LEVC, the company behind the iconic London black cab, has finally launched its first van, the VN5. Using an extended version of the taxi’s bonded aluminium chassis, with a 400mm longer wheelbase, the VN5 offers a 5.5m3 load volume and a payload of up to 830kg. It also boasts a range-extended electric driveline, that offers up to 61 miles of pure EV travel and a total of 304 miles of petrol-assisted range.
A 31kWh battery provides the electric motor with 150hp and 240Nm of torque, which is enough to push the 2.9-tonne VN5 along at a fair pace. LEVC is part of Chinese automotive business Geely, so it comes as no surprise to find a three-cylinder 1.5-litre petrol engine from fellow Geely company Volvo under the bonnet. The engine never actually drives the wheels, it simply acts as a generator to charge the battery.
Official WLTP fuel figures are an incredible 314mpg , with CO2 emissions of just 21g/km. The van is eligible for the Plug-in Van Grant and is London ULEZ compatible. The battery can also be plugged in to charge, using 11kW or 22kW CCS AC chargers, or a 50kW CHAdeMO DC rapid charger. Opt for that DC charger and you can hit 100% charge in just 30 minutes, easily within a lunch break or while loading.
LEVC has built and sold more than 4,500 of its TX taxis with the same driveline since it was launched in 2018, so the battery and engine combination is already well proven. Perhaps more importantly, LEVC claims that taxi driving customers report fuel savings of up to £110 a week with the range-extender.
There are twin barn doors at the rear and a large sliding side door as standard. A second side door is optional. The load bay can handle two Europallets and they can be loaded through the side or the rear doors. The overall height of the van is 1,990mm, so it should be possible to enter multi-storey car parks in the VN5. The taxi’s legendary steering also provides an incredible 10.1m turning circle, for maximum manoeuvrability. That said, slightly larger side mirrors would be welcome.
LEVC has already made the van available to racking companies, with both Bott and Modul ready to supply dedicated kits to meet the needs of customers.
In the cab, the company has once again called upon sister company Volvo to provide much of the switchgear and the portrait touchscreen that controls many functions. Perhaps too many for some, as you have to tap and swipe to change the cab temperature and to switch between the three driving modes. A simple switch on the dash might have been easier to use.
Smart Mode is the default driving mode, automatically calling upon the petrol engine when required to provide charge to the battery. When cruising on a motorway you can select Save Mode, which will save the current battery charge for the city centre, running purely on the charge created by the engine. Alternatively, you can select Pure EV Mode to ensure that the engine stays silent during urban use. At present there is no requirement for a geofencing function to ensure that the engine stops in urban areas, but LEVC has one ready if the legislation calls for it.
To drive, you simply turn on and select forward travel, having decided which mode to use. The handbrake releases automatically, reactivating as the vehicle comes to a halt. You can also tap the stubby gear lever left and right to choose between two levels of regenerative braking. The more aggressive provides plenty of braking in urban use, but it won’t halt the van entirely.
The most noticeable thing about the driving experience is the level of NVH, or in fact the almost complete absence of noise, vibration and harshness. The VN5 really is very quiet and relaxing to drive, with a real feeling of solidity in the cab. Even calling the engine into action to charge the batteries results in hardly any change in noise levels, it’s very impressive.
Perhaps equally impressive was the fact that after a couple of hours at the wheel, on a mixed route through the West Midlands, the van still had almost 50% of charge available, despite using Pure EV in town centres.
The van is offered in three trim levels. Business, which sells for £46,500 before the PiVG, includes two-zone climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, two USB ports, DAB radio, auto LED headlights, electric heated mirrors, LED cargo lights, driver and passenger front and side airbags, tyre pressure monitoring, AEB braking, post impact braking, forward collision warning and cruise control.
Move up to City trim, at £48,000, and you also get a heated windscreen, additional underseat storage, front and rear parking sensors and a Safety Pack, that includes Road Sign Information, a speed limit intelligent function, Lane Departure Warning and curtain airbags.
The third trim is Ultima, at £52,000. This includes body coloured bumpers and metallic paint, silver steel wheels, electrically-adjusted and heated seating, satellite navigation, eight tie-down loops, a rear view camera and a 22kW fast charge capability.
Service intervals are set at 25,000 miles and the van comes with a 5-year/150,000-mile warranty. The battery gets an 8-year/150,000-mile warranty. That can be extended to 6 years/200,000-miles for the van and 8-years/200,000-miles for the battery for an additional £495, for those with big mileages in mind.
The van should certainly last that long too. Its aluminium chassis wears SMC panels, rather than steel, so there is virtually no risk of corrosion. LEVC is also used to customers running its vehicles over extended distances. The company is rapidly building a dealer and service network, with 50 outlets planned across the UK by November. The plan is that customers should never be more than a 45-minute drive from a dealer.
LEVC is also building a base further afield, with 16 dealers already in Germany. Indeed, with a potential production capacity of up to 20,000 vehicles a year at its factory near Coventry, of which around 6,000 are taxis, it is working towards 60% export by 2022.
“This is the most important product for the future of the company,” said CEO Joerg Hofmann.
With a European 1-tonne van market of around 600,000 vehicles, all of which are currently diesel-powered, there is certainly plenty of market to go after.