The Elcat Cityvan was produced in right hand drive format in Finland for the Finnish post office from the early 1990s until 2001. There are not many in the U.K. (less than 100), but they are an excellent electric vehicle with good performance and flexibility. They have an internally mounted 14kWh lead acid battery driving a15kW DC series motor driving a five speed manual gearbox from a 400A peak current controller. All the electrics are fully enclosed within the body of the vehicle and well protected from the environment. Their weak spot is the “D2” board, a logic board which controls most of the electrical functions of the van and provides feeds for the instrumentation. However, these seem to fail within the first few years of operation, and those still operational seem to be very reliable. Unlike the Berlingo, whose electronics are specifically designed for the van, the Elcat uses many industry standard components which are easily replaced if they do fail, although the regenerative braking facility is hard to keep due to the original Curtis regenerative controller now being obsolete. The main components are Curtis controller, Albright contactors, Curtis throttle potentiometer, the Elcat charger is very reliable, but can be replaced with a standard Zivan charger, and the Elcat DC/DC converter is easily replaceable with Curtis or Sevcon equivalents.
Due to the use of proprietory components, it is easy to modify the performance of the Elcat van with higher capacity or higher voltage batteries and high performance controllers. With an increase in voltage to 96v, they can be made motorway capable with a top speed well over 70mph.
In standard form, the 78v version is slightly faster than the earlier 72v version, but it has a correspondingly lower reliability of range. It is very hard to restrain oneself from using the extra power when it is available. Without modification, they are quite capable of cruising at 45-55mph, making them suitable for use on A roads. They are solidly built, being based on a Subaru microvan, and the firm suspension gives them good handling, although they have a harder ride than the Berlingo. The firm suspension and low centre of gravity means they do not roll very much in bends, and they have light and responsive steering without the use of power steering. They have an very small turning circle, and this, when combined with the good visibility and positive steering makes them a very nimble and manoeverable vehicle.
The series DC motor and standard gearbox gives them nimble acceleration from standstill, and superb hill-climbing and towing ability, but means that acceleration at cruising speeds is less impressive. However, the slight sluggishness at cruising speeds is due to lower battery drain at speed, and this consequently gives a better reliability of range when compared to other electric vehicles. This means the range is generally as good as or better than the Berlingo, despite a smaller battery pack. If driven gently at a steady 35mph, it is quite possible to get a 65mile range on a standard battery in good condition.
Increased gearbox losses are only noticeable in first and second gears, so these gears should only be used for hill climbing and low speed acceleration. Third gear is a very economical cruising gear from 40 – 45mph, with a maximum speed of 55mph. This is because in third gear, both battery and motor efficiencies are high. Fourth gear gives 50 – 55mph cruising and better shallow hill climbing ability at speed, but increases the energy consumption to over 300Wh/mile.
At 1.4 tonnes unladen weight, it is similar to the Berlingo, but it does not feel heavy because of the responsive steering, series motor and firm suspension. It also less affected by loads, and is easy to exceed the 300kg payload and 700kg towing capacity if you are not careful. It is quite capable of towing 1.25 tonne trailers up 1 in 6 gradients, but the normal towing limit should not be exceeded because the brakes can easily overheat on downhill gradients.
The Elcat does not have a transmission lock and so has to rely on the handbrake alone when parking on hills, as the electric motor provides little resistance to motion when left in gear.
Charging is performed from a coiled lead inside a tray built into the front bumper, so, like the Berlingo, is relatively secure from tampering. Charging times are similar to the Berlingo, but a full 100% charge takes a little longer due to the slow end charge needed by the lead acid battery. 90% of the charge is available after 5 hours, but it takes 9 hours for a full charge.
Apart from normal tyres, lights, brakes etc., maintenance is largely restricted to the battery. A flooded battery needs topping up with distilled water at least every 1000miles, and sometimes much less than this if it is used predominantly for short journeys between charges, but a sealed lead acid battery requires no maintenance. The brushes must be checked for wear each 5000miles, but they generally last a long time and it is not unusual to find brushes lasting over 100,000miles. The gearbox oil level needs checking every 20,000miles or so as a low oil level will slow the van down and increase energy consumption.
When the van is left unused for more than a week, it is sensible to disconnect both the traction battery and the 12v systems battery to prevent excessive discharge and the risk of battery and perhaps DC/DC converter failure. The safety monitoring system and DC/DC converter remains active even with the ignition switched off, and this causes a small drain from the traction battery to keep the systems battery and safety circuits live. This can cause total depletion of a fully charged traction battery in about 2 weeks. It is important to disconnect the 12v systems battery underneath the passenger seat as well otherwise the systems battery and possibly also the DC/DC converter may fail.
Because the Elcat comprises largely industry standard components, repair is relatively easy for a skilled technician, although if the controller fails, it is more difficult to retain regenerative braking as Curtis no longer support the regenerative controller originally used. The battery can be chosen from the wide variety of lead acid traction batteries available, and it is easy to incorporate other battery chemistries with the appropriate charger and controller modifications. Below is a list of original and alternative component manufacturers.
Controller: Curtis, Sevcon , Electrofit Zapi, Alltrax etc.
Charger: Zivan, Curtis etc. DC/DC converter: Curtis, Sevcon etc.
With a change in suitable charging regime, it is also easy to substitute a different specification battery. The most popular is a lithium based battery. The standard internally mounted and temperature controlled battery box can accommodate 400Ah of lithium cells, resulting in a maximum range increase to 100 to 150 miles.
As long as the motor cooling fan is suitably operated, larger controllers can also be installed to give much higher levels of performance. However, it should be noted that the range of the vehicle will reduce considerably when driven faster than the standard models. The original Subaru bodyshell is robust and well protected against rust. It has a separate chassis, which is also long lived. All the standard parts are available from local Subaru dealers, although some parts may have to be delivered from Japan. The only known original parts that are hard to obtain is the window glass.
Body Type 2 seat fully glazed van
Voltage 72-78v nominal
Motor Type Series field DC commutated
Maximum Motor Current 400A
Maximum Power 22kW
Continuous Power 15kW
Battery Type Flooded lead acid (easy to convert)
Battery Capacity 14kWh
Maximum Charge Voltage 90 – 100v
Maximum “at rest” Voltage 78 – 84v
Minimum load voltage 63 – 68v
Minimum “at rest” voltage 71 – 77v
Motor brush life Typically <<50,000miles
Top speed 60mph+
Energy consumption 250-400Wh/mile
Range 40 miles typical Maximum range 60+miles
Regenerative braking Fixed proportion dependent on gear selected.
Gears 5 speed manual
Towing limit 400kg unbraked, 700kg braked.