Making a long-range electric van costs a lot of money and requires several heavy batteries, which makes them uneconomical to produce currently.
LEVC thinks that, with the new VN5, it has the answer for fleets that require zero-emission capability, but need to be able to cover large distances in short time frames.
Based on the famous London taxi, and sporting the same eCity range-extender technology and 10.1m turning circle, the VN5 is able to drive into a city and operate with zero-emissions for around 60 miles then drive back out without requiring multiple charging stops.
How does it work? Well, there’s a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine under the bonnet that can fire up and recharge the van while it’s driving. Unlike a plug-in hybrid, the engine doesn’t drive the wheels – that’s always done by the electric motor.
The 31kWh battery is bigger than the one you’ll find in some electric cars and provides enough range to suit the needs of most urban operators. With a full tank of petrol added to the mix, LEVC claims that the van will be able to cover 300 miles.
Drivers will still have to plug the VN5 in to maximise efficiency. It’ll take about 14 hours off a three-pin plug and five hours if connected to a 7kW wallbox. But, stop off at a rapid charger and the battery can be topped up in just 30 minutes.
The concept behind the VN5 enables operators to put aside any range anxiety or charging concerns and focus on keeping the vehicle moving.
It provides a payload of 830kg and has a 5.5 cubic metre loadspace, with a side door and steel bulkhead.
First impressions of the VN5 are that it’s bigger than you might expect. Despite being based on a taxi, the van is 400mm longer to maximise its carrying capacity.
As LEVC is owned by Geely, there’s an array of Volvo-sourced items throughout. That three-cylinder petrol engine, for example, is from the XC40, and the steering wheel, infotainment and switchgear will be immediately familiar to any aficionados of the Swedish brand.
Pricing starts at £38,000 (ex VAT) after the Government’s £8,000 plug-in van grant in taken into account, which places it among similarly sized electric vans from the PSA stable.
Specification levels are impressive across the three trim levels. With air con, LED headlights and keyless start on all versions.
The drive is impressive. With power always coming from the electric motor, it accelerates cleanly with just a faint whine from the 150PS motor.
The driver can select whether the VN5 depletes its battery or retains charge for later use. The vehicle can also do this using geofencing, if fleet operators prefer.
When the petrol engine is operational, it’s barely audible. Once moving, you’d be hard pressed to tell – performance and drivability is indifferent.
During our time with the van we were seeing fuel consumption at a rate of about 70mpg, not the 314mpg claimed figure, but still significantly better than you’d get from a diesel van. If you stick to EV mode all the time, then the van has a realistic range of about 58-60 miles.
Plenty of fleet operators, including Royal Mail and DPD are trialling the new VN5 already.