Not wanting to miss out in the current surge of interest in compact electric vans, Citroen brings us the Berlingo Electric. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Urban operators in search of a more eco-friendly compact van should warm to the Berlingo Electric. It's a vehicle that will make a great deal of sense for urban operators who need a versatile van for short drops that packs a lot of torque and which answers the environmental concerns of business stakeholders.
The compact van is an ideal candidate for electric power. It tends to cover relatively modest mileages, popping from local pick up to local drop before returning to a business or private premises overnight to enjoy a good 12 hours rest, replaced for leisure purposes by a private vehicle. Up until now though, electric power has brought with it a prohibitively high entry-level price. Things have definitely changed though. The cost of the drivetrain technology has dropped and now electrically powered light commercial vehicles like this Citroen Berlingo Electric merit serious scrutiny. With ever more stringent emissions-based taxation, here's a way to future proof your fleet, for the medium term at least.
The Berlingo Electric does away with the usual diesel engine and instead features a combination of permanent magnet synchronous 49kW electric motor and a 22.5kWh lithium ion battery pack. This gives the Berlingo Electric the potential for up to 106 miles, as tested on the New European Drive Cycle (NEDC) although in real terms you're probably looking at around 70 miles reliably. This, combined with eco-driving control systems, allows the driver to limit energy consumption to a range compatible with the requirements of small van customers, 70 per cent of whom mostly make daily journeys of less than 60 miles. It's not at home on a motorway as its top speed of 68mph means it's struggling a bit but then motorways aren't really home turf for electric vehicles. In town it's a whole lot happier and the instant pickup from the electric motor coupled with the refinement and ease of use (there's no gear changing required) will take much of the stress out of city driving. You'll just have to watch out for pedestrians who don't hear it coming.
Design and Build
This electric L1-length model is 4,380mm long and is offered with a payload capacity of 636kg. In the load area itself, the interior walls are well protected from damage. Access is through the side-hinged asymmetric rear doors or the sliding side door. The standard Extenso three-seater front cab layout also adds a touch of versatility. This adds a third berth in the middle but it's extremely narrow and has restricted legroom courtesy of the dash-mounted gear lever. Your colleagues won't thank you for assigning them to sit in it for any length of time but the Multi Flex system comes into its own with fewer passengers on board. That middle chair can fold down to make a desk or the outer one can drop flat to the floor, increasing cargo space. It ups the load volume to 3.7m3 while boosting the load length to three metres. In other words, the addition of the electric drive system doesn't mean you need to compromise on load space one iota.
Market and Model
Competitively priced to customers at just over £21,000 plus VAT, the Citroen Berlingo Electric qualifies for the 20% Plug in Van Grant which reduces the cost to around £17,000 including OTR (On-The-Road) costs, excluding VAT. It's essentially identical to the Peugeot Partner Electric model which costs about the same. Unlike Renault's Kangoo ZE - this Berlingo model's main competitor - the Berlingo Electric is presented as an 'all-inclusive' proposal which includes the vehicle, the battery, a 3-year/60,000 mile vehicle manufacturer warranty and a 5-year/40,000 mile drive-train and battery manufacturer warranty. This variant is based on the Berlingo LX model. Key standard features include ABS brakes including electronic brake force distribution, air conditioning, an athermic (glare and temperature reflecting) windscreen, remote central door locking, one-touch electric windows and door mirrors, a durable plastic floor covering and left-hand sliding door as well as ESC (Electronic Stability Control) and Hill Assist.
Practicalities and Costs
The Berlingo Electric's instrumentation also includes a number of specific features, including Eco-driving information; an energy consumption/regeneration indicator; an instantaneous energy consumption gauge and an auxiliaries consumption gauge, which displays data on heating, air conditioning and other secondary power usage. As it emits zero tailpipe emissions, the Berlingo Electric benefits from being exempt from paying any VED tax, and will also be exempt from paying the congestion charge in central London. Combined with the lower cost of electricity compared to diesel or petrol, these incentives to choosing an electric van help make the running costs particularly low. The length of warranty provided also helps maximise the vehicle's future residual value. The Berlingo Electric offers two types of battery charging. Fast charging can be handled by a special charging station supplied with 3-phase 400V and takes about 20 minutes to reach 50% of the capacity of the battery or approximately 35 minutes for 80%, so you're never going to be stuck without juice for too long. Normal charging is carried out using the single-phase 230V mains power supply. Using an approved conventional socket, a 100% charge takes 12 hours. Using a 16-amp domestic wall box station via an optional cable, a 100% charge takes around 7 hours 30 minutes.
Of course nobody buys a light commercial vehicle for warm, fuzzy reasons. They're expendable workhorses and always need to justify themselves in terms of pounds and pence. Therefore the idea of an electric van like the Citroen Berlingo Electric might at first seem a bit of a non-starter. After all, at around £17,000, it's at least £3,500 more than a 1.6 diesel model. The thing is, it's cheaper to fuel, cheaper to tax, is congestion charge free and offers massively superior resale value three years down the road. Suddenly that £3,500 doesn't look such an insurmountable hurdle even if you don't apply the congestion charge no-brainer. Even setting aside all the basic financials, the Berlingo Electric also makes sense in terms of image for your company. An electric van says that your business looks to the future, is a responsible neighbour and citizen and cares for the environment. We could argue at length about the actual 'green' benefits or otherwise of moving pollution from tailpipe to power station but that's perhaps not the pressing issue here. Both perception and pecuniary advantages accrue with this electric van. No wonder Citroen seems so confident about its prospects.