It only takes one hand to count all Russian EVs, and there are no domestic electric vans at all. Entrepreneurs from Moscow looking to fill the gap have assembled a real electric van that actually drives — all in their spare time. Most interestingly, their van beats its Volkswagen counterpart in specs while costing less. Let us tell the story of how Russia’s first electric van came together, and what the creators are looking to do with it further.
The enthusiasts have submitted their project for the ASI/Roscongress forum «Strong ideas for the new times» to develop their design further and bring it to market.
How it all began
«I’ve been in the clean energy business for quite some time, says one of the founders, Aleksey Aschekin. Many people don’t know it, but solar panels become better, cheaper, lighter, and more durable by the day. A few months ago, I met guys who bought an old Fiat Ducato and electrified it. It’s a small company that has been fixing and servicing electric cars in Moscow for a few years. I offered them to integrate solar panels. We sat down and analyzed all pros and cons. It turned out, panels increase the range significantly.»
The body offers plenty of surface area for solar panels. But the main thing is that it only needs 80 to 120 km of range per day; there’s not enough time for it to need more. The van needs to pick up cargo at a warehouse and deliver it to 10-12 destinations. Every destination may take anything from 10 minutes to an hour to unload and do the paperwork.
This is when there is no discharge, and the solar panels may charge it up. We never tested our van for distance; there is just no need. We drove it around Moscow on relatively short routes, as if a delivery person were using it.
A 220V charger tops it up entirely during a night. A standard wall charger would require a few hours. When left outside, the vehicle will charge itself to the maximum capacity in two days, thanks to the panels.
«We can use different batteries, explain Aschekin. We’ve achieved 150 km of range with the cheapest ones. More expensive ones with bigger capacity would increase the range further. We don’t think it makes sense to increase the costs as the van never needs more than 120 km of range on any given day. If there’s demand, we can do it, in any case. Too many batteries won’t be good either as they add weight and cut into the cargo allowance. We have to stay within the permitted overall weight of 3.5 tonnes. Increasing that parameter would require the drivers to have a separate license category.»
It does not take much time to turn a diesel van into an electric one; the team only needed one month to achieve that. But much time was spent developing the charge controller and motor software. Aschekin and his team have completed the task but haven’t yet picked a name for the projects.
The van wasn’t put together in a garage. «The company that services electric cars has a good facility in central Moscow. It is equipped with everything we may need,» describes Aschekin.
Low prices and EU plans
The van should cost around 50 to 55 thousand euros. In Europe, a comparable Volkswagen e-Crafter retails for about 69 thousand.
«Compared to the diesel version, e-Crafter pays for itself in about 4 1/2 years. Our van can achieve the same in 2 1/2 years, compares Aschekin. After that, the cost of running it per kilometer will be five times lower compared to diesel. Our van also offers a better range: 150 km compared to 100 km for the e-Crafter.»
«Europe has clean roads and numerous charging stations, and the difference between the cost of diesel and electricity is significant. There are buyers there willing to pay more upfront to save later, explains the inventor. Clean roads are important because dirt covers the panels and reduces their efficiency.»
Another reason is the relative costs of diesel and electricity: the bigger the difference, the less time an electric van takes to pay for itself. According to the team, it would take three times longer in Russia compared to Europe.
«In Europe, most commercial vehicles are leased, explains Alexey Aschekin. The monthly payment for an electric option is only about 100..140 EUR more. EV would take 2 1/2 years to pay for itself, and for the next ten years, monthly savings would be between two and three hundred euros. Europeans appreciate that while Russians would rather pay less upfront. Europe is perfect for electric vehicles.»
The engineers don’t discard Russia as a market altogether and are ready to supply vans per order but don’t expect much local interest.
At the moment, the enthusiasts have invested about four million rubles of their own money. Of course, no one billed their own time spent working on the project. Now the team is looking for an investor to complete the work. They need about 1 million euros to finalize the first batch of vans in new bodies to receive necessary certifications and begin marketing the vehicle in Europe.
«We are working on fitting the equipment into a Russian-made Gazelle Next to bring it to Europe,» says Aschekin. There were plans to put solar panels and batteries in vans made by Mercedes, Renault, and other manufacturers, but they did not approve the suggestion to avoid nurturing competition.
For example, Renault offers its own battery-powered vans designed to deliver goods within a city.