British Gas spent last winter testing 28 Nissan electric vans, and has now placed a 100-vehicle order with plenty more to follow. Paul Barker looks back at the audition to discover what made the e-NV200s a success
With the car and LCV industry in the learning phase when it comes to electric vehicles, British Gas took a bold step last year in setting up a six-month trial to run 28 Nissan e-NV200s with its home- service engineers. The exercise was designed to see if EVs can work on the firm’s 13,000-vehicle fleet, and took place in Scotland, London and the North-East over the winter.
“Peak time is the coldest time for British Gas and there’s no point in having a vehicle that doesn’t work so well in cold weather,” British Gas’s MD of supply chain and procurement Rob Morton told What Van?
The trial was a cooperation between British Gas, Nissan and leasing and fleet management firm Hitachi, which funded and managed the vehicles. Gateshead college was also involved, developing a training programme for the 28 engineers taking part in the trial and helping to choose the volunteers that “best stressed the vehicle and pushed it to extremes”, says Morton.
Hitachi provided a 24-hour helpline to support the drivers, but Hitachi’s British Gas fleet engineer Steve Winter said it was only used three times across the whole trial – twice for punctures and once when an engineer needed help finding a rapid-charge point.
The maximum mileage achieved in a single day was 110 miles, including a top-up charge
at lunchtime, while the average daily usage was around 40 miles. Winter points out the vans were fully loaded at all times, so the range wasn’t helped by a load that diminished during the day. In total, the vehicles covered 60,000 miles.
British Gas claims the vehicles work on a financial level, although it is still working through the data. The trial gave Nissan some minor development feedback as to how to modify the vehicle ahead of its imminent full production.
“We’ve changed [our thinking] a little with the ergonomics, where the switches were placed, and
with the eco button,” says Nissan’s national corporate sales manager David Hanna. “The eco button limits power but makes it smoother and obviously saves battery; we weren’t sure how much they would use it, but they asked for it all the time so we’re looking at making it the default setting.”
The usefulness of the heated seats and steering wheel was also reinforced, as they help save the driver from needing to use the energy-sapping climate control.
The e-NV200 is also fitted with a pre-heat system that means the temperature can be set while the vehicle is still plugged in, si it’s at the right level before departure.
The other learning experience has been with the charging infrastructure. British Gas’s engineers take their vehicles home, meaning the firm had to install charging points and, more importantly, set up a reimbursement method with staff. It eventually settled on installing twin-port smart meters for employees, with one dedicated channel recording charge-point consumption.
Looking ahead, Morton feels the aim of 10% of the firm’s fleet being electric by 2017 is achievable, but adds: “I can only see that growing.”
e-NV200; We've driven it
Nissan allowed What Van? a brief test drive of the e-NV200 on the roads around the Birmingham’s NEC during the recent CV Show.
There’s very little discernible from the cabin that this is an electric vehicle – Nissan has even taken the step of making the drive selector look more like a traditional gear lever than in the electric Leaf passenger car.
The pick-up is good, like all electric vehicles, thanks to the torque being available from standstill rather than how it builds in a conventional vehicle, and the regeneration is less severe than a Renault Kangoo ZE, although selecting the NV200’s brake mode gets the driver to the point where the brake pedal will rarely be necessary because the energy recuperation system slows the vehicle sufficiently in most situations.
As you‘d expect, it’s a complete and well-polished package, and we look forward to a full test drive in the next couple of months.