has been teasing the world with a new e-van concept, the e-Co-Motion. which has a slightly smaller footprint than the eCaddy but manages to squeeze in a bit more load space, as well as lots of in-built intelligence designed to make life easier.
If, one day, there’s an electric van in your future, it could look a lot like that.