You need home charging and even then a range of 220km per charge will lead to anxiety – especially if you're carrying heavy tools
Electric cars and vans are becoming very common in urban areas but lesser spotted in rural settings. I decided to try and do a normal week on my tillage farm with the latest electric van offering from Opel, the Combo-E.
The Opel comes with a 136hp motor powered by a 50kw/h battery pack. For the uninitiated that gives a claimed range of 275km — but more on that later.
Charging can be done either at home or at public chargers; at “fast” 50kw public chargers it takes about an hour to charge from near empty to full. At home, full battery status is achieved with a full night of charge, about eight hours.
None of this matters if it doesn’t fit your life and business.
I have home charging, so I was arriving out to a fully charged van each morning, which makes a massive difference to any EV ownership situation. I would go as far as saying it is essential to have home charging.
Sitting into the Opel all seems very familiar, in a good way. Everything is well screwed together and seems to be hard wearing . You’re in that lovely upright, ‘I’m in control here’ driving position.
Visibility is very good with sizeable mirrors to view the flanks of the van.
That instant power that you get from electric powertrains is addictive, but using it doesn’t help with range anxiety. At the business end of the Combo-E there is plenty of room with 4.4m3 of useable space.
Access to this space is easy, with large openings at the rear and kerbside, so loading even the largest spare part or bundle of bits is no problem.
The Opel comes with three driving modes: Normal for everyday use and Eco for extending the range and Power for when the load space is full and the going gets tough.
In the real world I was getting 220km per charge — this was with a mix of lugging large cans of oil for winter servicing of tractors and running to get milk for the tea.
It’s worth noting that we had the the Combo-E on-farm for the coldest week of last year, which may have dropped this number significantly.
The Combo-E shares its underpinnings with the other small vans in the Stellantis group, which now include Peugeot, Citroen and Fiat professional.
So versions of this powertrain and design will almost certainly make up a large part of the small van fleet in Ireland in the years to come.
The big questions about any form of electric vehicle in rural Ireland are the range and the charging network.
Currently the charging network is close to non-existent off the major routes and out of major towns, so home charging is the only realistic option.
I feel a range of 200-odd km can work for most farm situations — this equates to over 50,000km per year, even allowing for a few days off. Serious driving by any standards.
However, when a decent load is on board the range drops drastically, so driving around with a full van of tools everyday will drop it to a non-useable level.
Certainly, if there is a home charger that can be used when you’re doing a bit in the yard or having the dinner or a cup of tea, range anxiety shouldn’t be an issue.
Having spent a week in the depths of winter using the Combo-E as my daily driver, I believe it can work if you are structured and opportunistic about charging.
Looking at where passenger vehicles are getting to now, with 400km ranges becoming common across many manufacturers, I’m confident this technology will soon transfer to light commercial vehicles.
So I reckon the next iterations of this size of van will be far easier to live with, with no need for the constant diligence about charging or worry about having a few tools in the back.
My advice is that currently an electric model can work as a farm van if you are organised about it, but the next generation will most likely be a easier and better proposition.