A bird sings somewhere in the distance and there’s a faint rustle as the breeze stirs the branches of nearby trees. The Mercedes-Benz Vito minibus pulls away from the kerb, yet these remain the only sounds to be heard. Engine noise is not the only thing lacking – there is no trace of exhaust emissions, or even of a tailpipe at the rear of the vehicle, because this is a fully electric Vito E-CELL, one of two which are now ferrying employees of British Gas between its network of offices in and around West London. The eight-seater Vito E-CELL Traveliners represent the latest stage of the operator’s drive to replace at least 10% of its fleet of 15,000 vans with electric vehicles by 2017. They shuttle between the eight British Gas buildings in Staines, as well as carrying staff to and from other facilities in Windsor, and nearby railway stations.
The UK’s largest energy and home services company is a leading provider of electric vehicle charging points and an enthusiastic proponent of zero-emissions transport. British Gas Electric Vehicle Specialist James Rooney says: “We’re committed to reducing our emissions as a way not only of cutting our overall carbon footprint, but also of minimising the impact of our operations on the local environment. We want to be a good neighbour to the people of Staines and the surrounding communities.
These vehicles are clean and also exceptionally quiet in operation”. He continues: “We chose these Vito E-CELLS as we were already in negotiation with Mercedes-Benz about an order for conventional diesel-powered vans for our Home Services fleet, and the manufacturer is the industry leader in electric minibus vehicles. We also know from experience that Mercedes-Benz vehicles are superbly reliable – we have seven Sprinter minibuses in operation already and have just introduced several minibuses with automatic transmissions at a site in Leicester”.
Also available as a panel van, the Vito E-CELL is the world’s first battery-powered light commercial vehicle to be built on line at a mainstream production facility. An 82 hp (60 kW) electric motor drives the front wheels, which means that the space beneath the load floor can be used to store the lithium-ion batteries without impinging on the passenger or cargo area. The E-CELL also employs a regenerative system which captures the energy that would otherwise be lost in braking. As well as increasing the range, this is used to power the heating and ventilation system and standard-fit heated seats, making the vehicle suitable for use on the coldest of days.
The Vito E-CELL is free from Congestion Charge and VED fees and offers volume and payload capacities which are in line with those of standard models. It will cover an average of 80 miles between recharges – to maximise operating range, the vehicle has an electronically limited top speed of 56 mph. A completely empty battery can be recharged from a 380/400 volt input in a maximum of six hours. Charging is quick and entirely safe, as the smart cable cannot be removed during charging, nor the vehicle driven off while it is attached. The Mercedes-Benz Vito E-CELL is every bit as safe as standard Vito models, with the Adaptive ESP anti-skid system and dual airbags both fitted as standard. The batteries are protected by a shock element and should a collision occur the high-tech voltage network is switched off when the airbag control unit activates. For a vehicle so whisper-quiet in operation, the Vito E-CELL makes a loud statement for environmentally conscious operators such as British Gas.