Our little VAN

Ok, so I’m not officially part of the Village Refill team, I’m married to founder Maya who’s asked me to write a blog post on The Village Refill's electric van.

 A bit of background; I’m a fully signed up petrolhead, car enthusiast/ fixer and now eco-modder, so it was not a surprise when Maya and Krystina asked for some advice regarding what sort of vehicle would be the ideal choice for The Village Refill.

“We need an electric van”  – ok, such things exist, quick google comes up with boring ford transit Connect, Nissan eNV200, Renault Kangoo etc all pretty dull but unless you really knew your vehicles and saw the badging on the back you’d most likely assume these were diesel powered as they look no different to the regular white-van-man spec.

“..but it needs to be cool..  and eye-catching, like a mobile billboard.”

Ok, that makes it a bit harder!

“.. and we don’t want something new and shiny, and it must be cheap.  Very cheap!”

Ok, even more challenging – no point showing you the cool converted Citroen H vans on Pinterest at £30k+ then!

So, what exactly is the Village Refill van?

Our electric van is an Aixam Mega.  Aixam is a French company who specialise in “voiture sans permis” which is a quirk of the French motoring law that allows small, light vehicles to be driven by people without a driving licence and from an age of 14 years old.

Classed as quadricycles, these vehicles are limited in terms of top speed no faster than 45 km/h (28 mph) and have a maximum power of 4 kW (5.4 hp).  Restrictions also mean you can’t drive one of these on a motorway, not that you’d want to..!

Our Mega Van was originally purchased new by a Council in the north of England in 2009 and had most recently been used as a laundry truck on a glamping and camping site in the North Yorkshire moors.

Ever driven a golf buggy?  Remember the old milk floats we used to have humming around the streets back in the 70s and 80s?  Well, the tech they used for Mega was exactly the same – under the floor it had 12 massive, heavy lead-acid batteries.  A bit like the big car battery you have under the bonnet of your petrol/diesel car but larger.

When we got Mega it was fair to say that life on the campsite had not been kind – in addition to the green mould and mud and the perished tyres, the damp conditions had caused some significant rust problems meaning it had no MOT and wasn’t safe to use.  Still, that meant we were able to get it at a good price.

First job was getting it safe to drive and through the MOT.  I sorted out a few basic issues and sourced some parts, ready for the wonderful chaps at Arnolds MOT Centre in Kidlington to rectify our rust issues and get the MOT sorted.

So, at this point we had a drivable, safe, MOT’d van, but it still wasn’t really viable to use for deliveries at this stage – the 10+ year old batteries were on their last legs meaning we only had around 30 miles of range on a full charge, and even with your foot to the floor we were achieving a  top speed somewhere around 20 mph…  on the flat..  with the van empty!   On a hill it would slow even more.  I think at one point we got overtaken by a cyclist.  Not good.

We researched the costs of a full set of replacement original-spec lead-acid batteries but were shocked at the cost – between 1500-2000 and concerned to read that they would probably only last a couple of years before needed to be replaced again.  There had to be a better way – luckily battery technology has come on a long way in the 10 years since Mega was made and as some of these more modern electric vehicles inevitably get crashed there is now a source of good, used lithium ion batteries.  Lithium batteries are not only smaller and lighter, they also have a much longer life and are designed to handle repeated full charge / run down to empty cycle that is needed for an EV.

As I said in my intro paragraph, I’m all about fixing, upgrading and modifying vehicles so it made sense to research converting Mega to run on lithium-ion batteries.

We’d known about the work of local company Electrogenic for some time.   If you’re into classic cars and you’re interested in EVs / carbon-free motoring then check these guys out – they do some awesome conversions putting EV powertrains into beautiful old classic vehicles.

Although not the sort of vehicle they usually work on, Electrogenic were more than happy to get involved in our upgrade project for Mega and have been very supportive, becoming a Village Refill sponsor hence why we proudly display their logo on the van.

Electrogenic recommended 3 ex-TESLA battery packs (a TESLA Model S has I believe 14 of these in total) which were duly installed under the floor of the van, in the space previously occupied by our old lead-acid batteries.  The upgrade not only gives increased range but has reduced the weight of the van by around 400kg giving us a performance increase too which is nice.

Is it a hot rod/ rocket ship now?  Er, no.  But top speed is now a heady 37 mph which although not exactly “fast” is still somewhere in the region of a 30% increase from where we were previously and is all that’s needed on our local delivery routes.

So, does it tick all the boxes?  Quirky, cheap, upcycled – yes on all counts and its supporting (and supported by) local businesses which is great.

Now I hear a lot of folks challenging the use of electric vehicles, saying they can’t be that green if your electricity comes from non-renewable sources.  Well in our case wherever possible we charge Mega directly from the solar panels on the roof of the refill hub, so it is as green as we can get -  quite literally being “powered by sunshine”.

I can’t finish this without also a shout out to our other fantastic sponsors;

     Blenheim

     Next Generation Renewable Energy

     Flint Property.

End.