Although the London Electric Vehicle Company (LEVC) has been around in one form or other since 1908, it was only after Chinese company Geely bought the London Taxi Company in 2013, that the current move to electrification began.The company changed it’s name to LEVC in 2017, with the clue to their future in the name. Firstly, in 2018, they launched the innovative electric taxi the TX & in 2020 launched their TX based van, the VN5.
What makes the VN5 different is it’s eCity technology. The VN5 is powered by a lithium-ion battery & features a petrol range extender to maintain the battery charge state. The battery always powers the motor & drives the vehicle. The range-extender acts as a backup generator & is only used to trickle-charge the battery to maintain it’s current state of charge. When the 31kWh battery is depleted (after about 58 miles in the VN5), the 1.3-litre range extender engine kicks in & charges it back up again, providing a total range of over 300 miles. As a limited range is the number one problem for electric vans, for example the Mercedes-Benz eVito will travel 81 miles on a single charge, the Renault & Renault Trucks Master just 75 miles, LEVC believes that this clever technology, is a game changer.
How does it work ? The traction (High Voltage) battery, which weighs in at 330kg, is located under the seats, whilst the generator is integrated with the range extender & is located at the front of the vehicle under the bonnet. The 12V battery is located at the cargo area over the right side wheel arch, with the drive motor located on the rear axle. This only ever drives the wheels & never the range-extender.
There are two charging socket’s located at the front of the vehicle. On the left side, you’ll find the CCS combo charging plug, on the right side the CHAdeMO. The petrol fuel cap is at the left rear side of the vehicle, between the sliding door and the wheel. A real bonus, is that the van comes with a type 2 connector that can do 7kw – 22kw charging, plus it offers 50kw fast-charging capability as standard & the charging cables for these are included.
The VN5 may be electric, but it has to offer van customer what they want & the company has tried hard to deliver on this. With up to 5.5m3 capacity, VN5 cargo capacity will take two Euro sized pallets with a gross payload of 830kg. It has been built with a large side-loading door, large enough for enabling a pallet to be side-loaded, with a 60/40 split door at the rear, making loading & unloading easier. The cabin features a fully adjustable drivers seat, an open glove box, twin drinks holders, two decent sized door pockets & a couple of cubby’s located in the dash & central binnacle. The automatic gear stick, hand brake & starter button are located between the front seats, which means that the van is offered with either one or two front seats, with no third seat option, which is a shame.
Customers can choose from three models. Entry level Business costs from £46,500 & features an 11kW OBC, DAB, 1 X sliding side door, a bulkhead, floor trim & cargo cladding, 4 floor loops, black steel wheels & a 10 way electrically adjustable driver’s seat. Next up is City, costing from £48,000, which further adds a heated windscreen, front & rear parking sensors, under seat storage, curtain airbags & Lane Departure Warning. Range topping Ulitima, offers the 11kWOBC, a rear view camera, SatNav, silver steel wheels & 8 tie loops.
There are also six option packs on offer with stand alone options. Choose from Safety Pack, Drivers Pack, Comfort Pack, Pro Pack, Styling Pack & Luxury Pack. However, before you add these on, it’s worth noting that LEVC have packed the range with some decent standard spec. For example, the Business range includes 2 USB ports, dual- zone climate control, a 9″ touchscreen, keyless start, Bluetooth, LED headlights, LED daytime running lights & LED cabin & cargo lights. The key & touchscreen plus the touchscreen menu are the same as you’ll find on the current Volvo car range, utilising the Geely connection & offering van customers a tried & tested set-up. All in all, its very impressive.
LEVC are based in Ansty, just south of Coventry, where both the TX & VN5 are manufactured, in a state of the art electric vehicle factory. After presentations from Alan Clark, LEVC Design Director, James Drake-Lee,, Head of Product Management & CEO, Joerg Hoffman, we set off from their HQ on a circular 2 hour driving route, that encompassed motorway, dual-carriageway, town centre & rural roads.
The VN5 features three driving modes; Pure EV, Smart & Save & we were encouraged to try them all. As we discovered, Save, works best when travelling on the motorway or a long dual carriageway, Pure EV, in slower town traffic & Smart,c for the majority of normal driving. The VN5 also comes with two stage regenerative braking, accessed by nudging the gear lever to the right side & very useful in town, allowing, as with other EV’s, drivers to bank battery power when slowing down.
On the motorway, we used the cruise control to set our speed at 70 mph & headed off towards Rugby. Unladen, the van was quite noisy on the road, but not loud enough to stop me receiving a Bluetooth hands-free phone call whilst on route. Connecting my iPhone to the USB was simple & for a change, the USB inputs are located further back in the centre binnacle between the front seats, so there’s no issue with dangling wires when you’ve plugged in. I found the driver’s seat comfortable & the seat adjustment excellent, although the head rest was too hard for my liking.
The large side windows & windscreen, allow for good visibility & on the move, being familiar with the Volvo portrait touchscreen menu was an advantage, as I was able to switch between my iPhone & the DAB radio for entertainment. The climate controls & driving modes are also accessed via the touchscreen & at first, altering these can be a fiddly on the move. Past experience with the Volvo brand, has taught me that just a few days in the cabin will familiarise the driver with the system. All in all the cabin has been pit together with good attention to detail & there’s plenty of quality plastics on view.
Out on some country roads, the VN5 offers up decent enough handling. The weight is at the front which helps in this regards. As with the TX, the VN5 offers a class leading 10.1m turning circle, which allows for easier urban deliveries. The fuel tank isn’t that large at 36 litres & neither is the 1.5 litre engine, but since these are designed to charge the generator & not power the engine, they’re more than up to the task. LEVC’s eCity technology, means that the VN5’s official combined fuel economy is 313mpg (WLTP), with CO2 emission of just 21g/km & it comes with a top speed of 80 mph.
The VN5 is actually built from strong & lightweight bonded aluminium monocoque & SMC construction. This technology is resistant to corrosion & will absorb twice the crash energy of mild steel. In addition, VN5 features SMC panels which are resistant to dents & can shrug off minor impacts. LEVC are keen to stress that vehicle down time is reduced because of this & their 25,000 mile service intervals mean less time spent in the workshop, maximising earning capacity on the road. And there’s class leading five year/150,000 mile vehicle warranty & a battery warranty of eight years/150,000 miles. Add in contract hire rates for business users, beginning at just £493.92 per month + VAT based on a 60-month contract covering 20,000 miles per annum & the LEVC package is hard to fault. In addition, LEVC has worked with a number of Europe’s leading convertors to ensure the VN5 can be equipped with racking, roof racks, light bars & other bespoke modifications required by customers in this sector.
After a couple of hours in the VN5 we came away impressed. Several prototypes have been tested over the past 3 years, both in harsh climates & over undulating terrain. Some pre-production model’s have seen service with the likes of DPD & the first reports from drivers are very favourable. Price wise it stacks up well against the likes of the larger Renault Master & Fiat Professional Ducato which are pure EV’s, although it’s cargo capacity is more in line with the smaller & similarly priced Mercedes-Benz eVito & Volkswagen ABT eTransporter & cheaper PSA triumvirate, of Citroen e-Dispatch, Peugeot e-Expert & Vauxhall Vivaro-e.
If we are being picky, we were disappointed that there isn’t a 3-seat version on offer & it’s not cheap to buy. When opening & closing the rear & sliding side doors, they did feel a bit flimsy. If you go up from the base model, you do get additional under seat storage, but it is missing some of the clever flip over seat desks & dashboard paper holders, found in the cabins of some of the competition. Whilst it’s low height of 1.99m, make’s it compatible with most car parks, the load space at 5.5 cubic metres isn’t generous, especially when the smallest Transit Custom can carry 6.0 cubic metres. And, with a maximum payload of 830kg, which stacks up well versus the pure-electric Nissan e-NV200 & Renault Kangoo ZE, it’s way off the 1500kg offered by the best-in-sector diesel vans out there.
The VN5 is, in fact, a range-extender van, making it a unique proposition for city-based drivers. Furthermore, where few EV cars currently come with more than a standard 3-pin & 7kW charging lead, the VN5 offers 50kW DC rapid charging & minimum 11kW AC fast charging capability from the off.
Whilst it may not offer the payload or cubic capacity of the diesels out there, it is being marketed by LEVC as the perfect ‘delivery to door’ solution. Thanks to it’s petrol engine, which gives it a 300 mile range, it isn’t just a ‘last mile’ solution, like most other pure electric vans. And despite the hefty price tag, it is in likelihood, going to be leased rather than bought.
In conclusion, we have to say that LEVC have really thrown the cat amongst the pigeons with the VN5. We feel it offers something different for operators. LEVC has the capacity to build 20,000 units per year, of which 6,000 are earmarked for the TX Taxi. This means that they could, in theory, build as many as 14,000 VN5’s a year, which is quite some target.
British Built & Different 4/5
Loadspace and exterior dimensions
- ▪ Length(mm)–5,233mm
Overall width including mirrors (mm) – 2,083mm
- ▪ Overall height–unladen–1,990mm
- ▪ Max Load Volume – 5.5m3
- ▪ Side load door entry width-1128mm
- ▪ Rear door entry width-1253mm
- ▪ Max payload–830kg
- ▪ Gross vehicle weight–2900kg
- ▪ Turning circle kerb to kerb–10.1m
- Powertrain and Charging
- ▪ Range: 61miles (98km) pureEV, 304miles (489km) total range
- ▪ Peak Power:150ps
- ▪ Peak Torque:240nm
- ▪ Battery Capacity: 31kWh
- ▪ Generator:1.5L 3Cylinder
- ▪ Fuel tank capacity:36L
- ▪ AC Charging:11 or 22kw (CCS)
- ▪ DCCharging:50kw(CHAdeMO)
- ▪ Official combined fuel economy: 313mpg (WLTP)
- ▪ Official CO2 emission (G/km): 21 WLTP
- ▪ Max Speed: 80 mph
- ▪ 0-62mph:13.2 seconds
- ▪ Service Interval: 25,000 mile / 1yr