LIGHT COMMERCIAL – Electric Avenue

10 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineNovember 29, 2018

Renault‘s Kangoo is more than a concept – it‘s an urban delivery van that produces no emissions, makes no noise, and never visits a petrol pump. So what‘s the catch?

Photo: The Renault Kangoo EV. A bit tough on the wallet but not tough on the planet. The choice for the time being is still ours to make.

Using electricity to power inner-city delivery vehicles makes a lot of sense. They don‘t travel long distances, so there‘s no problem with range – especially if the business leaves them on site overnight, where they can be plugged in. They make little, if any noise (some, like this Renault Kangoo EV, produce a subdued but artificial sound at slow speeds to alert pedestrians), and of course they don‘t produce noxious emissions. The electricity required to power them costs considerably less per kilometre than petrol or diesel – especially if you‘re anywhere with differential charging – and they couldn‘t be easier to drive.

Stick the lever into D, press throttle. Lift off throttle, brake, select N, and the park brake. There are no gears, just forward and reverse, and indeed very little in the way of maintenance given few moving parts, no filters, and no oil changes required. All well and good, but this tester lives some way out of town, and over hills. Electric vehicles are not at their best at open road speeds, where they suck power from the battery at a greater rate, even allowing for power regeneration on braking. And the Kangoo we tested had a winter range of 80km and summer of 120km (batteries are weaker when it‘s chilly), more than enough for courier deliveries from a truck hub to destination, or for flowers or service items round town. Not so good for an hour each way commute, so the good news is that from now on, Kangoos landing in New Zealand have a 120km winter/200km summer range, at the same price as the one we tested. As it happened, the Kangoo still impressed.

Photo: The Kangoo‘s side doors with windows make rear three-quarter vision easier.

In purely practical terms, it‘s extremely well thought out. The cabin is pleasant and easy to navigate, and the glassed sliding side doors deliver a better than expected rear three-quarter view, assisted by a reversing camera and parking sensors. Those side doors add access to the two side-opening rears, with hinges that easily disengage to open the doors a full 180 degrees. The cargo barrier is included, and comes with a nifty little trick. Fold the front passenger seat base forward, out of the way.

Fold the seatback down. Unlatch that side of the barrier and swivel it to notch into a depression in the now horizontal SPECIFICATIONS seat back, to maintain driver protection, and increase load length for that side from 1862 to 2880mm. The load space itself totals a very useful 4.6 cubic metres. Any electric engine delivers brisk acceleration from rest – it gives its best close to zero revs – so Kangoo‘s 225Nm ensure it feels keen enough round town, and certainly while lightly loaded it keeps up easily with other traffic, both around town and on the highway. However, the faster you go, the higher the draw from the battery, and the heavier the load, the shorter the range; something to bear in mind when you decide whether a Kangoo is for you.

Given we weren‘t using it as designed – around town only – we opted to leave our usual half-ton load behind, to reduce the risk we‘d run out of power halfway home. But we were more than able to test that range – admittedly with a light load – but pushing its boundaries by spending most of the time on hilly open roads. From this writer‘s west coast base we crossed the Waitakeres – watching the range plummet uphill, then soar as we regenerated power while braking (and used less when gravity assisted) – to Kumeu, manoeuvring around a lifestyle block for our first delivery, then into Henderson for our second delivery, at 55.4km, before heading for home. By the time the Kangoo had hit Scenic Drive, range remaining was insufficient to reach our turn-off downhill, let alone our waiting electric socket. But with downhills using next to no power, indeed regenerating some, we kept going.

Photo: Light, airy, and easy to drive.

As the number dropped below 6km remaining (with 10km to go) the range screen went blank. We hit the ECO button, clenched our buttocks in a vain attempt to reduce the downward heft of our too-generous bodies, and kept going, turning downhill with 8km to go, and finally making it up the last steep climb to the garage with 79.9km on the clock, on a chilly day. Had we been driving at a maximum of 50kph round town, it‘s safe to say we‘d have had more than that 80km winter range – Auckland is mild enough not to cause too much suffering to the batteries. And we challenge you to find any business in need of a compact delivery van like this, working in urban areas, that needs to travel further each day.

Overseas comparisons produce figures suggesting the Kangoo EV costs a quarter the amount to run per kilometre than its petrol sibling, not counting maintenance. We didn‘t do a scientific measurement of cost – that‘s tricky given it was plugged into the household supply and there was no way to separate out its share of the monthly bill. But using a Greater Wellington Regional Council Breakdown, and Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) figures, is illuminating. EECA calculates electricity as equivalent to 30 cents per litre, a good seven times cheaper than petrol. If your Kangoo EV travels 40km per day doing short delivery runs, it would use somewhere around 8kWh of electricity, which would cost 88 cents at an overnight rate of 11 cents per kWh. Even doubling that to a day rate means fuelling those 40km would cost $1.76, clearly much cheaper than petrol, even before you factor in the reduced maintenance.

Photo: Front seat folds down for increased load space,yet driver is still protected. Great stuff Renault.

Light electric vehicles don‘t benefit from subsidies here in New Zealand, as they do in many overseas countries, nor are there congestion charges to evade – yet. Which means whether fuel savings would bridge the considerable gap between Kangoo EV‘s $74,990 purchase price and a conventionally powered competitor depends a lot on how far you travel and how long you‘ll keep it. Until prices drop further, the clincher for your business could be the advantage of being seen to be forward thinking, or the benefits of silent driving (for example urban deliveries overnight) and emissions free running (such as in and out of warehouses for loading). Certainly an electric delivery van will make your deliveries stand out – whether the petrol savings and advertising benefits are worth it is something only your business can know for sure.