Mercedes has just announced that it will sell an all-electric version of its Sprinter van in the United States from 2023. Could this be the foundation for the #vanlife emission-free build of your dreams?
To understand an electric sprinter, you first need to understand the role of such transporters in other parts of the world. For example, visit Europe and instead of seeing a pickup behind a pickup that clogs the traffic, you will see Mercedes Sprinter and Ford Transits. Vans like these are universal commercial vehicles that perform every task you can imagine, from delivering mail to transporting dealers between jobs.
In densely populated Europe driving distances are often very low, and the fuel is heavily taxed. Therefore, it often makes sense for independent entrepreneurs and operators of large fleets to pay a premium for electric vans even with very short range. Mercedes is currently selling the electric sprinter in Europe, but it is equipped with a small battery with 55 kilowatt hours (kWh), which gives it a range of only about 90 miles. Batteries of electric cars currently cost about 200 US dollars per kilowatt hour, so that 11,000 US dollars are added to the price of this car for a battery pack alone. Check the figures with European fuel prices and transport fees, and this electric sprinter could cost the plumbing in Paris. But you can see why Mercedes has decided not to import it to the United States, where the travel distances are longer and the fuel is cheaper.
What Mercedes is announcing this week is the development of a brand new sprinter designed from the ground up to accommodate electric and combustion transmissions. This means there will be more space for batteries (up to 120 kWh), and Mercedes says it will import this brand new sprinter into the United States with both an electric motor and a combustion engine. Sales are expected to begin here and in Europe by the end of 2023.
Vans like the Sprinter are beginning to gain popularity as commercial vehicles on this continent. They offer a large number of fully enclosed, weather-resistant and theft-proof storage areas, low loading height and low operating costs. Given that a 120 kilowatt battery should be good for a range of up to 224 miles between charges, the electric version should be able to serve delivery drivers and contractors here, especially in cities. If tax benefits can essentially offset the likely $ 24,000 premium a battery pack would carry, this could be the right tool for some commercial users.
Out here, we tend to think of vans, not because of their commercial usefulness, but because of their ability to serve as platforms for the mobile life. They can transport people, dogs and sports equipment outside, and with appropriate modifications they can even be converted into apartments on wheels. Additional modifications could allow you to drive off-road. The current Sprinter is the ultimate car from # vanlife. So will the new electric model finally give van enthusiasts the chance to enjoy zero emissions? The answer is more subtle than it may seem.
The first challenge faced by an electric sprinter is the price. The current combustion model starts at about $ 35,000. If you want a really big sprinter or a car with all-wheel drive, this price is approaching $ 75,000. People often spend so much by adding off-road features and turning the interior into a comfortable living space. It is impossible to circumvent the fact that sprinters become really expensive cars, very quickly. Buying an electric version with this 120 kilowatt battery will likely add $ 20,000 to $ 30,000 to all of the above.
The second problem will be associated with all these off-road conversations. In these renders of the future sprinter, Mercedes shows a front-mounted electric motor driving the rear wheels, with a battery unit located in the middle between the rails of the frame. It is an ideal layout for transporting heavy loads under commercial conditions, but the two-wheel drive cannot provide the traction needed to cope with difficult off-road conditions. And adding four-wheel drive on an electric car is not as easy as on one powered by the juice of a dead dinosaur. Both current and future electric cars that can drive all four wheels use at least one engine on each axle and often one engine per wheel. It is currently unclear whether such an agreement exists on this platform. And the presence of another engine or several engines will also dramatically increase the already high price and energy consumption.
The range will also be a problem: 224 miles is hardly enough to really avoid most cities. In states like California, where there are already reliable charging networks along popular tourist routes, you can easily grab a quick load in a rural town before heading into the mountains for camping. But this number is probably not an accurate representation of how an electric sprinter would function under real conditions. Both the fuel consumption and the range of electric cars are calculated using a standard test procedure. Although this procedure is good to give you an idea of how the vehicle can be used in normal use on paved roads, it often does not take into account the factors that usually apply to outdoor people using our vehicles. Things like carrying a lot of weight (the construction of a van adds a lot), climbing on steep slopes and working at extreme temperatures require an enormous amount of energy. Together, these things could reduce the range of an electric Sprinter by more than half. Even if you assume that you can find a charging station in the last city before your adventure really begins, it gives you an effective travel radius of 56 miles so you can get back and forth. Bake with a stock on the bug and you just don’t get this thing very far from the net.
Could you fill these batteries with solar panels installed on the roof of the car? I have two 100 watt solar panels installed on the roof of my Ford Ranger and they charge a small battery powered by my freezer and the on-board lights. To fully charge the 120 kilowatt battery, these panels would take 600 hours sitting in direct sunlight. The van could accommodate a third or even fourth panel, but adding them would still not give you a charging time of less than two months (on the condition of five hours per day of direct sunlight).
So if you really want to drive an emission-free sprinter on your next hike, you need to make sure that your destination is less than 56 miles from the charging station and along a route that is not associated with extreme off-road challenges-and you need to spend a lot of money to do so. In addition, you will not be able to make this trip until early 2024. I hate being a carrier of bad news, but it will be a few more years before #vanlife really turns green.