ev review: skywell ec11, the first all-electric cargo van in australia

Skywell EC11. Supplied

A new entrant to the fully electric light commercial van segment in Australia is the Skywell EC11 van. Built in China under the Skywell brand, it is brought to Australia by private importer EV Automotive.

Very similar in appearance and dimensions to a Mercedes Sprinter – the EC11 is in fact the first significantly sized fully electric light commercial van to be brought to the Australian market. (Although more are soon to follow – see ‘competitors’ section below).

The EC11 is offered here in two variants, starting at $89,990 inc GST plus on road costs. It offers a 1.7 tonne load capacity high-roof cargo van called the e-cargo (pictured) and the e-crew, where the same body is fitted with side and rear windows and seating for 12.

At a gross weight of 4.994 tonne, it is situated neatly below 4.5t gross limit for needing a truck licence – meaning it can be driven on a standard car licence.

The EC11 was first announced at the Brisbane truck show back in May last year, but due to many Covid delays and so on, shipments have only just begun.

The first shipment was quickly shipped out to waiting buyers and it was only with the second shipment that one was reserved as a demonstrator – and I recently had the opportunity to take this vehicle for a test drive.

Driving conditions

The test drive involved a roughly 110km round trip from Melbourne to Mornington and back, split as a mainly freeway run down to Mornington and the return trip involving mostly 60 to 70km/h roads. (I should add a disclaimer here that the importer did pay for my fish-and-chip lunch whilst in Mornington.)

Driving experience

Start-up is easy, although almost rather old-fashioned – the EC11 actually uses a key ignition switch on the steering column to bring it to life!

Once over the surprise, it was however a simple matter to then adjust the seating, mirrors etc. One useful addition is the use of a camera rear-vision system in place of the usual mirror.

Whilst providing an excellent field of vision as compared to what you would get from such a large van using a standard mirror – it does take a bit of getting used to refocussing the eyes to a screen instead of the usual long vision used to view a mirror.

As for road manners, it was pretty much what you would expect of any van this size.

In fact it was easy to forget it was an EV at all – except for its noticeably quiet manners at traffic lights due to the lack of engine vibration that a petrol – or in particular diesel – power source creates. Interestingly, being a commercial van and therefore built to a price, there is very little sound insulation.

This results in a surprising amount of drive train noise intruding into the cabin at higher speeds. Mind-you, this is still less intrusive than you would find in a diesel driven equivalent – but coming from driving electric cars for many years, it was a tad disappointing that more had not been made of the potential for silent EV motoring.

ABS and ESC come standard (as required to meet the current Australian Design Rules for light commercial vehicles). Plus, unlike many new vehicles on the market now, the EC11 also comes with a full-size spare wheel and jack.

Range

Starting out with 88% charge and an ‘available range’ estimate of 192km, we headed off on a mix of mostly 80 and 100km/h roads.

Arriving at the Mornington foreshore after 55km of driving, the battery gauge had dropped to 67% and the range estimate was showing a reduction of 56km. Nicely accurate – and something that should go a long way to dispelling the potential for ‘range anxiety’ in drivers new to EVs.

(And certainly a far cry from the highly inaccurate original Nissan Leaf driving range ‘GOMs’ – or Guess-O-Meters – that spawned the term ‘range anxiety’ in the first place.)

Based on a 21% drop in battery capacity, it would appear that the range estimate was being rather conservative and the EC11 is in fact capable of an unloaded range of around 250km to maybe 300km in suburban conditions where it doesn’t exceed speeds of 60km/h.

Given the EC11 has only been rated by the manufacturer under the over-optimistic NEDC standard, this is heartening as the NEDC range provided by Skywell is only 288km.

The importers say they have tested it under ‘real world’ conditions and are happy to stand by a range of around 200 to 300km depending on load and driving conditions – but without full testing to the newer WLTP standard, it will be hard to reliably compare the driving range of the EC11 with its future competitors.

Interior

Like most light commercial vehicles, the term straightforward (or perhaps ‘Spartan’) would best describe the interior – but everything that a driver needs is there.

There is an 8 inch (200mm) central touch screen offering Android or Apple Car Play functionality for mirroring Google Maps etcetera, along with controls for a 4 speaker radio as well the usual series of driving settings and functions.

When reversing, the touch screen doubles as a reverse camera screen showing guidelines along with audible reverse sensing. Bluetooth functionality for hands-free phone calls is also included, and it was easy to manage the basic phone functions through the steering wheel controls.

The driver’s binnacle is well laid out with both analogue and digital speed readouts and an analogous version on the right-hand side showing instantaneous power usage gauge.

ev review: skywell ec11, the first all-electric cargo van in australia

Figure 1: EC11 driver’s binnacle. Supplied

State of charge and remaining range estimates are easily found within the layout, with the centre reserved for basic data selections including a trip computer and battery data … and that’s about it!

Seating is simple with the usual adjustments, and the steering wheel offers both tilt and telescopic functions. The mirrors as well as the driver’s and passenger’s windows are all electrically operated.

Cargo space

Offering a rated payload of 1.7 tonne and almost 12 cubic metres of load space, the EC11 is the first full-size light commercial van to hit the Australian market. The cargo area comes standard with an aluminium checker plate floor and a steel bulkhead between the cabin and load area.

Charging

The charge port is on the passenger side between the passenger and side sliding door. To access it, you need to first open the passenger door to release the flap. Like all new EVs sold in Australia, the EC11 2 is fitted with the type 2 AC socket – in this case incorporated into a combined CCS2 AC/DC socket.

(Note: the CCS2 socket is now used in all new Australian delivered EVs except the Nissan Leaf and the Lexus ux300e). This means the EC11 is compatible with the vast majority of chargers in Australia.)

ev review: skywell ec11, the first all-electric cargo van in australia

Figure 2: EC11 CCS2 charge port. Supplied

The EC11 can charge at up 7kW on a single phase AC supply and up to 22kW on a three phase supply. It can also charge at up to 60kW on a DC fast-charger. The EC11 comes standard with a portable ‘emergency’ charger that can charge at up to 13A (3kW) when plugged into a 15A socket.

If using a standard 10A power point and portable charger, the EC11 would take something like 33 hours to charge from 0 to 100%. Useful for emergencies to get you to a fast-charger, but impractical for day to day use. For faster charging it is best to use a dedicated charger.

The approximate charging times for the EC11 are shown in the table below (Note: charging speeds and times vary on the capacity of the charger it is connected to).

ev review: skywell ec11, the first all-electric cargo van in australia

Source: ev-a.com.au

AC charging: 0 – 100% time* DC charging: 0 – 80% time*
10 A

(eg: power point)

15 A, single phase

(eg: caravan outlet)

32 A, single phase

(eg:  home charger)

16 or 32 A 3 phase

(eg: public AC

charger)

DC Fast charge (50kW) DC Fast charge

(100+kW)

33h 22h 11h 16A: 8h

32A: 4h

2h 1.5h

Table 1: Estimated charging times for the Skywell EC11
* Note: these charging times are estimates only and not endorsed by the manufacturer.

Towing

The EC11 is rated for 1250kg with trailer brakes and for 450kg with an unbraked trailer. It is important to note here that EV driving range can decrease significantly when towing.

Purchasing, warranty and service

Purchasing is done through the importer’s website (https://ev-a.com.au/) with deliveries provided by appointed agents in all major cities.

It is worth noting here that this sales model is becoming increasingly common for EVs on the Australian market – including the Hyundai Ioniq 5 as well as all models from Polestar, BYD and Tesla. Warranty and service work is provided by the national MyCar service and repair network.

Competitors

At the moment, the EC11 e-cargo is the only 4.5t full-electric van available in Australia – with the only full-electric ‘competitor’ being the ageing Renault Kangoo ZE with a load rating of 650kg and towing capacity of 320kg.

When it comes to electric passenger bus options, the only current competitor to the EC11 e-crew is the recently arrived Joylong E6 commuter bus. (Note: the Joylong has seating for 14 persons and as such, cannot be driven using a standard car licence). Price-wise, there is nothing to split the two as the Joylong E6 commuter bus is priced almost identically to the EC11 e-crew van.

The first direct competitor to the EC11 e-cargo will be the Ford e-Transit arriving later this year. Similar in maximum load rating, physical size and battery capacity, it is expected to arrive with a US EPA range of 201km and WLTP range of around 349 – meaning it potentially has a similar driving range to the EC11.

The e-Transit will, however, sport a bigger centre touchscreen (at 12 inches/305mm) and over-the-air updates.

The maximum AC charging rate for the e-Transit may only be 11kW (as opposed to 22 for the EC11), but DC charging for it will top out at 115kW – which is almost double that of the EC11. Pricing for the e-Transit has yet to be released, but overseas pricing suggests it will be similar to the EC11.

After that, the light commercial vehicle market will start to hot-up as the smaller 1t e-Transit custom is due sometime in 2024, as well as the possibility of full-electric dual cab utes from LDV and BYD, plus the highly anticipated Rivian R1T ute.

Summing up:

The EC11 is a very capable all-electric, full size light commercial van that will be ideal for replacing fossil fuelled vans used for local delivery runs and ‘last-mile’ operations. With 22kW AC charging, it offers healthy recharge times provided a three phase 22kW charger is installed at the business premises.

DC charging at 60kW max is good, however the ‘charging speed advertising battle’ is now getting into full-swing and it will soon be overtaken for quick-charge times when its competitors begin to arrive.

In fact, the EC11 is only let down by its slightly noisy EV drive train and the inability to easily compare its range and efficiency to upcoming models through not having been tested to the WLTP standard.

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