Emblematic London black cab becomes plug-in hybrid delivery van in Europe

Ronan Glon
Autoblog


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LEVC, the company that manufactures London's emblematic taxi, detailed a plug-in hybrid delivery van that shares many components with its existing people-mover. Called VN5, the model will enter production in late 2020.

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It's all in the name: VN stands for van, and 5 denotes the five-cubic-meter (176-cubic-foot) cargo capacity. The VN5 and the TX taxi share headlights, a front bumper, a grille, a hood, and fenders, so the family resemblance is unmistakable, but the former wears a longer, boxier body that's better suited to delivery duty. It was developed to compete in the same congested segment as the Mercedes-Benz Metris and the Volkswagen Transporter.

Although full technical specifications remain under wraps, the fact that the VN5 shares its mechanical components with the TX suggests it's fitted with a plug-in hybrid powertrain that consists of a turbocharged, 1.5-liter three-cylinder borrowed from Volvo and set up as a range extender. It sends the electricity it generates to a 33-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack that in turn zaps a 110-kilowatt motor into motion. The VN5 is capable of driving for up to 63 miles on electricity alone, a figure that will allow owners to avoid paying to drive into London's emissions-free zone, and its total driving range with a full charge and a full tank checks in at 301 miles.

Owners will be able to haul 1,700 pounds, and the cargo compartment is big enough to fit two European-spec pallets, including one that can be loaded through the lone sliding side door. Charging the relatively small battery pack takes half an hour when plugging into a 50-kilowatt charger, so busy delivery drivers won't need to wait for hours on end before they can continue their day. Practicality and ease of use are important in this segment.

LEVC is owned by Geely, the Chinese automaker whose portfolio includes Volvo, Polestar, Lynk & Co, a controlling stake in Lotus, half of Smart, and nearly 10% of Daimler, among other interests. The company has access to a spectacularly deep parts bin, but a spokesperson told Autoblog the VN5 rides on a purpose-designed platform built around a structure made of bonded aluminum. The electrical architecture comes from Volvo, however.

VN5 production will start in Ansty, England, during the fourth quarter of 2020. Pricing information hasn't been released yet. The company expects to export 70% of the factory's 20,000-unit annual output, but don't expect to see its models turn a wheel in the United States anytime soon. Our market isn't on its radar for the time being.

"LEVC's initial focus is on European markets in the short and medium turn," a spokesperson explained.

Electrification is slowly spreading across the van segment. Mercedes-Benz introduced an electric variant of the aforementioned Metris, though it hasn't been announced for the American market yet, Ford is bringing an electric Transit to the U.S., and Volkswagen is preparing to build a battery-powered van available in people- and cargo-hauling configurations on its modular MEB platform. The yet-unnamed model was previewed by the retro-styled ID.Buzz concept unveiled in 2017. 

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