What Van? Awards 2012: Van of the Year

Date: Friday, January 20, 2012

What Van? Awards 2012: Van of the Year: Renault Kangoo ZE

 

The first electric van from a mainstream manufacturer is a winner. From when What Van? first drove a prototype Renault Kangoo ZE over a year ago, and again when we finally sampled the production version in the previous month’s edition, we had a feeling Renault had pulled something impressive out of the bag. The What Van? First Drive verdict last month read that the Kangoo ZE “not only proves that electric vehicles are nothing to fear, but also that they can actually be a sensible, cost-effective addition to a business”.

 

It’s not the first electric light commercial vehicle, but the product itself and the price Renault is charging for it puts electric vehicles into territory they haven’t previously ventured toward. To have a full electric vehicle direct from the same manufacturer’s production line as the diesel version, sold through the dealer network and priced from less than £17,000, admittedly with the monthly battery lease separate, is impressive. To then suffer no loss of load space compared with a standard Kangoo and still offer a 650kg payload enhances the package to the point where the ZE should be a serious consideration for urban operators.

 

The end of that last sentence is key though. Electric vehicles won’t suit everyone. But in the right circumstances they make perfect sense, and electric vans, rather than passenger cars, are where the greatest potential exists. Renault claims 70% of van drivers cover less than 62 miles per day, although EVs won’t necessarily suit all of those drivers. Vans that run a route of known distance and then head back to the same base will be able to reap the benefits of electric vehicles’ stArengths, especially those operating in London where congestion charge exemption is also a running cost factor. A

 

Power delivery

The Kangoo ZE is available in standard and Maxi body lengths, with the Maxi also available as a five-seat window van, with prices running from £16,990 for the entry van to another £1000 for the two-seat Maxi and £18,690 for the window van. Unfortunately, the Government’s £5000 subsidy for electric cars doesn’t find its way over to the light commercial vehicle market, despite many recognising the sector as the one best-placed to embrace electric power.

The 44kW motor is roughly equivalent to a 60hp diesel engine, but the instant power delivery makes it easy to nip in and out of urban traffic, while low-speed performance is impressive. At higher speeds, out of the ZE’s natural environment, it tails off, and battery consumption increases markedly.
Although the official range figure for the battery is 106 miles, Renault claims 125 miles is achievable in electric vehicles’ natural habitat of heavy traffic where the battery regeneration can kick in. We have been critical about the level of regeneration Renault has given the Kangoo ZE – it’s so harsh that a little anticipation could see drivers not needing to hit the brake pedal all day, such is the rate of deceleration. It takes some getting used to, and will do for drivers swapping out of the Kangoo ZE back to a diesel van after a few days behind the wheel, but helps regenerate more energy, and the effect will also diminish with a full 650kg payload inside.

Renault’s refusal to offer the battery as part of the purchase price has caused flurries of discontent in some areas of the industry, and it’s a shame the French firm won’t consider offering the vehicle as a complete package, even at inflated prices versus the lease, as some businesses would prefer to own outright rather than commit to a mileage package over a number of years. The offering from Renault is, though, comprehensive, with options from one to five years and 6000, 9000, 12,000 or 15,000 miles.


The cheapest is £60 a month over either three, four or five years at 6000 miles a year, while a one-year 15,000-mile lease costs £105 a month. The 20 options mean there will be something to suit everyone, and Renault claims it has gone down the lease route to protect users from worries over any problems with the technology. Battery degradation has been a particular concern for some, but Renault is promising a charging capacity of at least 75% of showroom fresh, or it will replace the battery under warranty. The company is also extending its breakdown cover on electric vehicles to include running out of power, so it will recover the vehicle to a specified charging point within 50 miles, something it won’t do for vehicles running out of fuel.

 

Relaxing normality

But the Kangoo ZE’s biggest assets, apart from the accessibly low entry price, is its relaxing normality. The lack of a diesel soundtrack is refreshingly serene, with silent progress meaning the driver does have to keep an eye out for pedestrians and cyclists that haven’t recognised that they have a van bearing down on them. The cabin is completely standard and recognisable to drivers of the current Kangoo, save a battery-level meter instead of the rev counter and a small gauge that illustrates the amount of power being used at a particular moment.

The Kangoo EV is a very impressive addition to the light commercial vehicle market and gives more businesses than ever before the chance to consider whether this emerging technology is right for them. Renault has already confirmed 15,000 orders in France from 19 of the country’s largest companies over the next four years. If the ZE is a success the extra volumes shouldn’t be a problem as production is at the same MCA plant in northern France as the standard vehicle.

What Van? is pleased to, for the first time ever, hand our Van of the Year title to an electric vehicle. The Renault Kangoo ZE is a more than worthy winner.

 



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