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AdVANtages to going electric

Author : Paul Wolfe

Commercial vehicles are now as much a tool of the trade as a testing kit, so Paul Wolfe investigated issues affecting the modern white van man.

Commercial vehicles are now as much a tool of the trade as a testing kit, so Paul Wolfe investigated issues affecting the modern white van man

With ‘green’ being the word on everyone’s lips, owners of commercial vehicles are having to comply to changing requirements.

Recently, the Government named seven ultra-low carbon vans that will qualify for a discount of up to £8,000 as part of the ‘Plug-In Van Grant’ incentive; amongst which are the Ford Transit Connect Electric, Mercedes-Benz Vito E-CELL, and Renault Kangoo ZE. The incentive aims to stimulate the market for ultra-low carbon commercial vehicles as it establishes itself in the UK.

“The Plug-In Van Grant is excellent news for van drivers, operators, businesses and the industry. The savings on the initial purchase price, coupled with the tax advantages and very low running costs make a plug-in van an attractive proposition – particularly for those running local and back-to-base services,” said Paul Everitt, SMMT Chief Executive. “Home to a high level of low carbon R&D and manufacturing activity, the UK is well placed to take full advantage of the ultra-low carbon vehicle sector. Incentives that support the development of a flourishing market will add to our competitive advantage.”

Business Minister Mark Prisk added: “Vans are essential to the smooth running of so many businesses and contribute enormously to the UK economy. An upfront purchase grant, when combined with lower running costs and tax benefits, can make switching to an ultra low carbon van an attractive choice for those businesses. Now there are seven different models eligible for that support, van buyers should be able to choose one they find easy on the eye as well as on the wallet.”

Already on sale, or arriving this year, each van is eligible for a 20% price reduction up to £8,000 with VAT businesses able to reclaim the full list price VAT on top of the reduction. Vans qualifying for the Grant must emit less than 75g/km CO2, be capable of travelling at least 60 miles between charges (10 miles in electric mode for hybrid vans), reach speeds of more than 50mph and meet European safety standards.

This grant will come as welcome news to drivers operating in the London Low Emission Zone (LEZ). Introduced in 2008, the aim of LEZ was to encourage the most polluting heavy diesel vehicles driving in the capital to become cleaner. The LEZ covers most of Greater London and to drive within it without paying a daily charge means that vehicles must meet certain emissions standards that limit the amount of particulate matter coming from the exhaust.

On 3 January 2012, the LEZ emissions standards became more stringent, meaning that even more vehicles are affected, and those that were already affected need to meet tighter emissions standards.

Vehicles now have to comply with Euro 3 emission standards as minimum when travelling within the LEZ. Non-compliance results in daily charges and fines and daily charges can be up to £200 for larger vehicles. Fines for non-compliance can even be as high as £1000.

For those travelling into London on the odd occasion, it can still result in prohibitive operating costs. A van travelling into the capital once a week and paying the £200 charge on each trip can result in an annual cost of £10,400. The LEZ emissions standards affect all roads within the Greater London area, including those at Heathrow and parts of the M1 and M4. However, the M25 is not included. Cameras within the LEZ are able to read vehicle number plates, checking them against a database compiled using data from the DVLA and VOSA.

The earlier-mentioned Mercedes-Benz Vito E-CELL van has proven its worth in Berlin and Stuttgart where 100 of the battery-driven electric vehicles have been tested in customer use. They took to the roads in the German capital in Autumn 2010, and in Stuttgart at the beginning of 2011. The two projects, each with 50 Vito E-CELLs, are intended to run over a period of four years.

The projects serve to demonstrate how the automotive industry, together with commercial enterprises, energy suppliers and policy makers, can work together to provide crucial impetus to advance electric mobility in Germany. The German Federal Ministry for the Environment and Nature Conservation is lending its support to the Electrification of Mercedes-Benz Small Vans in Development and Production project (EMKEP) in Berlin. In Stuttgart, the Integrated Concept for Sustainable Electric Mobility project (IKONE) is being funded by the German Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development. The two promotional initiatives are part of the German federal government’s second economic stimulus package.

Mercedes-Benz and energy suppliers Vattenfall (Berlin) and EnBW (Stuttgart) have begun the implementation of new technologies in vehicles and their charging systems at both locations. The energy suppliers have now provided charging stations to operators at their depots.

Intelligent charging technology is used, based on the Smart Charge Communication Unit (SCCU) in the Vito E-CELL. The technology optimises the CO2 balance of the vans with certified green electricity, or even surplus wind energy (Wind-to-Vehicle/W2V). The charging technology can also be programmed to lower electricity tariffs to impact operating costs favourably. Where operators use several Vito E-CELL vans, the charging procedures are graded through a process of local charge management to ensure that the grid capacity is not overextended.

Initial concerns regarding a limited range were not substantiated in practice. The vehicles proved capable of covering at least 50 miles on a full battery charge, including in winter.

The speed of the Vito E-CELL is electronically limited to 55mph to preserve a maximum range. This allows the vans to be driven with ease within the flow of truck traffic on occasional trips on the autobahn. Often, the maximum speed is not reached: in Berlin, only 30% of electric vans were reported to reach top speed on a daily basis. Analyses revealed that, in most cases, the speed of the Vito E-CELL did not exceed 34mph in both cities. Speeds were largely in the 10-20mph range.

The electric engine, power electronics, converter and AC/DC charger are housed beneath the bonnet. The electric engine develops 60 kW, with a peak torque of 280 Nm. The power is transferred to the front wheels and the lithium-ion traction batteries are located beneath the load compartment floor. The nominal voltage is 360 V, with a capacity of 36 kWh.

Mercedes-Benz is preparing to deploy the Vito in other regions of Germany, and in most western European countries as well.

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