Modec Electric LCV — April 2007

Date: Friday, April 20, 2007


Whether or not you subscribe to the current legislative and media hype about human-based CO2 emissions being the cause of the end of the world as we know it by a week next Friday, the fact remains that any responsible society should be looking to keep the air we breathe as clean as possible.
With the government's erroneous fixation on CO2 emissions and the resultant taxation high on the agenda the only current 'green', economic methods of propulsion for light commercial vehicles are electricity, compressed natural gas and liquid petroleum gas.

What Van? has driven many electric vans over the years, but has remained unconvinced by their practical potential; lack of performance, range and payload.

Modec is a new company based in Coventry, the heartland of what used to be the UK's automative industry, and it is producing what could well be the best current solution to a politically generated problem.

First unveiled at the CV Show in 2006, Modec's modern-looking sub-7.5 tonne electric urban delivery vehicle is now rolling off the production line — as a chassis cab, box van or dropside/tipper — and was officially launched in March by serial bandwagon-jumper and Tory leader David Cameron.

'Zebra' Power

Currently produced as a single cab chassis the Modec is powered by a Nickel Sodium Chloride ('Zebra') battery pack with a storage potential of 85kW-hours. The rear wheels are driven via a constantly variable transmission by a water-cooled electric motor with a nominal rating of 102 bhp and developing 221 lb/ft of torque, essentially from zero revs. Top speed is electronically limited to 50mph.

Front suspension is independent with coil springs, dampers and an anti-roll bar while the rear beam axle, trailing arms and Panhard rod are kept honest by coil springs and dampers.

Brakes are disc at the front with drums at the rear and ABS, along with EBD (Electronic Braking Distribution), is fitted as standard. Regenerative braking is also part of the package and helps to top up the battery pack while the vehicle is in use.

The steering is electro-hydraulic with 4.6 turns lock-to-lock and on the standard 3,600mm wheelbase version — a long-wheelbase will be available later in the year — provides a tight 10.8m turning diameter kerb-to-kerb.

Weights & Measures   

With a gross vehicle weight of 5,490kg and a kerb weight of 3,490, Modec's chassis cab has a gross payload potential of 2,000kg.

Overall external width of the standard chassis cab is 2,250mm including the truck-like mirrors and it stands 2,620mm high. Overall length is 5,677mm, but this will grow to 5,975mm with the introduction of the extended chassis later in the year.

When it comes to the 'van' version, Modec is quoting a load space of 12.0m3, states that box dimensions can be tailored to a customers requirements.

Cab Comfort

The standard chassis cab provides seating for two and access is via a rear, central sliding door; there is a gap between the cab and the rear bodywork.

Two tilt- and height-adjustable KAB seats are provided which have been custom designed for Modec. The bulk of the instruments and controls are housed in the centre console which goes from the floor to the top of the dashboard, including the driver information regarding speed and remaining charge.

Indicators, lights and windscreen wipers are controlled from conventional stalks on either side of the tiltable steering wheel.

Storage space is provided above the vast windscreen.

Costs

The vehicle range starts at around £25,000 and the battery pack is provided on a rental basis. The rental charge is based on the expected mileage, similar to contract hire of a vehicle, with a surcharge for excess mileage at the end of the rental period.

The battery pack can be fully charged overnight and will provide an operational range of about 100 miles, although it can be higher depending on load carried and the type of driving involved. Stop-start driving on a delivery run will result in higher mileage per charge than constant running at 50mph, for example.

Modec reckons that electricity costs equate to about 3p to 4p a mile, or less than £5 per day for a full charge. On a whole life basis, the costs of ownership on a pence/mile basis works out less than running an equivalent diesel. Modec states that it all depends on the exact mileage and pattern of usage, but is likely to be around 40p/mile inclusive of all associated costs.

Bear in mind that these vehicles pay no road tax, are exempt from congestion tax charges like in London and do not require an Operator's Licence.

On the Road

Anyone familiar with a parcel van with walk-through access to the cab will immediately feel at home in a Modec dropside. There is no conventional side access to the cab.

Having climbed into the cab with the rear sliding door closed it all feels a bit strange initially, however. There are no instruments nestling behind the steering wheel — the instrument pack visible in the picture is for test purposes only — and it's a bit like sitting in a gold fish bowl thanks to the huge amounts of glass.

Once on the move, however, and it all seems to make sense; except for the lack of engine noise, of course. Drive is selected using the gearstick sited to the right of the seat next to the handbrake lever. That's about it really, the rest is straight forward.

We were impressed by the performance, far more so than with any other electric LCV we have driven. It feels spritely and reaches its top speed of 50mph without fuss and seems willing to stay there even on uphill sections.

The steering has enough feel while not being heavy, the brakes work well and the ride seems okay for an unladen dropside; a bit bouncy in places, but not too bad.

Visibility is excellent although it did take us a while to become used to the high-mounted, electrically adjustable external rear view mirrors, but they do work extremely well.

Combine the excellent all-round vision with the remarkably small turning circle for a vehicle of this size and you have a remarkably manoeuvrable light commercial.

Modec provides a three-year/100,000 mile warranty in conjunction with Multipart Supply Chain Solutions, backed up by a nationwide breakdown recovery service. Servicing is recommended every 20,000 miles, although costs should be low thanks to so few moving parts.

VERDICT

Modec has produced what is easily the best electric light commercial vehicle we have come across so far. It has a design integrity which is far ahead of anything else on the market and it has a practical operating range. It certainly makes sense for a company looking to avoid congestion tax on a daily basis or one wishing to have a low noise impact when making home deliveries — like Tesco.com which is currently evaluating Modec vans — but we remain convinced that a hybrid drive system using a small diesel engine running either compressed natural gas or liquid petroleum gas in tandem with an electric motor is the most economically viable route at the moment. If only there was such a vehicle. In the meantime, Modec is well worth investigating.

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