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Zero-emission battery-electric models dominated van manufacturers' exhibits at this year's rather different looking Commercial Vehicle Show, held as usual at Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre... Electric leads on show return

Zero-emission battery-electric models dominated van manufacturers’ exhibits at this year’s rather different looking Commercial Vehicle Show, held as usual at Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre (NEC).

The absence of several key brands, including Volkswagen, Renault and Nissan, meant that this year’s event was held in just two of the halls. 

The Covid-19 pandemic doubtless contributed to their absence, as people gradually get used to the idea of visiting large indoor events again.

Product shortages and long lead times thanks to shortages of key components such as semi-conductors may have played a part in their thinking too. Why exhibit when delivery times are stretching well into 2022?

Furthermore, a number of the truck manufacturers did not attend this year, and those who also have van ranges – Mercedes-Benz, Iveco, MAN and Renault Trucks – opted not to display their light commercials either.

Visitors who did attend could scarcely have failed to miss the Vauxhall stand. Britain’s sole volume van manufacturer used the show for the global launch of battery-electric variants of Combo and Movano. 

With the Vivaro-e already available, it now has electric versions of all three of the models in its light commercial line-up. All its light commercials will be zero-emission from 2028 onwards, it says.

Combo-e comes with a 50kWh battery, a 100kW electric motor, and a claimed 171-mile range between recharges. Using a 100kW charger can restore 80% of the battery’s capacity in just 30 minutes from a 0% start, says Vauxhall.

Payload capability is up to 800kg. Marketed as a van and a crew van, the newcomer offers up to 4.4cu m of cargo space. 

Order books are open; the first UK deliveries are due towards the end of this year, and Combo-e will soon be built in Britain. It is destined to go into production at Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port, Cheshire plant towards the end of 2022.

Movano-e boasts a 139-mile range and a load cube of up to 17cu m.

Aware that many businesses want a zero-emission van that can travel further before it has to refuel, Vauxhall was also exhibiting a cutaway Vivaro fitted with a hydrogen fuel cell. The three hydrogen cylinders are mounted beneath the cargo bed, which means the 6.1cu m load area is free from obstructions, while the fuel cell sits in what would otherwise be the engine bay.

Vivaro-e Hydrogen’s range is 249 miles Vauxhall reckons, and refuelling may take no more than three minutes; always assuming of course that you can find somewhere with a hydrogen dispenser. Making its British debut, the newcomer will be available in left-hand-drive in selected European markets by the end of this year, and in right-hand-drive on this side of the Channel by early 2023.

Payload capacity? Up to 1100kg.

City centre dwellers who order items online are not prepared to wait, and same-day delivery may not be good enough. Ideally they want whatever they have bought to arrive at their door within a couple of hours.

Realising that this is the case, Vauxhall and body builder Paneltex have come up with a concept electric vehicle designed to meet the needs of fast-moving urban delivery operations. 

Based on the new Vivaro-e short-wheelbase platform cab, it features a twin-compartment insulated box body with nearside access which can hold 42 supermarket totes/delivery trays. Range is said to be 143 miles on a single charge.

Vauxhall forms part of recently-created Stellantis, a global motor industry behemoth which also embraces Peugeot, Citroën and Fiat Professional, with plenty of platform sharing. None of the other three brands came to the NEC, leaving Vauxhall to fly the Stellantis flag on its own.

Not to be outdone, Ford ensured that the electric version of Transit made its European show debut, with a range said to be up to 196 miles courtesy of a 68kWh battery. The electric motor comes with the choice of either a 135kW or a 198kW maximum output. 

Charging times? Plug E-Transit into a standard 230v supply overnight and it should be fully replenished in just over eight hours, says Ford. A 115kW fast charger will take you from 15% to 80% of the battery’s capacity in 34 minutes, it adds.

Gross weights range from 3.5 to 4.25 tonnes and van payload capacities go up to 1758kg, with a comprehensive range of 25 variants that also encompasses crew vans and chassis cabs. Customers will be able to specify ProPower Onboard, which delivers up to 2.3kW from standard plug sockets in the cab and load area to power tools, lights and fridge units.

Prices start at a healthily-competitive £42,695 and E-Transit is scheduled to come to market in 2022. Order books open in October.

Formerly known as LDV, Maxus occupied a sprawling stand which distributor Harris Maxus used to extol the virtues of the Chinese manufacturer’s electric models. 

The line-up includes the eDeliver 9, which arrived last year. With cargo volumes of up to 11cu m and payload capacities topping out at 1700kg, it can cover a maximum 219 miles between recharges, reckons the importer. 

Chinese manufacturer DFSK has had a somewhat chequered history in the UK, but things may be looking up. Industry newcomer Innovation Automotive was exhibiting an all-electric EC35 compact panel van from the brand with a 4.8cu m load area, alongside an all-electric EC31 chassis cab bodied as a pick-up from the same stable.

It has also inked a deal to ship in Skywell light commercials from China. 

In charge of the Innovation operation is Paul Brigden who has 35 years of motor industry experience, most recently as UK operations director at Mitsubishi Motors. 

The DFSK vehicles the writer has driven in the past were some way behind the quality levels UK buyers typically look for, but things have changed, Brigden insists. “DFSKs have come on by leaps and bounds and we believe the manufacturer has now got the quality right,” he states; and a quick inspection of the models on show suggested that he is right. 

“They’re produced in a different factory from the vehicles that were brought in previously,” he adds.

Both EC31 and EC35 can cover over 150 miles between recharges, he says. The former can handle a 1190kg payload while the latter can cope with 950kg.

“We’ll have them on sale in early 2022,” Brigden promises. The firm will sell the vehicles direct to customers from a central hub and aims to set up a network which will provide service and parts support.

EC31 will be available as a chassis cab which can be used as a platform for a variety of different bodies. “We will be talking to body builders about this,” he says.

The Skywell van which will also be imported is slightly smaller than EC35, with an 880kg payload capability.

Despite the extent to which the ranges of electric vans are increasing, some businesses still suffer from range anxiety. Unwilling to wait for a hydrogen fuel cell van to arrive to quiet their fears, they may prefer to opt for a hybrid light commercial instead.

That is clearly what Toyota is banking on with the surprise global launch of a hybrid car-derived van based on the five-door Corolla Touring Sports 1.8 Hybrid. Built at the company’s factory in Burnaston, Derbyshire, Corolla Commercial is set to go on sale next summer, initially solely in the UK.

Un-braked towing capacity is 450kg while braked towing capacity is a provisional 750kg. Toyota has yet to release payload or load cube figures, but an educated guess would suggest around 500kg for the former and roughly 1.8cu m for the latter.

“It’s being introduced as the consequence of feedback from customers,” says Toyota light commercial vehicle manager, Gareth Matthews. “They’ve been pointing out to us that we’re the hybrid leaders in the car market, so why don’t we bring in a hybrid van?”

Toyota also offers electric versions of its Proace and Proace City vans, both of which are based on models made by Stellantis-owned manufacturers. The latest Hilux pick-up was at the NEC too, and Matthews and his colleagues were promoting a new warranty package calculated to boost the appeal of the manufacturer’s light commercial range.

“We’re saying we’ll cover our vehicles for up to ten years/100,000 miles if the owners have them serviced at Toyota dealerships,” he says. It should particularly help to enhance the fortunes of Toyota models that are also available with other manufacturers badges on them.

LEVC was continuing to promote its range-extended VN5 van, and insisting that there are no immediate plans for an all-electric model. “We don’t intend to introduce one until the charging infrastructure has improved,” states VN5 product manager, Antonios Giampanis.

By no means all light commercial exhibitors were displaying zero-emission vehicles. Diesel still has a few more years left in it yet, especially so far as pick-ups are concerned.

Taking pride of place on the Isuzu (UK) stand, and based on the latest D-Max 4×4 diesel double-cab pick-up, was a pre-production version of the exciting-looking Arctic Trucks AT35. Features include Bilstein performance suspension, extra-wide tyres and a strengthened chassis.

Also on display was a D-Max likely to be of more practical use so far as many businesses are concerned. Making its first public appearance at the NEC, and produced in conjunction with Bristol body builders TGS, it is an aluminium-bodied tipper which uses a Utility Extended Cab 4×4 as its platform.

VB Tech air suspension has been installed at Isuzu’s import centre, which boosts the truck’s gross weight to 3.5 tonnes. Payload capacity has yet to be confirmed, but is estimated at around 1.2 tonnes.

A Single Cab tipper has been developed too.

On show as well was a Utility D-Max 4×4 fitted with a demountable snowplough attached to a mounting bracket designed by Isuzu which has had to undergo National Small Series Type Approval. Its design and positioning does not affect the protection provided to the occupants of the cab in a front-end collision, Isuzu stresses.

The aim is to enable the operator – a local authority maintenance contractor, say – to use the truck for landscaping work in the summer, and to keep roads and car parks clear of snow in the winter. The pick-up’s load area can be equipped with a demountable gritter.

SsangYong was taking the opportunity to promote the latest iteration of its Musso double-cab 4×4 pick-up, which has a redesigned front end. 

Like Isuzu, Toyota, and Ford – Ranger pick-up had a major presence on the Big Blue Oval’s stand – it is benefiting from the decision of a number of manufacturers to cease selling pick-ups in the UK. They include Mitsubishi, which no longer markets the highly-successful L200 here and has pulled out of Britain completely.

“We’ll have 20 ex-Mitsubishi dealers in our network by the end of the year,” says SsangYong Motors UK managing director, Kevin Griffin. “Ten of them are already in operation with us.”

While Land Rover’s presence at an event as commonplace as the CV Show might cause prosperous members of the green welly brigade to shudder, it was nonetheless there with commercial vehicle versions of some of its key models. Among them is a Hard Top version of the latest Land Rover Defender – vulgar words such as ‘van’ are of course carefully avoided.

Two models are being offered – a three-door 90 and a five-door 110 –with load cubes of 1.35cu m and 2.0cu m respectively if the under-floor storage space is included. Payload capacities are 670kg and 800kg respectively, and both Hard Tops can haul a braked trailer grossing at up to 3.5 tonnes.

Power comes courtesy of a 3.0-litre six-cylinder diesel at 200bhp, 249hp or 300hp.

Despite its travails, the Commercial Vehicle Show will be back in 2022, although dates had yet to be confirmed at the time of writing. It will be interesting to see the extent to which the organisers can tempt back manufacturers who opted not to put in an appearance this year; or whether they will gravitate to other exhibitions such as the ITT Hub show in Farnborough instead.