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Citroen Berlingo

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Technical's picture

Citroen Berlingo Electrique (Also Citroen Saxo, Peugeot Partner and 106 Electrique)

The Citroen Berlingo is one of the most capable second hand electric vehicles available at the moment, and the most professionally constructed, as one would expect from a major multinational car builder. However, because they use manufacturer specific components, it is very hard to replace any components with non-Berlingo Berlingo Electriquealternatives, making them hard to repair or modify. They use a large separately excited DC motor which is not very efficient at low speeds and high loads (low speed acceleration and steep hills), but is well suited to cruising at 35-55mph, making them quite capable of being used on A-roads. They have an excellent 160v high capacity battery which is no longer available due to potential environmental pollution from the nickel-cadmium cells. They are only available second hand, and are usually available for between £300 and £3000 depending on the condition of the vehicle. The most usual major faults are dead batteries, controller, DC/DC converter, damaged motor commutator from poor brush maintenance and burnt out motor windings.

Performance

They have typically soft French suspension, so tend to roll a lot around corners, but soak up bumps quite well. At 1.5 tonnes unladen weight and with heavy batteries set low in the vehicle they are otherwise stable and solid feeling. Levels of noise are generally low, sound proofing at the front seems good; most of the noise coming from the van body at the rear. A partition between the seats and the van body cuts this noise considerably. Visibility to the rear and sides is not good, typical of small vans of this type. Payload is 500kg, quite good for an electric van of this type, but it does slow the van down, particularly on acceleration and on steep hills.

Initial acceleration can be a bit sluggish due to the fixed ratio gearing (so it drives like an automatic petrol car), but once underway, they have quite good performance up to 45 or 50mph. 55mph is the practical top speed for cruising without risking motor overheating. If you drive at over 55mph on up to the top speed of 60mph, acceleration to this speed is very slow and the current drain from the battery increases enormouslyThis seriously reduces the range as well as risking motor overheat. Climbing very steep hills of 1 in 6 or more is also sluggish, requires a good proportion of charge left in the battery (20-30%), and can significantly reduce its range, but it is probably the best, most comfortable and easiest to drive second hand EV that cruises happily at 50mph. The regenerative braking is proportional on the throttle pedal and has a boost when the brake pedal is pressed. It has the highest level of regenerative braking of all the other commercially made electric vehicles yet made, and very little use is normally made of the hydraulic brakes.

The excellent performance of the Berlingo Electrique is due to the power available from the battery/controller/motor combination. In many electric road vehicles, the continuous rating of the motor is matched to the continuous rating of the controller and when the controller gets warm, the current needed for the peak rating of the motor is then not available. The Berlingo’s controller is capable of delivering the peak motor current virtually continuously, so the full 28kW of power is almost always available except at speeds over 50mph. This means that the Berlingo has the best performance of readily available second hand electric vehicles, but it also means that it uses more energy than its competitors, especially at very low and very high speeds.

The normal range with a battery in good condition is 40miles. If driven gently, 50 miles is achievable, and 30miles range is possible if driven hard. With very restrained driving at a steady 35mph on the level and a good battery, a 60mile range and an energy consumption of 250Wh/mile can be achieved, but the car is so willing and easy to drive at higher speeds, a lot of self-restraint is required to achieve this. The energy meter is not particularly accurate, but tends to underestimate the energy left when the car is driven gently, so as long as you keep out of the warning areas on the energy meter, you are not likely to get stranded if you keep an eye on the meter. Gentle driving at 35mph results in energy consumption of 300Wh/mile, hard driving can take over 600Wh/mile. So, despite appearing to be a very sophisticated vehicle, it is quite greedy on energy. This is not normally noticed because of the excellent performing and high capacity battery pack, but it does consume up to twice as much energy as the other vehicles described here, probably largely due to the slow revving relatively inefficient separately excited motor. The economy meter gives an indication of motor current, and during normal driving, this seems to be very similar to the battery drain current, so it gives a good indication the load of both the battery and motor.

This is also the only EV readily available second hand to have a transmission lock when set to “park”. This is a good feature because an EV does not have an engine that will assist the parking brake when it is put into gear, so it gives an excellent added security when parking on steep hills.

The charging rate is 3kW, but because the battery is nickel-cadmium (now not available because of dangers of environmental poisoning on disposal), the charging rate tails off much more rapidly than either lead acid or lithium based batteries, so a full 20kW charge from empty takes only 7 hours. (It takes more energy to charge the battery than its 16kWh capacity due to heat losses in the charger.) The charging connection is also very sophisticated and the car will not charge until the lead is securely attached. The charging connection is also tamper proof and interlocked, so there is no risk of casual disconnection by itinerant youths causing mischief, or of driving off without disconnecting the charging lead.

Maintenance

Apart from the regular car maintenance items lights, tyres, brakes, etc., maintenance of the battery and motor brushes is of the utmost importance every 4000miles. The battery needs a special maintenance charge at this time for which you will either have to purchase a special charging unit or find someone with one to do it for you. Failure to maintain them properly can result in very expensive motor rebuild or terminal battery failure. Also, failure to identify a 12v battery near the end of its life can result in a serious failure of the DC/DC converter.

Spare Parts

Spare parts availability is generally poor, but replacement batteries and repairs to the major components are available.

The motors are no longer supported by Leroy Somer in the U.K., having not been made for about five years, but some motor rewind companies will repair burnt out windings if necessary.

The battery cells are no longer available, although we understand they are still produced for the military, so a Berlingo with a dead battery is best converted to run on a replacement lead acid or lithium battery.

Body Type 2 seat van
Voltage 162v nominal*
Motor Type Separately excited field DC commutated
Maximum Motor Current 200A
Maximum Power 28kW
Continuous Power 15kW
Battery Type Flooded nickel cadmium
Battery Capacity 16kWh*
Maximum Charge Voltage 215v*
Maximum “at rest” Voltage 185v*
Minimum load voltage 130v
Minimum “at rest” voltage 160v**
Motor brush life 20,000 miles
Top speed 60mph
Energy consumption 500Wh/mile typical
Range 40miles typical
Maximum range 60miles
Regenerative braking Proportional on throttle plus boost on brake pedal
Gears Fixed ratio
Payload 500kg
Towing capability None

Saxo Electrique*Saxo and 106 have lower figures
**The battery will not necessarily be harmed by discharge down to 0v, but 160v is the normal “at rest” voltage for a battery with no power available for traction.