Range-Busting Electric Van Targets Parcel Firms to Plumbers

The maker of Britain’s iconic black cabs is building a plug-in hybrid van that can travel for 377 miles without recharging or filling up, in a bid to win over long-distance delivery firms and other companies that rely on purely gasoline vehicles.

London Electric Vehicle Co. is targeting high-mileage fleets at firms such asRoyal Mail Plc and utilitiesBT Group Plc andOctopus Energy, Chief Executive Officer Joerg Hofmann said Wednesday. The model is also aimed at people such as plumbers and florists who might make a dozen back-to-back trips a day.

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The as-yet unnamed one-ton van goes on sale in October and is derived from the TX5 London taxi launched two years ago. The vehicle can run for 80 miles on its electric motor, after which a 1.5.-liter “range extender” engine kicks in to recharge the battery and increase its span to almost five times that.

“We’re talking about distribution to the door, rather than just the last mile like other electric vans,” Hofmann said at a briefing in London. “You get zero emissions in the city but you can also drive the length of the country with the range extender, so range anxiety becomes a thing of the past.”

Colin McKerracher, head of advanced transport at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, has identified urban delivery vehicles as among half a dozen “killer apps” for so-called e-mobility in the 2020s.

Ford Motor Co.’s Transit Custom PHEV deploys similar technology to the LEVC van and is likely to be its biggest rival in the U.K. market, with an electric-only limit of 35 miles that extends to 310 miles in range-extender mode.

All-electric vans like theVolkswagen AG e-Crafter, by contrast, are aimed more at short-distance operators, with VW finding drivers typically cover 40 to 60 miles a day, according to Autocar magazine. The Chronopost express-delivery arm of France’s La Poste mail service last week ordered 420 of the vehicles.

Nissan Motor Co.’s e-NV200, which is also 100% electric, can cover 124 miles in its baseline version.

Cab Sales Double

LEVC, owned by China’sZhejiang Geely Holding Group Co., sold 2,500 TX cabs last year, almost all of them in the U.K. That was more than double the total for 2018.

That still leaves huge untapped capacity at its plant near Coventry in central England, which is capable of churning out 20,000 autos annually. The new van could take up the bulk of that if it successfully penetrates a European market of 600,000 vehicles a year in its category, according to Hofmann, who previously working forGeneral Motors Co. and VW’s Audi unit.

The CEO said his strategy aims to break out of “the niche of taxis and of London,” with LEVC planning to export 60% of its autos by 2022. At the end of this year it will have sales arms in 19 overseas countries, including Japan, Australia and several states in the Middle East, as well as mainland Europe.

While the TX5 sells for 59,000 pounds ($76,000), the price for the new van will be “considerably lower,” the CEO said. Cab drivers can get 7,500 pounds off a TX5 through the U.K. government’s Plug-in Taxi Grant program, plus 10,000 pounds for turning in older vehicles in a scrappage scheme.

LEVC emerged from the collapse of Manganese Bronze, which made London cabs under the LTI brand. Geely bought a stake in 2006 and took ownership of the failed business in 2014, investing 500 million pounds in a new factory that opened three years later. The Chinese group also sells cars under theVolvo and Lotus brands in Europe.

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