LEVC VN5 – official name, details of new London taxi-based van

  • Range-extender drive gives 63-mile electric range, 301 miles in total
  • Bonded aluminium construction, 5.1 cubic metre capacity, 800kg payload
  • Built in Britain, five-year / 150,000-mile warranty, ultra-low running costs

LEVC – the London Electric Vehicle Company – has finally announced the name of its new electric van. Called the LEVC VN5, this range-extender electric van was previously known as the LEVC LCV, is based on the same vehicle platform and technology as the latest London Taxi, and is set to get its full public debut in late April at the 2020 CV Show.

We’ve known what the VN5 would look like and that it would be based on the LEVC TX5 taxi for sometime now, but alongside the final production name, the Coventry-based firm has also revealed a number of technical details about its new van for the first time.

This includes the first load area and payload information.

LEVC VN5 electric van based on London taxi - rear view, silver 2020

Although we won’t be able to drive the VN5 until production starts in November 2020, we have been to the factory, met the CEO and spent some time prodding and poking an early prototype. On top of which, we’ve also spent a week driving the taxi it’s based on to see what that’s like.

So keep reading for everything you need to know about this exciting new entrant into the electric van market.

Why is it called the VN5?

Starting with the easy ones, eh? Following the pattern set by the taxis – which are labelled TX – the van is called VN because it’s short for ‘van’.

LEVC VN5 electric van based on London taxi - TX and VN5 badges

The 5 part, meanwhile, references the load capacity, which is just over five cubic metres.

Hence, VN5.

Who is LEVC?

LEVC is the latest version of the business that was previously known as the London Taxi Company. As that name suggests, up until this point all it has ever made is the famous London taxi – the typical black cab. They come in a much wider range of colours than that these days; a whole bunch of red ones have just been sold to Azerbaijan. No kidding.

The old London Taxi Company was purchased by Chinese automotive giant Geely in 2013, and then rebranded the London Electric Vehicle Company in 2017, just before it launched the current taxi model in January 2018.

LEVC VN5 electric van based on London taxi - prototype being on the factory assembly line

The name change reflected Geely’s plan to transform the firm from one that built a single, niche product into an electric commercial vehicle business. Production of the taxi continues – in fact, it doubled in 2019, though that only means 2,500 examples – but once construction of the van is in full swing, LEVC expects this to account for 70% of the vehicles it builds.

There are big ambitions for the new model, in other words.

Despite the London part of the name, the company – which has origins that date all the way back to 1908 – has been based in Coventry for the past 70 years. However, its ultra-modern new factory only opened in Ansty, near Coventry, in late 2017, making it the newest car-building plant in the UK.

What’s special about the LEVC VN5 electric van?

It's both innovative and intriguing. For starters it’s powered by the same eCity range-extender electric drive as the TX5 taxi – similar to the system used in the Ford Transit Custom Plug-In Hybrid, except with a much longer battery-powered electric driving range of 63 miles, making it even more eco-friendly.

In fact, LEVC is pitching it as the perfect ‘delivery to door’ solution.

This is in opposition to the so-called ‘last mile’ solutions that pure electric vans promise, because the range-extender function means that there’s a 1.5-litre petrol engine under the bonnet at the front that can provide electricity for the electric motor that drives the rear wheels once the battery runs out. This gives the VN5 a total claimed driving range of 301 miles.

LEVC VN5 electric van based on London taxi - VN5 badge

Other innovative areas include the aluminium structure, which is uniquely glued rather than welded together (the gluing process is four times stronger with aluminium, apparently). This helps keep weight down – important when you’ve got a 400kg battery pack on board – and promises to make it more durable, and easy to repair.

As a result, LEVC is predicting the VN5 will have twice the service life of a conventional steel van – thanks to the use of aluminium (which doesn’t rust) and the reduced mechanical complexity of the range-extender drivetrain.

For similar reasons, service intervals will be set at 25,000 miles, and the VN5 will be offered with a five-year / 150,000-mile warranty (eight years for the battery).

How practical is it?

This is a tricky one. LEVC calls it a medium van, competing in the 1.0-tonne segment – which theoretically makes it a rival to vans such as the Ford Transit Custom and Volkswagen Transporter.

But at the same time, LEVC is placing a big emphasis on the VN5’s compact dimensions and extremely high level of manoeuvrability, which should make it ideal for driving in busy cities; being based on the taxi and only 5,233mm long means it has a cleverly designed steering system that delivers an incredible 10.1m turning circle, while the roof height has been kept down to 1.99m to make it compatible with most car parks and urban loading docks.

LEVC VN5 electric van based on London taxi - rear view, silver, doors open

As a result, the load space isn’t that generous. Overall volume of the single bodysize that’s been announced so far is 5.1 cubic metres. That’s significantly smaller than the 6.0 cubic metres the smallest Transit Custom can carry – but not far off the smallest Renault Trafic (5.2 cubic metres) and mid-size Citroen Dispatch (5.3 cubic metres).

The design does its best to maximise practicality within these constraints, though. The load floor is 2.4m long, and will take two full-size Euro pallets, while the 1,038mm side door opening means you can load a pallet through this as well.

The sides of the van taper only slightly towards the roof and the bulkhead intrudes only slight into the load area, so the space itself is reasonably squared-off and practical. Width between the rear wheel arches is around 1,120mm, and the rear door opening is 1,275mm wide.

The rear doors are split 60:40 for added access practicality, and can open to 180 degrees if needed. The van will be offered with single, double or no side doors, depending on customer requirements.

However, because the electric motor is mounted within the rear subframe, the load floor has to be high in order to clear it – giving the VN5 an unusually high loading height. I’m 5’11”, and the rear bumper is nearly as far from the ground as my knees, and there’s no step at the back to help you climb aboard; you will find one at the side door, though.

What’s the payload of the LEVC VN5?

LEVC is quoting 800kg at the moment, though we understand it’s slightly higher than this.

LEVC VN5 electric van based on London taxi - rear view, silver, doors open, with forklift

Not bad versus a pure electric small van, such as the Nissan e-NV200 or Renault Kangoo ZE, but a little way off the best a conventional diesel-powered medium van can manage – with the best in this sector now capable of carrying nearly 1,500kg.

LEVC argues that its research shows that 39% of vans are only ever a quarter full. Fine if you’re a delivery driver, perhaps not so great for the construction industry.

What’s the VN5 like inside the cab?

Again, the floor is high, which might trouble some people getting in, and overall the cab feels rather compact and perhaps even slightly claustrophobic. The doors are very close to you, for instance, so it feels narrow, too.

Build and material quality seems more than acceptable, however, and it has reach and rake adjustable steering plus a number of unusual features – including a digital instrument cluster and a large central infotainment screen.

These parts are all familiar from the taxi, which in turn means they’re similar to what you’ll find in a Volvo – Geely also owns this famous Swedish brand.

What will it be like to drive?

If the taxi is anything to go by, this new petrol-electric van is going to be great! The TX eCity is one of the most surprising vehicles we've driven in ages.

LEVC TX5 eCity London Taxi, front view, black, 2020

The taxi is remarkably comfortable and good fun to drive. The 110kW (150hp) electric motor - which is the same in this as in the van - delivers really impressive performance at both town centre speeds and on the motorway, and the batteries genuinely seem to last a decent length of time.

Adding a substantial payload will understandably impact the performance and the electric range. But it certainly feels powerful enough to cope with plenty of weight, and being a hybrid means you can always fall back on the petrol engine should you need to travel further than the batteries will allow.

TX eCity taxi driven to preview LEVC van - cab interior

All told, we're now much more certain that the forthcoming van will represent a real and proper alternative to mainstream models from more familiar van makers.

Tell me more about the driving range – and how long will it take to charge?

The eCity range-extender system only ever drives the rear wheels using the electric motor, there is no direct connection between the petrol engine and the wheels at all. This is the reason LEVC prefers to call is a range extender rather than a plug-in hybrid.

With a 31kWh battery pack below the front seats (the safest place in crash testing, we’re told), the VN5 will go a claimed 63 miles on battery power alone. That’s a WLTP figure, so to the latest standards, but not fully ratified just yet.

Need to go further before you can charge again? Don’t worry. With a 36-litre fuel tank, the petrol engine can generate enough extra electric for a total range of 301 miles. That’s better than the rival Transit Custom Plug-In Hybrid, and any pure electric van – though also doesn’t account for a full payload, which will dent the range of both power sources considerably.

LEVC VN5 electric van based on London taxi - dead-on rear view, silver

Still, that’s the same with all vans, and at least the VN5 is also fully equipped to take advantage of fast charging, with the option to accept a 50kW DC charge, which means it will go from flat to full in 30 minutes – again, way faster than any rival.

So fast that LEVC says some businesses will be able to get a full charge in during the time it takes to get the van fully loaded.

With two sets of charging ports at the front, under flaps either side of the grille, the VN5 can also be topped up using a variety of AC chargers as well, for maximum flexibility.

Will it be very expensive to run?

Quite the opposite. LEVC has data from the taxis it makes using the same eCity drivetrain, and these have now collectively covered over 100 million miles. In just two years.

This not only suggests the VN5 shouldn’t have any major reliability concerns, the data shows that with a full charge costing only £3, and the reduced cost per litre of petrol versus diesel, the latest taxi saves drivers around £110 per week compared with the vehicle it replaced.

That’s over £17million in fuel costs overall, not to mention a saving of 17.5million litres of fuel and 30,000 tonnes of CO2.

Anything else I need to know?

LEVC is promising a high level of standard equipment and a lot of safety features – including a ‘high-spec’ autonomous emergency braking system, up to six airbags and lane-departure warning.

LEVC VN5 electric van based on London taxi - rear light and badge

We’ll find out what’s actually included when LEVC announces the price of the VN5, which is set to happen on 2 April 2020.

How much is the LEVC VN5 and when does it go on sale?

Until 2 April 2020, LEVC is refusing to be drawn on what the VN5 cost – with CEO Joerg Hofmann only prepared to admit that it will be cheaper than the taxi. Since that starts at around £55,000 we’re probably not dealing with an inexpensive van here.

Order books are set to open at the CV Show on 28 April 2020, with production starting in November 2020 and first deliveries planned for before the end of the year.

Also read:

>> The Parkers guide to electric vans

>> Ford Transit Custom Plug-In Hybrid review

>> Maxus e Deliver 3 electric van – full details