Will VITO E-Cell prove turning point in EV take-off?

There have been plenty of brands and new models vying for top spot at this week’s Geneva Motor Show, from supercars to vehicles that will become high-end collectibles before they’ve even gone into mainstream production. But one of the surprise highlights has been the interest in the Mercedes VITO E-Cell Crew Bus.

You can almost hear the sigh of relief from the EV sector, who have tried everything to drum up interest from offering huge plug-in grant discounts off retail prices to marketing the fuel savings, many trade columns even highlighting the fact that the battery-powered range will invite cheap van insurance, but to little effect, thus far.

It’s almost as if the automotive sector have seen the electric van as something of a novelty, perhaps deemed okay for the domestic car, but an electric vehicle put through its paces in a commercial sense? The market has simply not been convinced.

One of the key sticking points thus far, echoed by many men and women of influence within the trade, is the slow progress in the roll out of plug in charge points. Any savings to be had on cheap van insurance would be negated if your van ran out of juice half way between Liverpool and Bristol and the one top-up meter en route was out of order. The resulting 740 stations from a target of 7,100 has just not convinced industry that battery power is a viable option. Yet.

However, the fact that one of the ‘big’ brands has now produced and is actively marketing a larger electric commercial may cut those who are responsible for meeting emission targets some slack, as there has been a very real interest in the Mercedes model this week in Geneva.

The VITO E-Cell is being looked upon as the ideal carbon-free vehicle for ferrying up to seven passengers around emission-sensitive zones, such as the London LEZ and densely populated estates in other areas of the country. With 100 mile range on one charge at optimum driving levels, it is hoped that this will deliver on certain journeys in built up areas, especially for minibuses that operate privately for communities that have special needs, such as the elderly or members of our society with learning or physical disabilities.

Many of those organisations are not for profit or operated by public sectors that have huge budgets but also the responsibilities of staying within target. It is hoped that they will see the fuel savings and cheap van insurance as a tool they can work with, rather than it work against them, winning them plaudits rather than vilification. For those that are, fifteen countries are scheduled to launch the VITO E-Cell in May, so not too long to wait to see whether interest is just passing or enough has been done to turn that curiosity into sales.

There is a long way to go, yet, down the road for the electric van; let’s hope it’s got the juice to make it.

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