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Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles has joined the electric van revolution, with the introduction of the ABT e-Transporter. While we drove VW’s e-Crafter some years ago... VW e-TRANSPORTER

Dan Gilkes keeps one eye on the range in VW’s first UK electric van

Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles has joined the electric van revolution, with the introduction of the ABT e-Transporter. While we drove VW’s e-Crafter some years ago in Germany, the larger van has still to make it to the UK in right-hand drive, so the company’s mid-weight model is taking the lead in the push towards an EV future.

Built in cooperation with partner company ABT e-Line, the e-Transporter is based on a long wheelbase version of the latest T6.1 model. It can be had in both panel van and people-carrying Kombi formats, offering 6.7m3 and 4.4m3 of load volume respectively, with payloads of 996kg and 900kg. The vans can also pull a 750kg trailer if required.

There is a 37.3kWh battery pack underneath the load floor, driving the front wheels through a 110hp, 200Nm, electric motor and a modified DSG automated transmission. Unlike most competitors, which use a single forward gear, the ABT conversion works through three forward ratios in the DSG box, though there is no option for the driver to change gears manually.

The driver does have a say over how much power is used though. Regular pressing of the throttle pedal will call up 75% of the motor’s output, to prolong battery life and range. However, push the pedal to the floor, in effect using the regular van’s kickdown function and the motor delivers 100% of its torque output for rapid acceleration.

The van offers up to 82 miles of driving range on the WLTP cycle, which puts the e-Transporter up against the likes of Mercedes’ e-Vito, rather than the higher range of the PSA trio that are also being launched at present. However, unlike the Mercedes, the VW comes with the option of rapid charging, with the possibility of an 80% boost in just 45 minutes on a 50kW DC charging point. Full charging with a domestic 7.2kW AC point will take around 5.5 hours.

As a conversion of the existing van, the charging port uses the traditional diesel fuel-filler flap behind the passenger door to house the CCS and Type 2 connector inputs. While that will not be a problem for those operators using their own cable, or anyone who can park alongside a charger, we’ve discovered with other vans that some public chargers with a fixed cable, can be a bit of a stretch to reach.

There are two trim levels on offer. The standard van comes with App Connect, a leather-trimmed multi-function steering wheel, air conditioning, heated seats and rear parking sensors. For an additional £3,300, the Advance trim adds 17” alloy wheels, LED headlights, body coloured bumpers, mirror housings and door handles, along with electrically folding door mirrors. Many of the standard Transporter’s options are also available, such as multiple side loading doors, metallic paint and various cab trims. The e-Transporter also comes with Front Assist with City Emergency Braking, Automatic Post-Collision Braking and Cross Wind Assist.

Service intervals have been set at one year or 25,000 miles. However, with fewer oils and filters to change, Volkswagen is predicting service costs to be around 30% less than for a comparable diesel Transporter. The company is also offering a three for two service deal at present, that includes an MOT, a brake fluid change and pollen filter replacement, all for £399.

In terms of warranties, the van gets the usual three year/100,000-mile cover from Volkswagen, while the battery comes with an eight year/100,000-mile warranty. This guarantees at least 70% of battery capacity at that time. In terms of running costs, Volkswagen is predicting a full charge from as little as £1.60 on a low-rate domestic supply, with a typical public charger costing around £6.40 to top the battery. There is currently no VED to pay and the vans are exempt from the London Congestion Charge and the ULEZ low-emission zone charge. 

Prices start at £41,365 plus the VAT and on-the-road costs for the standard van and £44,665 for the Advance trim level, while the Kombi will set you back around £4,300 more in either trim. However, the vans are eligible for the Government’s Plug-in Van Grant, knocking up to £8,000 off the list price.

Volkswagen Financial Services is also offering a range of deals for those not looking to invest the whole purchase price. This includes a 0% hire purchase deal with a £20,495 deposit and 47 payments of £459. Alternatively, you can opt for a four-year, 10,000 mile/year contract hire deal with just £2,490 down and monthly payments of £415.

“The VW comes with the option of rapid charging”

At the wheel
There are few surprises in the cab, at least if you are used to any of Volkswagen’s current vans. The T6.1 interior is a bit more angular than previous generations, but still exhibits that solid, durable feel that all of the firm’s products possess.

There is a standard DSG gear lever, though only with park, reverse, neutral and drive positions. The biggest difference is within the dash, where the left-hand dial has changed from a rev counter to a charge meter. It shows how much electricity you are using and when the van is regenerating, as it slows. There is no option to alter the amount of regenerative braking, but the e-Transporter certainly slows when you lift off, if not quite providing single-pedal driving.

On the move, the van is very quiet without the electric motor whine that you find in some EVs. That low-mounted battery pack also endows the e-Transporter with secure, flat handling on twisty country lanes. Of course, city streets are more it’s intended operating area and here too, the Volkwagen is an easy van to thread through traffic.

Even on 75% power there is plenty of acceleration, though you can certainly feel the additional boost if you do push a little harder on the right pedal and activate the kickdown function for a rapid getaway or to overtake dawdling traffic. 

As with any electric van, there is a constant fascination with the digital range figure in the dash, watching as your available mileage slowly ticks away. You try to flick the battery use needle more towards the regeneration section of the dial, to boost that range figure, looking further ahead and planning your moves at roundabouts, but every press of the throttle sees it steadily diminish.

Of course, this shouldn’t be a problem for those customers who’ve done their homework. VW’s Transporter product manager Alice Axtell says that research shows an average daily use of around 70 miles for UK buyers. Indeed, for urban delivery companies, daily mileage can be much less than that. Certainly, if range is not a concern, then companies will have little trouble getting drivers to adopt VW’s EV way of driving.