Road Test Blocks
Can an electric van cut it on a day’s multi-drop duties in London? Van Advisor finds out
First Drive Impressions
In theory it’s the perfect urban delivery tool. Quiet, cheap to run and smooth to operate, except that when you jump in the hot seat to start a days work, instead of seeing that your full tank of diesel can take you 500 miles, you discover that your chassis full of batteries will cover just 80 miles. For many vehicles that is perilously close to the fuel warning light coming on, so how would you feel starting your day on empty?
Chances are that if you do urban deliveries the most you will travel during your working day is 80 miles, and if you’re a busy tradesmen that number might be even less. Yet the physiological safety net of a full tank and the limitless supplies of fuel on the forecourts still makes diesel the preferred option both in and out of the city.
There are of course limitations to electric vehicles, namely their range and the need to recharge. In most cases an electric vehicle will have to return to base each night to recharge, where a flat battery will need to be plugged in for six to eight hours to fully recharge using a standard 13A power outlet. This obviously won’t suit every business, but many work vehicles, particularly on larger fleets, are returned to a central location each night for security and to prevent tax implications of incurring private mileage, giving ample time for a recharge ahead of the next use. The next issue is of course range which, depending on the battery pack, can vary immensely between electric vehicles. For operators with a fixed daily route switching to electric poses few risks providing you’re within the vehicle’s maximum range, but even for operators that may have variable routes, electric vehicles can still be the answer to kicking the diesel habit.
To challenge this theory, and determine once and for all that electric vans are suitable for a proper working life Van Advisor set out to put a Renault Kangoo ZE, the first mass produced electric van and former International Van of the Year, through its paces around London’s gruelling North and South Circular and mimic the arduous routine of a multi-drop vehicle.
Unlike many other electric vehicles that are prohibitively expensive, Renault offer a new approach to ownership for the Kangoo ZE, selling its customers the vehicle, and leasing them the most expensive component, the batteries. An entry-level, standard wheelbase Kangoo Core ML20 dCi75 diesel model costs £12,700, compared to the ZE which starts at £16,990 on top of which there is the battery rental, adding a minimum of £60 per month (depending on mileage). Factoring in the current average cost of electricity and the price of diesel, at £1.36 per litre, the cost of the difference between the two vans (including the cost of depreciation) over three years is just 6p per mile, with the diesel Kangoo costing 40p per mile compared to the ZE’s 46p. However, there are still savings to be made from operating an electric vehicle, with reduced servicing costs and longer service intervals in addition to the lower risk of a mechanical parts failure associated with an electric driveline. Factor in the 20% discount from the government Plug-In Van Grant incentive and that same pence per mile cost is reduced to just 33p.
Despite the weight of its battery pack, the Kangoo ZE still compares favourably to its diesel equivalent on the job, with our long wheelbase Maxi test van able to transport a 3m3 maximum load volume and 650kg payload compared to the diesel Kangoo’s 2.8m3 and 825kg.
The official European driving cycle range for the Kangoo ZE is 106 miles, however, according to Renault 70% of van drivers cover less than 60 miles per day, which should be more than enough to keep us lapping the North and South Circular during a full day’s work.
Our electric Kangoo’s working day starts at 7:30am on the South Circular in Putney, where it has been charging all night. Over its 8 hour charge cycle the Source London charging point indicates it has amassed 21 kWh of electricity, taking the dashboard’s battery charge needle from the very bottom of the red zone to its highest point and an indicated range of 73 miles. While that may not sound a long way from the claimed 106 mile range, the Kangoo calculates its mileage based on an average of the driving style efficiency prior to the last two full recharges, giving us a useful real world view of just how far the Kangoo is likely to travel.
The ZE pulls out into typical London morning traffic, heading anti-clockwise towards the Woolwich ferry. For those unfamiliar with London’s inner ring road system, unlike the A406 North Circular Road which has large sections of dual carriageways, the A205 southern section wanders its way through South London and is regularly interrupted by traffic lights, pedestrian crossings and larger major roads.
Traffic through picturesque Putney is notoriously busy in the morning, and today is no exception, but being stuck in traffic in an electric vehicle is somehow less stressful than in other vehicles. It’s also worth pointing out that this isn’t an economy mission, the radio and (thanks to the wonderful British Summer weather) windscreen wipers and heating are all on, so the rush hour experience is identical to the cars, vans and trucks in the same queue.
To better replicate the working life of a tough inner-city van, the Kangoo is loaded with 325kg (50% payload) and every few miles the ZE will be performing ‘a drop’. Traffic regulations permitting the engine will be turned off, and restarted, mimicking the daily routine of thousands of diesel vans delivering items from food to parcels to washing machines across the country. Barely ten miles into the journey the Kangoo has already made 4 stops, and is now a stones throw from Herne Hill Velodrome, where a young Bradley Wiggins learnt his trade. It’s taken well over an hour to cover that distance, but the slow speeds and stop-start nature of the traffic has meant that the Kangoo has rarely edged into the red zone on the dashboard’s econometer display and is still good for 65 more miles.
After passing through Catford, Eltham and lastly Woolwich, the Kangoo arrives at the Thames and joins the surprisingly modest queue for the ferry crossing. The electric Kangoo has so far used just 4kWh of electricity to cover 20 miles at an average of 11mph, the range also appears to be tracking on target with 52 miles remaining. Up next is Barking, Redbridge and Walthomstow, taking in a number of 50mph dual carriageways.
In the early days of electric vehicles many were limited to speeds of around 30mph. Fortunately the Kangoo ZE is a proper van with impressive performance and is certainly not confined to the city because of its speed. The continuous drive makes progress smooth, and the instantaneous 226Nm of torque ensures the Kangoo ZE is a match for any diesel equivalent, comfortably conquering the ups and downs of the many overpasses without the need to stray into the battery-sapping red zone. As the ZE reaches the bottom of the M1 at Brent Cross the on-board computer, which constantly keeps the driver updated with range, remaining battery capacity and average and instantaneous energy consumption, indicates that the higher speeds of the North Circular have increased our energy consumption from an average of 4.14MPkWh to 3.96MPkWh. The range indicator still says the ZE is on course to cover over 70 miles, while more encouragingly we have used just 9kWh of energy over the past 40 miles.
The Ace Café, Wembley and the A40 junction at Hanger Lane all sail by and before long the Kangoo is crossing Kew Bridge and back on the A205 in Putney. Once again the Kangoo is tracking close to its expected range and with 50 miles covered there are still 23 miles left in reserve. The average is back up to 4.08MPkWH and so too is the average speed at 15.9mph. One complete lap of London down, and 12kWh have been consumed leaving 8kWh of energy left before the Kangoo should be retired. Factoring in the small amount of energy recouped by the regenerative braking system that should also leave enough in reserve to find a charging point.
Five hours into our multidrop shift and the traffic is considerably lighter. The Renault has dealt with the changing traffic conditions admirably, delivering a comfortable and enjoyable ride along with quick, yet serene, performance from the 60hp driveline. The slightly higher speeds have also marginally improved our predicted range, and for the first time the ZE looks on course to surpass its estimated starting range, and with 60.2 miles under its belt there is an indicated 17 mile range left.
As three miles appears on the range display, the electric Kangoo’s indicator finally turns to three dashed lines and a repetitive and ominous warning beep begins. Total consumption has reached 19kWh, and although anxiety is creeping in, the Kangoo has already notched up 7 solid hours of work throughout the day. The continual stop-start traffic, and the routine of our counterfeit delivery schedule has done little to affect its working day, so with 79.9 miles on the journey trip computer and 19kWh of energy consumed, the Renault’s odyssey is finally over.
There is undoubtedly several miles left the lithium-ion batteries , but in the real world you’re unlikely to want to push your luck at the risk of being stranded. Depending on your business a total of 40 drops for the day may also be unrealistic, but nevertheless the ZE experiment has shown that when faced with a tough working day electric vans are now more than capable of performing the job of a diesel. With financial benefits of no road tax and reduced maintenance, a smoother journey for the driver, and zero tailpipe emissions the Kangoo ZE can work for any business.