COVENTRY, England -- London black-cab maker LEVC aims to start production of its plug-in hybrid light commercial van in November ahead of sales next year, the Geely-owned company has said.
The van, called VN5, uses the same platform and drivetrain as the TX5 taxi and will rival Ford's plug-in hybrid Transit Custom, which has already gone on sale.
LEVC is banking on cities getting tougher on air quality and forcing delivery companies out of traditional diesel vans.
"Legislation will drive the necessity for the customers to buy new vehicles, otherwise they will not be able to operate," James Drake-Lee, head of product management, told Automotive News Europe at an event held in March at LEVC's production center in Coventry, central England.
The van will be built on the same production line as the taxis and will push the factory, opened in 2017, closer to its 24,000 capacity.
"Last year we sold 2500 TXs, a record year, but that's still a gap we need to fill. We need to get into substantial volume," Joerg Hofmann, LEVC CEO, said at the event. The company predicts the vans will account for 70 percent of production, without giving a timeframe.
LEVC needs the economies of scale from the van to hit its target of becoming profitable by 2021, Hofmann told ANE in an interview last October.
The van will use 65 percent of the same parts as the taxi, LEVC said, and will be built on the same production line in Coventry.
Production of prototypes is currently on hold after the company halted all activity at the plant due to the coronavirus outbreak.
LEVC has also delayed releasing pricing for the van, originally due April 2.
The high cost of the drivetrain with its 31 kWh battery and 1.5-liter Volvo-sourced three-cylinder range-extender engine is expected to make the van significantly more expensive than conventional rivals in the one-ton, midsize van segment.
The TX5 taxi costs from 55,599 pounds (62,860 euros, $68,731) in the UK excluding VAT and before local grants. Hofmann said the van would be cheaper than the taxi, without giving a price.
Ford's Transit Custom plug-in hybrid costs from 40,215 pounds excluding VAT and grants. It has a 13.6 kWh battery pack for an electric-only range of 35 miles (56 km) rated using the NEDC correlated method.
The VN5's larger battery pack has an electric-only range of 63 miles rated using the tougher WLTP method, LEVC claims.
LEVC has struggled to bring the van to market. Last year it announced it was planning to delay the van by at least two years in favor of a model that could better serve the most cost-conscious Chinese market, but then reversed that decision.
The time is now right to launch the van, Hofmann said at the event. "There are more and more low-emission zones -- at the same time cities are getting bigger and bigger and online sales are becoming a dominant factor on the retail side," he said. Relying on diesel vans to fulfill the extra deliveries "is not good for the environment" he said.