Electric vehicles are here and they work, that much is not in doubt. The barriers preventing electric cars and commercial vehicles taking off commercially tend to relate to the practicalities of using them day-to-day. If your normal usage patterns are right for an electric vehicle, those barriers melt away.
That’s the thinking at the heart of the Volkswagen e-load up!, a prototype electric van based on the up! city car. Not only does it have an all-electric powertrain with a maximum range of just 100 miles, because it’s based on a city car measuring just over 3.5m nose to tail, it can also accommodate just one cubic metre of cargo.
The small range and small carrying capacity in tandem would seem to limit the appeal of the e-load up! to UK van operators but Volkswagen has built prototype versions and is seriously considering putting the vehicle into production. The reason being that for a small but growing number of urban businesses a van like this could fit neatly with their usage patterns.
For short trips in urban areas, particularly cities looking to kerb vehicle emissions, the e-load up! could prove ideal. The limited storage space in the rear is still enough to do the job for fast food deliveries, security firms or couriers and the manoeuvrability inherent in the up’s city car design will pay dividends too. That’s the theory anyway.
In the metal the e-load up looks the part. A full set of side windows and proper opening rear doors make this van version very tricky to distinguish from the standard five-door up! city car. There’s a badge on the back to help you out though and if you gaze in through the darkened rear glass, a mesh bulkhead presents itself behind the front seats.
Lift the boot hatch and the load space is probably bigger than you feared. The maximum carrying capacity of 1,000 litres and a payload of 306kg are comparable to other car derived vans like the Ford Fiesta and MINI Clubvan. It’s quite an achievement considering the electric up! van is based on a city car and has a battery pack secreted beneath its floor.
There are downsides to the load area though, predominately the narrow opening and a high loading lip that will make teasing bulky items inside difficult. The side doors also open as they would on a passenger version of the up! but the prototype had a gap beneath the platform of the load floor through to a redundant space that would have been the passenger foot well.
In the cabin, the e-load up! is a like-for-like reproduction of the passenger car and that means clean, modern design with a strong air of quality. The e-load up! feels a premium product as a result, from the metallic door release catches to the glossy white trim and a sporty leather steering wheel that could almost have been lifted from a Golf GTI.
Performance isn’t quite up to Golf GTI levels but the e-load up! does feel nippy in that silent, surging way that electric cars have. Despite 200kg of extra weight, the electric e-up! is the fastest model in the up! range and the e-load up! version inherits that pace.
It will do 0-62mph in 12.4s and top out at 81mph but with 210Nm or torque instantly available it feels far quicker than that over the crucial 0-30mph increment.
Driving the e-load up! couldn’t be easier. Turn the key to switch it on, select drive and you’re away. You can notice the extra weight of the batteries giving a very slight stodginess to the handling around town but the turning circle is brilliantly tight and on the open road the electric up actually feels more planted and stable than its lighter conventionally engined equivalents.
The van’s range can be maximised by turning on the engine braking, which can be set in one of three levels. This slows the car when you lift off the throttle, using the recaptured kinetic energy to charge the battery.
It has the added bonus of enabling you to drive in town barely touching the brake pedal, adding to the user-friendly feel of this little van. ECO or ECO+ modes can also be selected which reign back performance and disable some electrical systems to increase range.
The e-load up! can be charged to 80 per cent of its battery capacity in just 30 minutes at a fast charging station. If you plug it in to a normal domestic power supply it takes 8 hours for a full charge.