The doubters, naysayers and internal combustion engine diehards may still be in the majority with their entirely legitimate concerns about costs, range potential and fueling infrastructure but the swing towards electric light commercial vehicles is beginning to gather pace.
The numbers are still modest – according to the SMMT there were just 945 electric vans on the UK’s roads at the end of 2013 and the Government’s Office for Low Emissions, as of March this year, said only 441 claims had been made through the Plug-in Van grant scheme, which knocks 20% off the starting price of an electric LCV.
But more product is now entering the marketplace, it’s no longer a case of the Renault Kangoo ZE or nothing. Nissan has launched its e-NV200 with a welcome boost from British Gas, which has ordered 100 of them, VW has an electric Caddy waiting in the wings and driven here is Citroen’s Berlingo Electric, which fellow PSA brand Peugeot is selling as an electric Partner.
We got behind the wheel of the L1 635 LX derivative of Citroen’s electric van. It has a price tag of £21,550 (all prices exclude VAT), which comes down to £17,240 once the Government’s incentive is included.
By way of comparison Renault’s Kangoo ZE has a far less prohibitive starting price of £13,592, (rising to £14,952) including the Plug-in Van Grant but you have to lease the battery from £60 a month, while Nissan’s e-NV200, offered in several trim levels, ranges from £16, 562 to £19,325 for an outright purchase minus the 20% grant.
The respective electric van manufacturers do appear to have allayed fears over one issue at least, that of payload. All the plug-in versions provide load carrying capacities pretty much in line with their diesel-powered stablemates.
The Electric Berlingo offers a payload of 636kg and load volume of 3.3m3, going up to 3.7m3 with the passenger seat folded (load length extends from 1800 to 3000mm), the larger e-NV200 provides a 770kg payload and 4.2m3 load volume and the Kangoo ZE can carry a 650kg weight and accommodate 3.4m3 of volume.
Citroen revealed the Electric Berlingo at the CV Show in 2013 but a spokesman admits there was “a hiatus between the CV Show debut and its going on sale”.
Following a series of product refinements the van finally arrived in showrooms this April.
The manufacturer marketed its original Berlingo Electric from 1995 to 2005 and the spokesman says this experience stood it in good stead in developing the new van, particularly in deciding to sell it with batteries included, which it believes customers prefer.
“It was developed as an EV from the word go,” says the spokesman of the latest model, “there is space under the load floor for the batteries.”
It uses lithium-ion as opposed to its predecessor’s lead acid batteries.
The electric motor is housed under the bonnet and the battery pack positioned, as stated, beneath the load deck.
With a battery capacity of 22.5kW, Citroen claims the Berlingo Electric has a range of 105 miles.
Using a domestic socket the van can be charged in eight and a half hours or it can be charged to 80% of capacity in 35 minutes with a specific 380V three-phase terminal in quick-charge mode.
The Berlingo Electric has maximum power of 49kW at 4000 to 9000rpm and peak torque of 200Nm is hit instantly at 0-1500rpm.
For vans expected to operate predominantly in towns and cities being able to manoeuvre in tight spaces is vital and the Berlingo Electric has a kerb-to-kerb turning circle of 11.0m, slightly wider than the Kangoo ZE’s 10.7m but tighter than the e-NV200’s 11.3m.
The Berlingo Electric only comes in the mid-spec LX trim but it does get one or two extras borrowed from the Enterprise trim as standard, the most welcome of which is probably air conditioning.
On the other hand it does not rear parking sensors and it would be worth forking out the £190 required to get them installed in order to improve safety and avoid a potentially more expensive bill if you accidently back into something hard and unwieldy.
The load bay is accessed by unglazed twin rear doors and a nearside sliding door (customers can specify an offside sliding door as well for £220) and is guarded against minor damage by ply-lining.
The Berlingo Electric’s driver is protected against loose objects entering the cab from the cargo area by a ladder frame bulkhead but unfortunately the passengers are afforded no such protection as standard so it is worth considering investing in the half-height steel bulkhead with upper mesh grille and removable panel for £90 if seating is regularly needed for a couple of crew members.
Likewise the Berlingo Electric only comes with a driver’s airbag as standard – it costs £120 to get a passenger’s airbag installed and an extra £270 for front lateral airbags. Less essential options, in our opinion, include glazed rear doors with wiper for £160, which might actually compromise security by leaving the load bay contents on display, and metallic or special order paint for £320 each.
There is an RDS stereo radio with MP3 compatible CD player in the cab with steering wheel-mounted controls but Bluetooth with a USB socket costs an additional £180.
A gauge on the dash displays the level of charge and a separate indicator gives the anticipated range remaining before a recharge is required.
But overall Citroen has kept the cabin environment much like that of the conventional Berlingo, which is a different approach to that taken by Renault and Nissan, which have both opted for more distinctive, futuristic designs for the interiors of their electric vans.
Despite the promised range capacity of 106 miles, when fully charged our Berlingo Electric displayed an anticipated limit of around 80 miles.
However, the regenerative braking system was impressively efficient and after a round trip of about 30 miles on a predominantly urban route the reading was still predicting close to 60 miles’ worth of charge remaining.
For those not used to driving an electric vehicle the sharp braking that occurs when the accelerator is released can take some getting used to but this characteristic is not too severe on the Berlingo Electric and we found it rapidly becomes a help to city driving rather than a hindrance – reducing the need to press the footbrake.
Without an engine and with a single-speed gearbox that is slightly reminiscent of a funfair Dodgem car, the ride is quiet and smooth although this can mean that any rattles and clangs from the load box sound amplified.
The cabin contains a lot of small, curiously shaped storage cubby holes many of which do not appear to be of much use – including the shallow cup holders in the doors. There is, however an overhead shelf, although this does not seem to be the most solidly put together one we’ve come across.
The lidded compartment on the dash and a glove compartment are likely to come in handy though.
Folding down the middle passenger seat reveals a fairly rudimentary but nevertheless useful work surface.
Acceleration is very prompt from a standing start, which can induce wheel spins, but the power assisted steering is precise and the overall ride is decent enough. The steering wheel is adjustable for both height and reach but this welcome feature is not matched by a high-set driver’s seat that has an adjustable backrest but can only move backwords and forwards.
The Government’s grant takes the sting out of the asking price so the Berlingo Electric could make economical and practical sense for urban operators