Employees of Network Rail are now being ferried between the company’s flagship Westwood residential leadership development centre and the local railway station in a pair of fully-electric Mercedes-Benz minibuses that produce no pollutant emissions whatsoever.
The eight-seat Vito E-CELL Traveliners are driven by the concierge team, who make dozens of journeys each day from Westwood, on the outskirts of Coventry, to the Tile Hill railway station less than a mile away.
Network Rail operates Britain’s railway infrastructure, as well as running 17 key stations. Its investment in the ground-breaking Vito E-CELL underlines the company’s commitment to environmental responsibility.
Head of Westwood David Williams explains: "Rail is a very ‘green’ form of transport and we were keen to reflect this in the vehicles we use to collect our guests from the local station and return them at the end of their stay with us.
"We’re very proud of our new Mercedes, which tick all the boxes from an environmental standpoint. They are also a pleasure for the team to drive and have been exceptionally well received by delegates attending professional skills development courses, graduate training programmes and leadership conferences here at Westwood."
The factory-built minibuses were commissioned after a year-long evaluation exercise led by Steve Duffy, Network Rail’s Business Support Manager, National Delivery Service, who worked closely throughout with members of the concierge team at Westwood.
The E-CELLS wear eye-catching liveries proclaiming their zero-emission credentials and, when not in use, take pride of place at the front of the impressive building, parked alongside pillars on which charging points have been installed.
Also available as a panel van, the Vito E-CELL is the world’s first battery-powered light commercial vehicle to be built on line at a mainstream production facility. An 82 hp (60 kW) electric motor drives the front wheels, which means that the space beneath the load floor can be used to store the lithium-ion batteries without impinging on the passenger or cargo area.
The whisper-quiet E-CELL also employs a regenerative system which captures the energy that would otherwise be lost in braking. As well as increasing range, this is used to power the heating and ventilation system and standard-fit heated seats, making the vehicle suitable for use on the coldest of days.
Network Rail’s vehicles were supplied by Mercedes-Benz UK Corporate Sales, and are the subject of a CharterWay contract hire agreement with Mercedes-Benz Financial Services. They will be maintained by workshop staff at Coventry dealer Midlands Truck & Van, using established Star Diagnosis and other servicing systems.
Steve Duffy recalls: "The decision to invest in these vehicles was not taken lightly. The journey began a year ago, when we visited the Mercedes-Benz stand at the Commercial Vehicle Show. Since then we have undertaken a great deal of research and evaluation, considering all sorts of alternatively fuelled vehicles, and undertaken several trials, before finally coming down in favour of an all-electric solution in the shape of the Vito E-CELL.
"It’s a fantastic piece of kit and meets all of our targets in terms of sustainability, so I’d like to think that before long we’ll have more electric Vito models in service in other parts of our business."
And he adds: "Mercedes-Benz has handled our account in an exemplary fashion. Nothing has been too much trouble for the sales team, who have been very helpful but never pushy, while the manufacturer’s technical specialist has also provided first class advice and assistance. They are all a credit to the organisation."
The Vito E-CELL is free from Congestion Charge and VED fees and offers volume and payload capacities which are in line with those of standard models.
The vehicle will cover an average of 80 miles between recharges – to maximise operating range, it has an electronically limited top speed of 56 mph. A completely empty battery can be recharged from a 380/400 volt input in a maximum of six hours. Charging is quick and entirely safe, as the smart cable cannot be removed during charging, nor the vehicle driven off while it is attached.
The Mercedes-Benz Vito E-CELL is every bit as safe as standard Vito models, with the latest Adaptive ESP® anti-skid system and dual airbags both standard. The batteries are protected by a shock element and should a collision occur the high-tech voltage network is switched off when the airbag control unit activates.