Courtside Conversions is one of the first converters in the UK to offer a lightweight conversion on the new electric LDV EV80. Five have been supplied to Nottingham City Council
Electrification has seen hindrances for the minibus segment. Ask and there will be reasons offered. When an electric vehicle is specified for passenger carrying duties, size and weight are critical elements. Location is another, with anywhere beyond the cities generally proving problematic. DaRT’s demand-responsive transport network for example, covered in the last issue of miniplus, said it would struggle to find a place for a battery-electric vehicle like the LDV EV80 on any of its rural routes.
But criticisms of electrification are being parried one by one. And when it finds its place in a niche market, the benefits of zero-emission capability make for a compelling immediate solution. With the introduction of emission control zones, its development is moving at a rapid pace.
LDV EV80 Electric minibus
Courtside Conversions is one of the first converters in the UK to offer a lightweight conversion on the new electric LDV EV80 and has been selected as the preferred supplier for a contract to supply Nottingham City Council (NCC) with five wheelchair accessible vehicles. Courtside is the preferred converter for a wide variety of customers, including local authorities, community transport, education, charitable organisations, social services and health and other third party organisations.
The LDV EV80 is the first vehicle in a new generation of LDV’s alternative fuel options. It will be used for the purposes of accessible transport and boasts a range of 120 miles on a single charge – although it’s likely that limit will never even be necessary for NCC’s use. The conversion will dispel some of the myths surrounding electric vehicles (EVs), hopes Sales and Marketing Manager at Courtside Conversions Emmie Roberts.
Enough words have been exchanged on the implementation of emission control zones to make NCC’s need for more zero-emission capable transport incontrovertible. Courtside submitted its tender in March and by April was awarded the contract to convert five battery-electric LDV EV80s, delivered from Ireland, to NCC’s specification.
There was no timescale and with plenty of stock available, the process was smooth, with research and development a key factor in the vehicle choice. The vehicles will perform duties for wheelchair and stretcher passengers and it is likely that most trips will be limited to 10 miles or less.
Representatives from NCC were invited to visit the vehicle once the first was finished, just as Courtside invites all its customers to witness the process and decide if they are happy. Being a family-run workshop offers immense flexibility. NCC was happy and the first three vehicles were delivered in July.
The EV80 offers a 56kW/h battery capacity and a 100kW motor offering 320Nm of torque. While LDV itself advertises a range of 120 miles on a single charge, Courtside takes a more conservative approach and suggests 100 miles or less is a more realistic range.
While Courtside partners with an infrastructure supplier, NCC had invested in charging infrastructure long before the vehicles were delivered.
These are the first electric vehicles Courtside has worked upon. It is also converting the Nissan NV200. As minibuses grow larger, difficulties appear in the application of battery-electric technology – but 16-seat minibuses offer a lucrative gap in the market, Courtside adds.
By writing up a case study following the delivery of the last two vehicles, Emmie hopes that myths surrounding EVs can be dispelled. The right application is key. “Buyers are still wary,” she explains. “But the first three vehicles delivered to NCC have been in operation since July, and it couldn’t be happier.”
Teething problems are likely to accompany the delivery of any such new product. Courtside has delivered comprehensive training to NCC in how best to operate the vehicles.
On average, Courtside’s Devon workshop converts two vehicles per week. The company employs around 10 workers which specialise in each area. In the metal shop, wheel arches, windows and roof vents are cut, and welding work is undertaken. In the trim bay, insulation, carpets and floors are added. Conversions are accredited by manufacturers and meet Individual Vehicle Approval compliance regulations.
Certification is required for the conversion work and a DVSA inspection is carried out to ensure the safety of the EV80 conversions. All the work was also carried out to LDV’s regulations due to the nature of the wiring.
In the last two vehicles a lightweight M1 tested floor is fitted alongside removable seats with three-point safety belts. A standard electric step is offered instead of a cassette step, owing to the battery location – cutting into the chassis risks jeopardising the wiring systems.
Meanwhile, a tail lift is specified with an extra-long platform to carry stretchers and comes with an extra safe working load of 500kg (normal safe working load is around 300-350kg).
While the remaining two vehicles supplied come with three fitted seats, all vehicles were tested with eight seats for full flexibility in use. The first three were delivered with eight seats fitted.
To that end, Courtside Conversions uprated the gross vehicle weight (GVW) for peace of mind. From a standard GVW of 3,500kg the firm sought approval from LDV and with re-rating specialist SvTech improved the tyres and springs to accept a revised GVW of 3,900kg. This was approved as part of LDV’s pre-delivery inspection.
As one of the first converters of electric vans into minibuses – with accessibility options too – there have been some hurdles to overcome.
The first, explains Emmie, has been the issue of weight. Courtside has invested heavily in lightweight trim, flooring and seating products, as well as lightweight lifts for the accessibility options. “We had to get our conversion to be within a specific weight. It involved a variety of calculations before we could even begin.
“It’s a huge thing. The batteries already weigh so much. When a full complement of seats, passengers and luggage is added, care has to be taken to ensure the vehicle is left with enough payload.”
Courtside’s unique conversion saves weight while investing in measures which do not significantly affect the 12v vehicle battery capability.
“We fitted lightweight flooring, seating and trim to keep the weight as low as we possibly can and increase the amount of payload left at the end. If we had supplied the vehicles with just three seats it might not have been necessary, but we needed that added flexibility.”
Much research and investment went into achieving the desired results. For future conversions, Courtside is considering even lighter-weight materials for its lifting equipment.
Second has been working on a vehicle with a battery pack that occupies a sizeable space of the underbody. Conversion work involves a great deal of additional wiring, and EVs have stricter rules than diesel vehicles.
The accessible components, meanwhile, rely on a separately developed auxiliary 12v battery system. This ensures that Courtside’s additional equipment does not deplete the range of the vehicles when in use.
All in all, a huge amount of learning was involved, Emmie says. But Courtside has documented everything to ensure a straightforward process in the future. “We are one of the first to offer this electric product so we had to be innovative in our design methods. NCC was already operating several different types of EVs, such as refuse vehicles, and it was useful to see how they were being used.”
Another hurdle has been the rate of change of the technology, and how it has left behind some of the equipment suppliers. Air conditioning in the EV80 is supplied by a Webasto unit – the only viable option for Courtside Conversions, and not what it would have liked, citing it as looking “old-fashioned”. But with the development of the technology, there will be a response from those suppliers.
“For us, it’s a good thing,” Emmie says. “There will be high demand for these vehicles in the future. Organisations want to be sustainable and responsible, but it’s still early days. Our case study will hopefully instill confidence in them.”
Courtside says it is able to offer interior specifications, seating configurations and step, lift and ramp options to suit any requirements. The new EV80 minibus should appeal to companies and organisations that take environmental protection seriously. The vehicle can actively contribute to those socially responsible efforts, Emmie says, as well as to government commitments in the reduction of local and national carbon emissions.
“It will be a serious contender for those looking to make a tangible, positive and visible impact on the environment in which we live and work,” she adds. “EVs are the future and many suppliers that we work with are interested in discovering the benefits the vehicles can bring to a fleet over the internal combustion engine.”