EVM and Altas team up to achieve zero-emissions mission

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EVM’s minibus range never stands still for long, and now the popular Cityline has been electrified. Richard Sharman takes the e-Cityline for its first UK press test drive

EVM UK’s low-floor minibus took the industry by storm when it was introduced 7 years ago, and the firm has sales that are breaking the 100 unit mark this year. CBW has test driven many of its products over the last few years, and the latest innovation is one that could potentially change how the UK and Ireland’s bus industry sees the humble minibus. Whilst the original diesel-powered Cityline already meets the strict Euro VI guidelines, operators are facing the prospect of having to provide zero-emission vehicles in a growing number of towns and cities.
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Exterior of the e-Cityline. RICHARD SHARMAN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crawley to Brighton

Peter Flynn, EVM’s Sales and Marketing Director started with a 100% battery charge. Having driven from Crawley to Brighton to meet me, which is 26.7 miles, the e-Cityline had only used 12% of its battery – and most of that journey was at the maximum speed of 50mph.
“The e-Cityline becomes most efficient when it reaches 80% of its battery capacity and it is in full regeneration mode,” enthused Peter. “Once you get used to the vehicle, which happens very quickly, you start driving it with one pedal and let the regeneration do the braking for you. Driving in this manner allows you to recover 10kW of power at 90%, but as you move down the range you can recover up to 40kW. So it is most efficient between 80% and 15%. The reason that it becomes more efficient from after the first 10% of charge used is that the batteries now have the capacity to regenerate. On the journeys that we have been doing, which typically start with a trip up or down the motorway, we are seeing that we can achieve 170-180 miles per charge, and that is starting with 30-40 miles on the motorway first. Standardised On-Road Test Cycles (SORT) 3 has confirmed the e-Cityline is capable of 294km, which backs up the mileage we have been getting on the vehicle ourselves. In a true urban environment, you start to feel that this vehicle makes sense, with no engine running and no emissions. This is also true for countryside settings, you are just leaving behind clean air. Our demonstrator will be working in those rural environments when it goes on trial to Transport for Wales in the coming months.”

Peter Flynn, EVM Sales and Marketing Director. RICHARD SHARMAN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Working with Altas

“We have been working with Altas for seven years. This year will be our busiest year with sales surpassing 100 Cityline units. Production is currently split 50/50 between Altas in Lithuania and EVM in Kilbeggan, Ireland which allows us to offer the extra capacity and produce identical products of the same high standard. We call it our virtual factory, it allows us to take an order and meet the customer’s exacting needs and timescales by having the use of two factories. The move to electrify the Cityline has been a natural progression by EVM and Altas working together. We had joint conversations about what we should prioritise at the start of the lockdown and having the electric option was at the top of the list,” said Peter. “Altas had been working with Elinta on the driveline and software in Lithuania, and we had been working with Astra in the UK, who are Elintra’s main dealer here. So there were many coincidental synergies that made this product work. The technology that drives electric vehicles is a lot more reliable than many people perceive right now. If you look at how the power has been managed in cars that are six to seven years old now, the battery may still have at least 85-87% of its cells operational, with the worst-case scenario being around 80%. The vehicle will still operate normally, but batteries do deplete over time, and that is the same for any type of battery.”

Cost of ownership

“Many people reference the cost of fitting a DC charger at their depot to go with the vehicle when looking at it. In reality, you do not need to have a DC charger for this vehicle. It can operate from an AC wall charger if need be. A DC unit would fully charge this vehicle in around 1hr 30mins, whereas an AC wall charger will take four hours from empty due to the lower voltage. The AC charging unit we had fitted at our Crawley site cost less than £2,000, so the cost is minimal when you consider the overall saving you would be making on the cost of a tank of diesel every day, which is around £90. It only costs £7 to charge the e-Cityline for a whole day’s operation. The e-Cityline will easily cover a range of 180 miles on just 80% of charge, and that is enough to cover most typical runs that this type of vehicle would do on a normal day in service. We also expect the reliability of the e-Cityline to be a step above the diesel version as there is no drop box, you have a very short driveline and there is far less running gear to contend with. In terms of the purchasing cost of this vehicle in comparison to the diesel version, the price is nearly double. However, you already have the diesel saving cost, and a registration grant from the government of between £6,000 and £8,000. We have been in long talks with the Department for Transport and the Zemo Partnership to get this vehicle recognised for the Government’s Zero Emission Bus Regional Area (ZEBRA) funding. The classification of a minibus is a legacy one at 22 seats. That has no bearing on today’s market.

“We will deliver over 100 diesel-fuelled Citylines this year, but we do not need to. Operators from Stagecoach down to community groups are interested in the electric version and would go for it if it were to be included in the ZEBRA funding. The ZEBRA funding would allow operators a grant of up to 75% of the difference between diesel and electric to purchase the electric version, and this combined with the fuel-saving and cut in the carbon footprint is enough to make the e-Cityline a cost-effective option for operators large and small. Operators have never been more ready to make the change to electric, but they need some help along the way. We have just agreed a deal with one of the Uk’s major asset funders to fund and underwrite the vehicles’ residual on a 48 month deal with a 3 month VAT deferral which makes funding the e-Cityline a very attractive option to operators.”

The ‘power bay’ has one battery situated where the engine would be, and another behind it, instead of the gearbox. RICHARD SHARMAN
The third battery is located behind the rear axle. RICHARD SHARMAN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charging plugs are neatly installed where the fuel filler would have been located. RICHARD SHARMAN

New mission statement

“We all saw how much the air quality improved during the pandemic, and by switching to electric we can keep those emission levels down and save lives. Children are losing their lives in London and other major cities because of pollution,” suggested Peter.

“We want to be part of the effort to help make that change and bring cleaner air to our towns and cities, and that is why we are introducing zero-emission vehicles to sit alongside our low-emissions offerings. It was always coming, but the pandemic has accelerated our plans. It gave us time to take stock of the situation and get on with developing the solutions. The amount of work that our engineering teams puts into developing something like this is not often seen or talked about, but they are the ones who are making our designs a reality.

“We have another three vehicles that are being developed. Our standard 16-seat high floor accessible mini bus based on the same Sprinter platform will be ready in September and there will be another low-floor service bus that will carry 26 to 27 passengers plus standees ready for trial in quarter one 0f 2022. This vehicle will also have the ability to be fitted with an additional battery pack to give it a range of over 350km. By the end of this year, we will announce more zero-emission solutions in our range, seating 16 – 33 passengers, so we have 100% redirected our focus as the future is here now and operators are looking for those solutions.”

 

Interior configuration

“This is the first example we have produced and it will seat 15 passengers, with four standees and our next offering will bring the seating capacity to 18 seated passengers with four standees. We have found this is the most popular configuration in our diesel version, so we developed the e-Cityline with this in mind. However this vehicle does not have the tip-up seat behind the driver’s cab due to the battery location, but this is something that will be developed as time goes on. We have two 7.2t Iveco platform-based low floor products in development now that will increase passenger capacity to suit operators’ needs, with an additional battery.”

Kiel seating is used, and the interior is finished to a high standard. EVM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beside the seaside

It seemed like this test drive had been a long time coming, as the e-Cityline demonstrator has had a busy few months at various shows and demonstrations. It was nice to see it in the metal as you couldn’t get near it at ITT Hub due to the amount of attention it was receiving.
Parked on Maderia Drive on a warm sunny day the e-Cityline looks identical to the diesel variant apart from that it is badged as an EVM rather than a Mercedes-Benz. Whilst it may look like a standard Sprinter externally, it is the technology under its skin is that makes this van conversion special.

Clever design

Opening the engine bay – although I tend to refer to the growing number of electric vehicles as having power bays these days – you find that it has been stripped bare of the majority of its original Mercedes-Benz components. All that remains visible is the inlet for the OEM demister unit, a screen wash bottle, brake fluid, wiper motor and a few other parts. The rest of the ‘power bay’ sees one battery sat where the bottom of the diesel engine would normally be, with the control units mounted on top of it. The second battery is mounted behind the first and is visible in the space that is normally where the gearbox can be found.

The third battery can be found mounted at the rear of the chassis behind the rear axle, tucked out of the way where it cannot be damaged. Ironically, this would normally be where the diesel tank would be located. This means that the e-Cityline is easily able to mimic the diesel-powered version, being able to maintain its low-floor section without any major changes. This also means that from an engineer’s perspective, all three batteries are easily accessed.

OEM not an option

You may be thinking that you thought Mercedes-Benz had already released its eSprinter, so why have EVM and Altas developed their own version? The answer lies in how much weight it can carry. The OEM option can only offer a van that is capable of carrying 3.5t maximum – this is the standard weight that many fleet van purchasers would be looking for to deliver parcels. The e-Cityline can carry 5.5t, which allows its maximum capacity to reach 19 passengers. The eSprinter also has a shorter range of 83 miles, compared to the e-Cityline which can achieve over 180 miles on just 80% charge, so the cost of developing this product soon makes a lot of sense.

The cab area features a luggage pen, ticket machine stand and a covid screen. EVM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Driving experience

The interior build quality is, as you would expect from EVM, very good and the specification very similar to the standard Cityline. The review of the Euro VI diesel variant can be found in issue 1398. What I wanted to talk about was the driving experience of the e-Cityline. Most of us will know how good a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is to drive, but has EVM struck gold with its partners in developing this product? In short, yes it has. The beauty of the e-Cityline is that the complicated part of the vehicle is limited to the software that runs it. The application of the technology that is contained in what was a Sprinter has been kept simple, but at the same time it has been cleverly thought out and executed.

Behind the wheel, you will find everything is pretty much as you would expect, apart from the standard Mercedes-Benz MBUX multi-media screen has gone and has been replaced with an EVM screen which gives the driver the battery level and range information. The steering column gear selector is also gone, in favour of a sliding switch that can be used to select reverse, neutral or drive. This also has the parking brake located within it and is located below the demister controls.

The OEM MBUX screen has been replaced with a Altas/EVM-developed screen to display vehicle system information. EVM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out on road, you have to remember two things: Firstly there are no gears, so hill starts require you to feather the accelerator when pulling away. Secondly, regeneration of power happens the second you take your foot off the accelerator whilst in motion. Regeneration does not take long to get used to, and it becomes natural for you to plan ahead whilst driving to minimise the use of the foot brake as you are not only gaining battery range but also delivering a smooth ride for the passengers whilst minimising foot brake use, thus reducing brake dust pollution.

I spent nearly two hours driving the vehicle in and around Brighton, and I found it very intuitive. It handled the same as a diesel variant, but what stood out to me was just how smooth the acceleration was and how the regeneration once off the accelerator was just right. It was slowing me down as if I was braking very lightly, which brings you to a stop after some distance of not using the accelerator.

The time spent behind the wheel, and the fact that the saloon air-conditioning was on, returned a respectable 8% of battery use over 20 miles. This driving was a mix of urban and countryside, combined with maximum use of regeneration as there was little need to use the footbreak, even around the congested roads of the seafront.

Overall impression

Every now and then a vehicle comes along that has ticked every box, with no niggles or drawbacks. I think that EVM and its development partners have created something that sets a benchmark for this sector. You have the looks, the build quality and the technology to help save the planet. If the ZEBRA funding recognizes and includes the capacity of this vehicle, which it really should, then this is a vehicle that needs to go on your list of options to try out.
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