Vauxhall has produced an electric van with the functionality and flexibility of its ICE equivalents.
As electric vans become more common it will soon become apparent that not all EVs are made equal. While we’re all familiar with the parlance of the combustion engine – horsepower, engine size, torque – the language and details of an electric light commercial are still new to many.
Power is kW, which can be translated to hp, while torque is still measured in Nm, but then there are measures specific to the electric power trains. From kWh battery sizes to charging options measured in kW it is a whole new way of looking at the requirements of a van. Thankfully, the really important parts – the practical elements – of these new eLCVs are almost unchanged and so too is the terminology.
You will know that batteries and motors add weight, but removing engines and transmissions mean that due to improvements in battery technology there is now little difference in weight with internal combustion engine (ICE) equivalents.
With a new age of dual-purpose vans coming to market, many have been created as ICE vehicles and adapted for electric powertrain options. The resulting benefits are often outweighed by some more obvious shortcomings of these bastardised vans.
Fortunately, the Vauxhall Vivaro-e has been designed from the off with both ICE and EV in mind. That’s not to say it is perfect in its architecture, but it starts the fight with two free hands as opposed to having one tied behind its back.
Based heavily on the Vauxhall Corsa-e, the small Vauxhall passenger car, the driveline fits comfortably between the chassis rails of the Vauxhall Vivaro-e.
Power comes from a 100kW (136hp) motor producing 260Nm of torque, but more crucial is the option of two different battery sizes that allow up to 205 miles of range. A 50kWh option made up of 18 modules consisting of 216 individual cells has a claimed range of 143 miles according to the WLTP testing cycle for electric vehicles. The larger 75kWh pack will enable the Vivaro-e to cover 205 miles and has 324 cells split over 27 modules. Importantly, though, it gives the Vivaro-e much more flexibility and should help it appeal to a wider audience. Cooling for the batteries comes via the van’s own in-cab cooling system, which Vauxhall says helps to increase their range and lifetime.
Being an electric van where the full amount of torque is available from just 300rpm all the way until 3,672rpm, it’s exceptionally quick. Unladen, the Vivaro-e flies off the line, and we have no doubt it would still prove fast even with a full payload on board. While limited to 81mph to preserve the range, like a 0-60mph time, it’s not a figure you’ll necessarily need or care about for your van, but it’s nice to know the Vivaro-e can move along at a decent speed.
With a sensible range, and decent performance, there must be some other catch. It is an EV after all – you’d expect there to be some compromises.
Available with two body lengths and two roof heights the Vivaro-e is just as flexible as a diesel van with a load volume of up to 6.6m3. Because the batteries are between the chassis rails, the total capacity of the loadspace is completely unchanged, allowing 4,959mm lengths in the L1 model and up to 5,309mm in the L2 when using the load-through bulkhead. Otherwise, the standard maximum length capacity of the van is 1,512mm for the L1 and 2,862mm for the L2.
Payloads are equally impressive, as replacing the engine and transmission with batteries and a motor doesn’t significantly harm it’s capacities. All Vivaro-e vans have a gross vehicle weight of 3.1t, and depending on spec you can get a maximum 1,226kg payload out of a L1H1 panel van with the 50kWh battery. Specifying the larger 75kWh unit brings that figure down to 1,000kg. Those figures are just 130kg less than a diesel-engined Vivaro, a far cry from the disadvantage that battery electric vehicles used to have when compared to combustion-engine vans.
A final string to the Vivaro-e’s already impressive bow is that it is also (currently) the only electric vehicle of this size that can pull a trailer of up to 1.0t.
Pascal Martens, Opel/Vauxhall director of light commercial vehicles, said ahead of our drive in the Vivaro-e that the company has “developed an electric vehicle that keeps the functionality and flexibility of our well-known vans”, and he’s not wrong. British Gas, which has long been an advocate of electric vehicles having taken numerous large fleet orders for EVs, most notably Nissan eNV200s, has already committed to putting 1,000 Vivaro-e vans on fleet by the end of next year.
Orders have been open since June and the first deliveries are expected next month, when customers can all use the Vauxhall Connect e-remote control. This allows users to control certain functions on the light commercial from their smartphones as well as see battery status levels, charging times, and be able to pre-programme the air-conditioning.
There is, of course, the cost to consider, as the electric van is a great deal more expensive. It’s nearest entry-level equivalent is a Vivaro L1 Dynamic 3100 120hp with a base price (ex VAT) of £24,310, which compares to the Vivaro-e L1 Dynamic at £34,390.
Our test van is a Dynamic with upgraded battery pack, and first impressions are very good. The Vivaro, since being updated after the takeover from PSA, has improved dramatically, adopting the Citroen Dispatch and Peugeot Expert platform. It looks modern, and feels grown up and sophisticated on the inside, even in this, the lower trim level of two (the other is Elite). It is though, the driving and performance of the Vivaro-e that will be of more interest. Drive selection for forward and reverse are made through a nicely designed and substantial-feeling rocker switch on the lower centre of the dash where the gearstick would normally be. Above and below are two buttons for Park and B mode, which activates a higher level of regenerative braking. To the left is a Drive Mode selector – again on a rocker switch, which cycles between Normal, Power and Eco modes. Normal gives you 80% power and torque, while Power permits the full allocation. Eco mode limits power to 60% and torque to 70%, which is enough to really hold back on the surge and urgency you get from burying the accelerator pedal. The Vivaro-e is quick to respond and quick to get moving too. In Normal mode it feels fast, but in Power mode you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in a van with a lot more power than 136hp.
Regenerative braking is mild in standard mode, so to really maximise the range you will either have to begin coasting a lot sooner than you would think or make use of the B mode button. It applies enough regenerative braking to activate the brake lights, but still feels a little short in retardation compared to say, the Mercedes-Benz eVito. Unlike the eVito the Vivaro-e also doesn’t have multiple stages of regeneration – it’s either in B mode or not. Depending on your driving style this might not be a problem, as those who hop from accelerator to brake pedal won’t feel short-changed, but for those that like to feel some “engine braking” multi-level regeneration does allow you to both slow the vehicle and coast for the most efficient approach to an obstacle. Nevertheless, the Vivaro-e does recharge its batteries as you use the footbrake to slow, so it is not wasting the kinetic energy unnecessarily. Over a test drive of
43 miles, the Vivaro-e used around a third of its range, dropping by 61 miles from a starting range indication of 184 miles to 123 miles. While this is by no means scientific, the averaged 2.4 miles per kW read-out on the dash for the journey does show that even the smaller of the two batteries should see you achieve more than 100 miles.
While there are smaller areas in which the Vauxhall Vivaro-e could be improved, as a first entry into the electric light commercial vehicle market it’s an impressively good one. Range, performance and comfort are far greater than expected.
The big fleet order from British Gas could be the shot in the arm electric vans need, and the Vivaro-e will likely be riding the crest of the wave.
Vauxhall Vivaro-e L1 Dynamic 75kWh
Price (ex VAT) £34,390
Load length 2,512mm
Load width 1,636mm
Load height 1,397mm
Load volume 5.3m3
Gross payload 1,000kg
Fuel economy (combined) n/a
On the subject of electric vans, I’ve been getting increasingly irritated by the definition of ‘fast charging’. Technically, a 7kW charger is a fast charger, but as I discovered when plugging in a near-empty Mercedes-Benz eVito it was anything but.
Charging to full capacity would have seen me sitting in that car park for more than seven hours, by which time I’d have either died of boredom or certainly had my collar felt by the law. Thankfully, the new Mercedes eSprinter will have 20kW or 80kW charging, while the Vivaro-e will be capable of 100kW rapid charging and support 7kW and 11kW supplies as well. Obviously, if you are to own or operate an EV you will install the necessary equipment, but the 7kW max you will get from a single-phase supply doesn’t fit the bill for fast charging in my eyes. Hopefully, as the market matures and people become more aware of the requirements that term will be dropped, but for me ‘rapid’ is the new ‘fast’ and the only word I want to hear when faced with a lengthy pit stop.
George Barrow is the UK judge for the International Van of the Year, the prestigious prize awarded by leading European LCV journalists.