It makes some sense to electrify small delivery vans because they typically do limited mileage via repeated short trips, inhabit smoggy urban areas, and return to a depot where rapid chargers can be installed.
Big companies with green targets that buy fleets of load-lugging vehicles understand this and are demanding zero-tailpipe-emission options, which many van-makers are lining up to provide.
There's already the Volkswagen e-Caddy, Renault Kangoo ZE (sold in Australia, sans rival, for an eye-widening $50K) and Nissan e-NV200 in Europe, and a host more to come from the likes of Peugeot, Citroen and Vauxhall/Opel by 2021.
But the epicentre of electrified transport is China, where 1.3 million new energy vehicles are expected to be sold just this year thanks to a mixture of subsidies and government mandates.
China’s biggest auto conglomerate, SAIC Motor, counts among its brands MG and LDV/Maxus. The latter has three different-sized electric van models and one hydrogen fuel-cell MPV on sale already.
Smallest of these is the Maxus LDV EV30, which in SWB form is about 150mm longer than Volkswagen’s top-selling Caddy but about the same width, and ideal for squeezing into small alleyways and the like.
There’s also an LWB option with an extra 600mm (two feet) of length and an additional 375mm of wheelbase.
This electric van sells in China from ¥134,900 before the national supplement incentives, equal to around $28,500 in Australia. It’ll hit European markets such as Norway and the UK soon, where it will join the larger EV80 electric van already sold there.
It's not a matter of if, but when, the EV30 joins LDV's ranks in Australia. Pricing is hard to speculate on, though it's a given it'd need to be cheapest-in-class among EV vans considering its lack of brand equity.
The company currently sells the G10 and V80 vans, G10 people-mover, T60 dual-cab ute and D90 4x4 wagon. It wants to add the smaller D60 premium SUV next year alongside a brand-new Transit/Sprinter-rivalling V80, and in 2021 a new-shape twin-turbo T60 to tackle the HiLux.
We'd expect the EV30 van to lob around this 2021 date, by which time we'd expect the next-generation Kangoo ZE to be on sale as well as the e-Caddy.
LDV's local importer is waiting until the federal election to really formulate its plans – remember, EVs are a key issue of difference between the ALP and incumbent Coalition – but it's a foregone conclusion we'll get it... Eventually.
So what’s it all about? Two battery packs are available, with capacities of 35kWh for a NEDC driving range between charges of 200km (claimed) or a pricier 52.5kWh unit with a range closer to 300km.
SAIC cites a DC charging time from five per cent to 80 per cent capacity of 45 minutes for the 35kWh unit, and an AC 32A wall plug charging time of five hours. It doesn’t provide data for the bigger-capacity battery, but clearly it’ll take about 30 per cent longer.
Power comes from a motor with rated power and torque outputs of 70kW and 220Nm, giving a 0–50km/h dash of 5.1 seconds. Is the 0–100km/h time relevant for this car? No. The maximum climbing gradient is 30 degrees.
Other key specs include a cargo volume of five cubic-metres (6.3 for the LWB) that’s 20 per cent greater than the Kangoo ZE’s, a 855kg payload (1000kg for the LWB), 1550mm between the wheel arches, a standard liftback tailgate, and one sliding side door to access the flat loading floor, mounted 540mm above ground.
Interestingly, SAIC makes no mention of the heavier 52.5kWh battery reducing payload, but we can’t see how that’ll be the reality.
Underneath is a MacPherson strut front and leaf spring rear suspension, while ventilated discs brakes are at both ends. There’s also an electric-assisted power steering system. You also get two throttle modes and three levels of brake energy recuperation.
It’s a punchy thing to drive, with instantaneous torque delivered with the requisite whirring/sighing motor soundtrack. The lack of a conventional gearbox means take-offs are smooth and linear, all the way towards the 125km/h top speed – though highways aren’t the EV30’s natural habitat.
The complete lack of driveline vibrations and noise, and the lack of tailpipe emissions of any sort, make it an ideal city companion, especially for those delivering at less hospitable working hours, or keen to keep the van running inside the warehouse.
Of course, the WLTP driving range, which has become the European standard, should prove revealing. We strongly doubt the 200–300km ranges would remain untouched, though the Kangoo ZE’s 33kWh battery does give you 200km between charges…
To keep the weight down, the exterior comprises a lot of aluminium alloy and plasticky polymer composites, which is no bad thing since you can expect your little delivery van to cop the odd nudge and whack anyway.
There’s no NCAP crash rating, though SAIC is expecting its European range to meet five-star requirements and fleet demands. We can’t add more at this point. Naturally, the EV30 has high-voltage power-off protection.
It's hard to find many grievances with the interior. SAIC Motor produces millions of Volkswagens in China each year as part of its joint venture, and it has clearly learned much from its German partner.
The contrasting soft blue plastic surfaces, window switches and the ventilation controls are seemingly nicked from a Polo. But thankfully so is the build quality and surface tactility, which surprised us greatly.
The basic two-spoke steering wheel, oddly free of audio and telephony controls, lacks reach adjustment. It sits ahead of basic but legible analogue instruments. There's a standard 8.0-inch touchscreen surrounded by glossy plastic above a rotary-dial gear shifter.
There are copious cabin storage bins, a few USB points, a flat floor between the two seats, and our tester was fitted with a solid bulkhead to keep out noise and offer the driver protection. You can pay extra for a window.
SAIC also promises some interesting buying options. In China, you can literally configure and order your vehicle through an app, and have it home-delivered from the factory. The app can also track your driving data for operational reporting and vehicle management purposes.
Right, to the crux of the matter. Would an EV work van find buyers in Australia?
I know of many big fleet managers who have expressed at least some interest, especially since many multinational corporations now have CO2 targets stricter than the mandate. It's not just virtue signalling.
There's no doubt in my mind that a silent, punchy, cheap-to-run EV work vehicle is ideal for urban couriers, provided they aren't exceeding the driving range daily. Data says many aren't, with one OEM telling me its average small-van buyers do 25,000km per year on average, or 500km per week.
Right now, a petrol Caddy or Kangoo makes more financial sense without a doubt, but this calculus will change quickly. The EV30 is a good indicator of what urban delivery drivers dropping off your Asos package will be using by the early 2020s.