Electric van review: The Opel Combo-E has everything you could want in a farm van, but range is an issue
Electric cars and vans are becoming more common in urban areas, but less so in rural areas. I decided to spend a normal week on my arable farm with Opel’s latest electric van, the Combo-E.
The Opel is equipped with a 136 hp engine powered by a 50 kW/h battery pack. For the uninitiated, that makes a claimed range of 275 km – but more on that later.
Charging can be done either at home or at public chargers; With “fast” 50kW public chargers, it takes about an hour to charge from almost empty to full. At home, full battery status is achieved with a full night’s charge, around eight hours.
None of this matters if it doesn’t fit your life and business.
I have a charging station at home, so every morning I would arrive with a fully charged van, which makes a huge difference in any electric vehicle ownership situation. I would go so far as to say that charging at home is important.
Sitting in the Opel feels very familiar in a good way. Everything is well screwed and makes a hard-wearing impression. You’re in that nice upright “I’m in control here” riding position.
Visibility is very good with large mirrors to see the sides of the van.
This instant power you get from electric powertrains is addictive, but using it doesn’t help with range anxiety. There is plenty of space at the business end of the Combo-E with 4.4 m3 of usable space.
Access to this space is easy, with large openings at the rear and curb, so loading even the largest spare or bundle of bits is no problem.
The Opel has three driving modes: Normal for everyday use and Eco for extending the range, as well as Power for the full load compartment and when the going gets tough.
In the real world, I’ve covered 145 miles per load – that was a mix of hauling large oil cans from tractors for winter service and running to fetch milk for tea.
It’s worth noting that we had the Combo-E on the farm for the coldest week of last year, which may have brought that number down significantly.
The Combo-E shares its underpinnings with the other vans in the Stellantis group, which now includes Peugeot, Citroen and Fiat Professional.
As such, versions of this powertrain and design will almost certainly make up a large proportion of Ireland’s small van fleet for years to come.
The big questions about any form of electric vehicle in rural Ireland are range and charging network.
Currently, the charging network is almost non-existent off the main routes and outside of the big cities, making charging at home the only realistic option.
I find that a range of around 200km should be enough for most farming situations – that’s over 50,000km a year, even if you have a few days off. Serious driving by any standards.
However, when there’s a decent load on board, the range drops drastically, so driving around with a full van of tools every day will drop it to an unusable level.
If there’s a home charger that can be used when you do a bit of gardening or have dinner or a cup of tea, range anxiety shouldn’t be an issue.
After spending a week in the dead of winter with the Combo-E as my daily driver, I believe it can work if you take a structured and opportunistic approach to charging.
When I look at where passenger cars are going today, with ranges of 400km common for many manufacturers, I am confident that this technology will soon be transferred to light commercial vehicles.
So I expect the next iterations of this van size to be a lot easier to handle without the constant diligence of charging or the worry of having a few tools in the back.
My advice is that currently an electric model can function as a farm delivery truck if you care, but the next generation will most likely be a simpler and better offering.
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/machinery/motoring/electric-van-review-opel-combo-e-does-everything-youd-want-of-a-farm-van-but-range-is-a-concern-42325807.html Electric van review: The Opel Combo-E has everything you could want in a farm van, but range is an issue