Quiet, emissions-free and practical – 100 battery-driven electric Mercedes-Benz Vito E-CELL vans have proven their worth in customer use in Berlin and Stuttgart. The world’s first van fitted with an electric drive system ex factory has been taking to the roads in the German capital since autumn 2010, and in Stuttgart since the beginning of 2011.
The two projects, each with 50 Vito E-CELLs, are intended to run over a period of four years. The final reports scheduled for the end of the promotional period indicate a positive result: the Vito E-CELL is ideally suited to use on inner-city routes. The vehicle has made the vision of emissions-free driving in commercial traffic a reality. A total of 230 Vito E-CELL vans are now in use in several model regions.
Automotive industry, commercial enterprises, energy suppliers and policy makers in successful collaboration
The projects serve to demonstrate how the automotive industry, together with commercial enterprises, energy suppliers and policy makers, can work together to provide crucial impetus to advance electric mobility in Germany. The German Federal Ministry for the Environment and Nature Conservation is lending its support to the Electrification of Mercedes-Benz Small Vans in Development and Production project (EMKEP) in Berlin. In Stuttgart, the Integrated Concept for Sustainable Electric Mobility project (IKONE) is being funded by the German Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development. The two promotional initiatives are part of the German federal government’s second economic stimulus package.
Intelligent charging technology utilises green electricity
Mercedes-Benz and energy suppliers Vattenfall (Berlin) and EnBW (Stuttgart) have begun the implementation of new technologies in vehicles and their charging systems at both locations. The energy suppliers, for instance, have now provided charging stations to operators at their depots. The batteries of Vito E-CELL vans are recharged at these locations outside of operating hours.
Intelligent charging technology is used, based on the Smart Charge Communication Unit (SCCU) in the Vito E-CELL. The technology optimises the CO2 balance of the vans with certified green electricity, or even surplus wind energy (“Wind-to-Vehicle/W2V”). The charging technology can also be programmed to lower electricity tariffs to impact operating costs favourably. Where operators use several Vito E-CELL vans, the charging procedures are graded through a process of local charge management (LLM, in German: Lokales Lastmanagement) to ensure that the grid capacity is not overextended.
Highly diverse areas of application
Mercedes-Benz delivered the first vehicles for field testing to testing partners in Berlin at the beginning of September 2010, and in Stuttgart in January 2011. The areas of application are highly diverse: courier, express and package service providers (KEP, in German: Kurier-, Express- und Paketdienstleister), plant transportation in large corporations, service vehicles for plant maintenance, customer service, and assembly and internal transport within companies. The varied topography was a key factor in the selection of the regions. In contrast to the largely flat terrain of the greater Berlin area, the differences in elevation within the Stuttgart metropolitan area are as much as 350 meters, which presents a real stamina test for the range, recuperation performance and drive properties of the Vito E-CELL.
All-round positive assessment of Vito E-CELL van in daily use by customers and drivers
In both regions, the drivers’ assessment of the Vito E-CELL has been highly positive. Characteristics of drive performance, tractive force, steady acceleration without shifting gears and continuous braking were all rated favourably. Drivers also praised the quiet running. The sole drawback of a quiet drive system is that other road users do not always hear the van approaching; according to driver opinion, this necessitates increased attentiveness and an especially anticipatory driving style.
Range typically not exploited to the full
Initial concerns regarding a too limited range were not substantiated in practice. The vehicles proved capable of covering at least 80 km on a full battery charge, including in winter, which in most cases is a sufficient range. Specifically, this concerns KEP applications with fixed routes, trade companies, supply and municipal companies, and general use within the inner-city environment and within corporate facilities. In a survey conducted during testing in Stuttgart, for example, drivers rated the range of the Vito E-CELL as either good or satisfactory. The fact that the challenging topography of the region fails to limit the on-the-road capabilities of the Vito E-CELL was one of the key findings in field testing.
The charge level of the batteries is a key indicator of range. In Berlin, for instance, this typically fluctuated between 95 and 25 percent of available capacity. This indicates that the maximum range of the Vito E-CELL is seldom fully utilised. Comparatively short charging times of between one and three hours are thus the norm in both regions.
Top speed sufficient, drivers highly motivated
The speed of the Vito E-CELL is electronically limited to 89 km/h to preserve a maximum range. This allows the vans to be driven with ease within the flow of truck traffic on occasional trips on the autobahn. Often, the maximum speed is not reached: in Berlin, for instance, only 30 percent of electric vans were reported to reach top speed on a daily basis. Analyses revealed that, in most cases, the speed of the Vito E-CELL did not exceed 55 km/h in both cities. Speeds were largely in the 15 to 30 km/h range.
Technical design of the Vito E-CELL
The Vito E-CELL is based on the mid-length Vito panel van. With a load capacity of up to 900 kg and an unmodified usable load compartment, the Vito E-CELL is suitable for commercial applications without any restrictions. The bodywork as such remains unaffected.
The electric engine, power electronics, converter and AC/DC charger are housed beneath the bonnet. The electric engine develops 60 kW, with a peak torque of 280 Nm. The power is transferred to the front wheels. The high-performance and durable lithium-ion traction batteries are located beneath the load compartment floor. The nominal voltage is 360 V, with a capacity of 36 kWh.
The maximum speed is limited to 89 km/h to maximise the range, which according to NEDC is around 130 km. This enables the Vito E-CELL to keep pace with the flow of truck traffic on the autobahn. The vehicle accelerates quickly from 0 to 50/80 km/h in just 6.5/11 seconds.
Power supply is via charging stations at fleet depots. The batteries of the Vito E-CELL are charged at a mains voltage of 380/400 V, a process that takes a maximum of six hours. Later, charging will also be possible at a mains voltage of 230 V. Furthermore, the batteries are also charged while the vehicle is under way, through recuperation, in which brake energy is converted into power. Back-up for the Vito E-CELL during the two field tests was provided by the local subsidiaries. Like all Mercedes-Benz vehicles, the Vito E-CELL is also fully integrated into the Star Diagnosis diagnostics system.
Fully fledged safety features, successful crash tests
In contrast to other electric vehicles, the Vito E-CELL is equipped with fully fledged safety features, including ESP. Additionally, the batteries themselves are protected by a crash element. If the airbag is triggered, the high-voltage technology is disabled automatically. The Vito E-CELL has impressively demonstrated its high safety standards in crash tests.
Numerous awards for the Vito E-CELL
The Mercedes-Benz Vito E-CELL has been awarded numerous distinctions by many independent panels, including the “Postal Technology International Award 2010” and “Green Commercial Vehicle of the Year” award. In 2011, the Vito E-CELL was awarded the “Alternative Drive Systems” innovation prize in the “KEP Van of the Year” event, the “Baden-Württemberg Environmental Technology Prize” and the Design Award at the Michelin “Challenge Bibendum”, one of the world’s largest forums for sustainable mobility.
400 Vito E-CELL vans in 2011, further model variants
The greatest distinction achieved by the Mercedes-Benz Vito E-CELL is the demand for the vehicle among customers. In 2011, Mercedes-Benz manufactured some 400 Vito E-CELL vans in its Vitoria plant in the Basque region in Spain. There, the Vito E-CELL is manufactured on the same assembly lines as all other Vito vans. This professional standard of manufacturing is a crucial factor for acceptance among commercial customers.
Mercedes-Benz Vans has produced a series of 2000 E-CELL vehicles since 2011. The popularity of the electrically driven van is set to receive a further boost with additional model variants for even greater practice- and customer-oriented purposes. Since the Vito E-CELL has an EU type approval, no monitoring organisation assessment is required for licensing within the EU, and special directives for high-voltage technology are also not applicable.
Meanwhile, field testing continues in Berlin and Stuttgart. The vehicles are designed for four years of use, with a distance of up to 80,000 km per vehicle. Owing to the high levels of demand and acceptance experienced, it proved possible as early as the testing phase to deploy additional vehicles in other model regions of Germany. A total of 230 Vito E-CELL vans have taken to the road as part of the promotional initiatives, with a distance of approximately 650,000 km covered to date. Meanwhile, Mercedes-Benz is preparing to deploy the Vito in other regions of Germany, and in most western European countries as well.
Source: Daimler AG