Emerald Automotive to launch dedicated fleet hybrid van
A low-emission hybrid delivery van designed specifically for fleets? That is part of the business plan from Intelligent Energy and Revolve Technologies, two UK-based companies that have led a consortium of development partners, with financial backing from the Technology Strategy Board, a UK Government agency. The project has produced two prototype vehicles, which have been undergoing tests at the Millbrook Proving Ground in the UK. One of the vehicles was displayed at the NAFA conference in St Louis, Missouri, USA in April.
The vehicle will be brought to market by a new company, Emerald Automotive, headed by former Lotus finance director and chief operating officer Andy Tempest. The idea for the vehicle came about after the Royal Mail, which operates mail services in the UK, planned to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 50% but was unable to find a vehicle manufacturer that could supply vehicles capable of meeting these needs.
The vehicle draws on Ford Transit components and Emerald describes it as a Range Extended Electric Vehicle (REEV). A 50kW Ford/PSA 1.4-litre common-rail diesel is mounted transversely under the bonnet and the engine flywheel is replaced with a 54kW (72hp) generator that supplies power to a 25.1kWh lithium-ion battery pack mounted under the cab floor. This powers a 75kW (101hp) electric motor, which drives the rear wheels and also supplies regenerative charging to the battery pack during braking and downhill running. Both motor and generator are supplied by EVO Electric. This provides an electric range of around 60 miles (96km), which can then be extended to around 250 miles (400km) by the diesel engine.
Emerald would use petrol engines for models sold in the United States. The company says it has been in discussions with a number of suppliers, believed to include General Motors, Hyundai and VW that all produce small highly efficient petrol engines.
The engine will start automatically once the batteries have 20% of charge left, producing power to recharge the batteries and also supply power directly to the drive motor. The target overall fuel consumption was to improve on 2.8l/100km (100mpg imperial) but early results suggest that around 2.4l/100km (120mpg) is possible. The best result achieved to date is 1.2l/100km (232mpg).
Similarly, a target for carbon dioxide emissions was set at less than 70g/km. Early results show that emissions as low as 25.4g/km could be possible, with a demonstrator averaging around 31.4g/km.
Although the range-extender technology is fairly similar to that used in the Opel/Vauxhall Ampera/Chevrolet Volt, the ability to both charge the batteries on the move and power the drive motor is a notable difference. The vehicle also uses some smart technology to extend range and battery life. A GPS module is built into the vehicle and information is used by the driveline. This will help to avoid unnecessary charging of the batteries towards the end of a route, ensure there’s enough charge for hill climbing and avoid using the engine in low emissions zones.
Reducing vehicle weight was essential to achieve the low emissions and fuel consumption. This meant that a conventional steel body would have to be abandoned in favour of lighter materials. Since a number of consortium members have experience with Lotus Cars, construction methods reflect that experience. The target was to produce a vehicle offering an alternative to traditional 3,500kg gross vehicle weight vans such as the Ford Transit, Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Renault Master/Opel/Vauxhall Movano and Fiat/PSA Sevel models.
The vehicle is based on an aluminium chassis, with space frame cab structure, equipped with lightweight composite body panels. The target kerb weight for the low roof, short wheelbase prototype models was 1,550kg, although the two demonstrators built to date weigh around 1,665kg. With a gross weight of 3,050kg, this gives a payload of 1,385kg. The construction is designed to be modular, giving the option of different body lengths and roof heights.
The next phase is to bring the vehicle into production and Emerald plans to achieve this by 2014. The plan is to build the vehicle on a ‘Hub and Spoke’ basis and Emerald is still looking at possible build sites. The ultimate plan is global multi-site construction, possibly using a central “hub” to build up the major components, then shipping to different places in kit form for final assembly.
Although global build is the ultimate plan, initial production is likely to start either in the UK or United States. Emerald is planning on building 5,000 units in the first year and the base business plan has been calculated on 10,000 per year. The company reckons it can break even with 4,000 units per year, so high volume production is not necessary for profitability. Up to 100,000 units per year could be built using the hub and spoke system.
From an operating perspective, Emerald is expecting a retail price of around £31,200, with no allowance for tax concessions, but expects the high price compared with a conventional light CV to be offset by reduced fuelling costs. The company reckons that for a vehicle covering 160km per day, the fuel saving would equate to roughly £29,240 over four years, giving a payback in 24 months, based on current European fuel prices. Spread across a large fleet, the fuel savings could be significant.
Emerald is working with fleets such as the Royal Mail in the UK, La Poste in France and Fed Ex in the US to establish duty cycles. The company plans to sell direct to fleet operators who would maintain the vehicles either in their own workshops or through their existing repair and maintenance arrangements.