Electric LCVs may have been around for several years but until recently they have occupied a position on the periphery of the marketplace.
Local authorities may have found uses for them, and firms with a wish to ‘be seen to be green’ shouted loudly about investing in a few token examples, but mainstream fleets looked at the bottom-line practicalities and steered clear.
But now a perfect storm is gathering that looks as though it could propel EVs into the mainstream.
The anti-diesel lobby is growing more vociferous, clean-air zones and congestion charge areas are forcing conventionally-powered vehicles out of urban hubs, and other alternative fuels do not look to be as viable as plug-in power. Most importantly, range anxiety is receding as the technology improves, enabling electric vans to cover more miles between charges.
Renault has arguably contributed more to the development of electric LCVs than any other manufacturer. It launched the first plug-in Kangoo light van in 2011 but, despite the government’s provision of a 20% Plug-in Van Grant, operators were not convinced by its practicality as a real-world working van.
But last year Renault upgraded the Z.E., installing new 33kW batteries and a 60hp motor that increased range by 50% to 170 miles on the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC), or 124 miles under real-world conditions, although the brand admits this can fall to 75 miles in winter. Full battery charging time from empty has been reduced from eight to six hours and a one-hour top-up charge can deliver an extra 22 miles, according to the manufacturer.
Renault claims payload of up to 650kg for both the Kangoo Z.E. and long-wheelbase Maxi Z.E. and load volumes of up to 3.5m3 and 4.6m3, respectively correspond to the diesel van equivalents. Our crew van offers a 539kg payload and 2.4m3 load area.
So, has the time finally come for the Z.E to make its mark as a viable urban operator? We have taken delivery of a Kangoo Maxi Van Z.E. 33 crew van to find out.
First impressions are favourable. I have so far covered a route taking in a brief stretch of the M25 motorway and a longer stint of the A2 linking Kent to London, but the majority of my time has been spent negotiating the streets of south-east London. On these urban routes the one-speed automatic transmission makes for a serene and stress-free drive, a feeling enhanced by the near silence of the ride – although the sense of tranquility is disturbed at speeds of under 20mph by the spooky whine of the ‘Z.E.Voice’ that alerts otherwise potentially unsuspecting pedestrians to the vehicle’s approach.
Much of the harshness in acceleration and braking that historically characterised driving electric vehicles has been ironed out in the latest Z.E. Instant torque means you have to be careful not to stamp on the throttle however, while regenerative braking means you quickly get used to not pressing your foot on the brake half as often as you do in a conventional vehicle because the van slows itself automatically when the accelerator pedal is released. In fact, when the Z.E. is confined to urban areas, a careful driving style with Eco mode selected can make it feel as though the charge is not diminishing at all.
Out of town, however, and the van can feel like a fish out of water as it struggles to keep up with fast-moving motorway traffic while chomping through its range capacity.
So far though, the Z.E. has operated well within its comfort zone with a return commute of 38 miles using up less than a third of its charge.
Report Card: City driving = 4/5
The Z.E. is easy to manouevre and offers decent load-carrying capacity to urban operators.
Renault Kangoo Maxi Z.E. 33 Crew Van
Official range 170 miles (NEDC)
Our average range 120 miles (est)
Price Range (ex VAT, inc. PiVG) £14,194-£16,778*
Price (ex VAT) (inc PiVG) £15,334*
Service intervals 2yrs/36,000mls
Load length 1,361mm
Load width (min/max) 1,145/1,219mm
Load bay height 1,129mm
Load volume 2.4m3
Gross payload 539kg
Engine power 60hp
Gearbox 1-spd auto
* Plus battery rent from £49 pcm