With a ground-up design that uses wheel motors to eliminate the energy losses encountered when fitting an electric drive to a conventional drivetrain, the launch of the Chanje V8070 van in the US could prove to be a milestone in the resurgence of electric commercial vehicles.

Electric commercial vehicles have been around since the 1890s and have been abandoned and revived on a few occasions, with recent interest perhaps heralding a more permanent presence. With persistent battery weight and range limitations, pure electric commercial vehicles since the turn of the twenty-first century have mostly been small vans, even adaptations of electric golf carts, but apart from the quiet and long-term success of a few such as Renault's Kangoo Z.E., sales volumes have remained marginal. A few heavy-duty electric trucks have also been developed but again, battery size and weight, and the resultant range limitations, have restricted success to short-range applications such as port tractors where confined use makes polluting emissions from diesel engines a significant concern.

Alongside those, the medium-duty van and truck segment has seen quite a few offerings come and go during the last decade, most of which have been adaptations of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles on which an electric drive motor has been fitted to the existing drivetrain. Daimler, for example, produced the Mercedes-Benz Vito E-CELL and an electric version of the Freightliner MT-45 Walk-In Van. Iveco developed electric versions of the Daily, and LDV an electric Maxus. Specialist converters also adapted ICE vans including the Freightliner MT-45 (Electric Vehicles International), the Ford Transit (Smith Electric Vehicles), the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and the Renault Master (ZEV). One notable exception was the purpose-built, UK-based Modec, which even featured a battery swap system. Although sales never took off in the UK, Navistar International bought the rights to produce it in the US but Navistar's own troubles and lack of consumer interest saw both operations close in 2011.

But with battery technology at a tipping point and interest in electric cars flourishing, the future for electric commercial vehicles could finally be secure, right through to the heavy-duty segment where Tesla is set to become a player. It's into this increasingly confident marketplace that Chanje Energy is moving. A manufacturer of vehicles and batteries in China where its products carry the Chang Jiang brand, the company has a history stretching back to Smith Electric Vehicles in the 1920s and is 49 percent owned by Hong Kong-based FGG. Chanje has established a base in California led by former Tesla executive, Bryan Hansel and its first offering in the US is the V8070, a purpose-built electric delivery van for "last mile" distribution applications. It has payload capacity of up to 580 cu ft (16.4 cu m) and up to 6,000 lb (2,720 kg).

For optimal drivetrain efficiency, the V8070 is equipped with liquid-cooled wheel motors on the rear axle that produce a combined maximum output of 198 hp (148 kW) and peak torque of 564 lb.ft (764 Nm). The lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) battery capacity is 70 kWh and has an advertised range per charge of 100 miles (161 km) with a payload of 1,000 lb (454 kg). Battery current and voltage, and estimated remaining range are displayed on the center console. With the average US medium-duty commercial vehicle daily route standing at 65 miles (105 km), most users will be able to operate using only overnight charging, although it carries an onboard 7.2 kW SAE J1772-standard charger.

Ryder, a major US commercial fleet and supply chain management company, has placed an initial order for V8070 vans that will be available for lease customers. The price has not been disclosed but Hansel says that lease payments will be "at parity" with equivalent diesel-powered vans.

Chanje says it plans to introduce a full range of electric commercial vehicles including trucks, vans and shuttle buses in a range of lengths and capacities.

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