Volkswagen ABT e-Transporter

VW's electrified Transporter has arrived, adding another zero emission model to the range...

Volkswagen ABT e-Transporter

VW's electrified Transporter has arrived, adding another zero emission model to the range...

SECTOR Medium van PRICE From £42,060 (excluding VAT and Plug-in Van Grant) PAYLOAD 962/996kg RANGE Up to 82 miles

What’s not to like about electric vans? They are easier to drive, noise levels are far lower than diesels and fuel is much cheaper. But then there’s the small matter of list price, while payload may be less than the diesel alternative.

I have a lot of sympathy for van manufacturers when it comes to electric vehicles. We have known that electricity is what will power most motor vehicles in future, but you need the powers of Mystic Meg to try and judge when demand will build to levels where customers are ready to leave the internal combustion engine behind.

The problem is that it won’t come with a sudden wholesale conversion, it will happen in stages. Those stages will be dictated by advancing battery technology, the availability of charging points and the ability of the electricity grid to meet the demand for charging. Oh and price. As production of batteries rises and the cost falls, list prices will become more attractive.

At the moment we appear to be going through one of those stages. There are more electric vans than ever before to choose from. Every manufacturer feels the need to have a product in the market place, even if the market case is still weak.

That’s about where VW finds itself with the e-Transporter. Demand has pushed the company to producing a model towards the end of a model life-cycle. The next-generation Transporter, when it arrives, will undoubtedly be designed with an electric model right in the centre of the model mix.

It is not worth the cost of development to produce one now, so the e-Transporter has been engineered by trusted partner ABT, which has considerable experience with EVs.

The end result is a van which began life as a long wheelbase Transporter diesel automatic using VW’s DSG gearbox. The engine has been replaced with an electric motor, the gearbox revised and batteries have been added underneath the load floor, providing the same load area as a diesel-powered LWB model. Many of the components are shared with the VW e-Golf passenger car.

The resulting ABT e-Transporter 6.1 offers a gross payload between 962 and 996kg, comparable, if not slightly more than its 2.0-litre DSG counterpart. VW quotes a range of up to 82 miles, which is some way behind some rivals, while the price, on the road, excluding VAT and the Plug-in Van Grant (PiVG) starts from £42,060 for the panel van and £45,360 for the higher-spec Advance model.

Compare that with the Vauxhall Vivaro-e, for example, which will cost from £35,028 on the road, is available in standard and long wheelbase and offers a range of up to either 143 miles or 205 miles.

Besides the panel van, e-Transporter is also available as a kombi crew van. As standard in the kombi, there is seating for the driver and up to four passengers, although a double front passenger seat can be specified, adding one further seat. The three rear seats can be removed altogether and these are accessed through a single sliding side door.

As you might expect, VW has done its homework when it comes to driving the van. The conversion is a very tidy one. In the cab the revised instrument pack includes a standard-looking Transporter speedometer incorporating a charge level dial at the bottom. This is accompanied by a power display showing whether you are using power and at what level, or regenerating the batteries on the overrun or under braking.

To move off, leave the gear selector in ‘P’ and twist the key as if you were starting a diesel model. After a second or two, the display will show that all is ready. You will soon know if it isn’t, as there will be no power assistance for the steering and nothing will happen when you press the accelerator. Like all EVs, it will accelerate fairly briskly, although the e-Transporter will only deliver 75% of the power under normal acceleration to conserve the battery charge. Floor the pedal and it will deliver 100%, but that will shorten the range further.

There is the usual whining sound and noises associated with an electric vehicle, but it’s quite subdued. The DSG transmission has three forward speeds and gearchanges are more or less imperceptible. You can’t manually change gear to add more regen braking.

The Transporter will be fine for van operators covering a relatively short daily distance. It can be rapid charged to 80% of charge in around 45 minutes. Otherwise it will take around five and a half hours from a 7.2kW wallbox charger.

There is much to recommend the e-Transporter. It’s a pleasant and easy van to drive and comes with a range of useful safety features. These include front assist with city emergency braking, driver steering recommendation, automatic post-collision braking and cross wind assist. But that price tag and relatively restricted range is likely to draw some customers away to rivals which offer a better package of range and list price.

That pricing might well be a little more palatable with some good leasing deals through VW Financial Services with offers on contract hire. “I think that’s a good inroad into electric vehicles for these customers,” says Alice Axtell, VW Transporter product manager. Current offers include four-year contract hire at £415 per month, based on 10,000 miles per year. VW’s charge point supplier is Pod Point and chargers start from £450.

VW expects the e-Transporter to appeal to customers who will be carrying out last-mile deliveries, as well as trades such as electricians and plumbers who cover relatively short distances during the working day. According to VW, Transporter customers tend to average less than 70 miles per day anyway, so the range is not out of line with what many customers cover in a day.

All VW Van Centres can sell and service the e-Transporter, having had training in the past year from both VW and ABT. Batteries carry an eight-year 100,000 mile warranty and the ABT e-Transporter will need servicing annually or every 24,900 miles.

The e-Transporter is a well-engineered electric conversion with good driver appeal as well as good specification. The combination of comparatively high price and limited range may not help it against cheaper rivals with greater ranges.