The Tesla Van Project.
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Part personal Idea and in part an overview of what may come. I have spent a bit of time looking with interest at the popularity of electric vehicles.
I am normally in California for between 2 and 6 months in any given year. The popularity of Tesla vehicles there has grown very significantly in the past 10 years and now appear as commonplace as any other vehicle. Their popularity has grown significantly here in the UK too over the past 2 years. This is also starting to be reflected throughout the rest of Europe.
Before you read further, these are my thought and ideas, I have no affiliation with Tesla, Mercedes or any other motor industry name. I am just expressing my thoughts and ideas. After all, that’s what the internet is for right? So give as much credence to my ramblings as any other persons random thoughts you may come across online. Remember I may be a professional photographer but I am no engineer.
Ford PHEV Transit.
I was recently reading about Fords new Hybrid Transit Custom, PHEV Based Technology. A plug-in Hybrid with a claimed 35-mile range on the electric motor alone. Not a huge range but around town it’s useable.
Backed by their 1.0 EcoBoost it is certainly a step in the right direction. I am sure improvements and greater range will come quickly. Running on the electric motor/s in the city will cut pollution significantly.
A carrying capacity 0f 1000kg in its 6.0m3 payload is ideal for the work and the claimed 355 Nm of torque and 125psn should make it agile enough to deal with motorways as well as city centres. The EcoBoost engine helps extend the range to around 310 miles.
Why an electric ‘White Van’?
The more I travel around the UK, Europe and beyond the more I see cities moving towards discouraging the use of what is considered high polluting vehicles. The ‘white van'(other colours available and widely used). Is the backbone of delivery and tradesman the world over.
The panel style van in all its various forms and sizes is what keeps many businesses running. If the demonised diesel workhorses are forced out of our cities many of the everyday things we take for granted would become impossible.
Electric would seem to be the perfect answer to this approaching question. The always available torque characteristics of electric vehicles lends itself well to loads sometimes approaching 3.5 tonnes. The ‘zero emissions’ within our already packed cities will be welcomed and greatly improve on air quality for those living or working in these areas.
I am certain that over the next few years many of the big names will be bringing all-electric vehicles to the market and in no time it will be the norm to see these quiet vans nipping around.
Charging and day today.
As the panel style van is generally rear-wheel drive the current configuration allows for many more battery packs to be accommodated in the floor. They are of course quite a bit longer than the average car so again more batteries are an easy fit. Even with the additional weight and load on the motors, a 500-mile range vehicle should be no issue and up to 1,000 miles on a single charge is within our grasp. this should make them more than capable of fulfilling any task the current fleet of ‘white vans’ perform.
The Person Idea/Project #vanlife.
in 2014 I bought a Mercedes Sprinter 311 CDI. I converted it into a camper and have since travelled much of Europe and the UK. A couple of years ago I started mulling over an idea, would it be possible to take the running gear from a Tesla and fit it to a chassis like on my Mercedes Sprinter?
If so how well would it work? My poor little 2.1 diesel engine does an amazing job assisted by its little turbo considering my build is not too far from the 3.5-tonne limit and has pulled me up and over the Alps, through snow, mountains and forest tracks.
But imagine something like a Tesla Model S P100D as a donor. 4wd, The ladder-style chassis would easily accommodate the battery pack under the floor and I imagine possibly 4 or more sets of battery packs. Some modification to the motor ratios to give a little more torque and less top end.
There is plenty of real estate on the roof for solar panels. At the moment I use 1 x 160w through leisure batteries this is sufficient for lighting, tv, charging various things and just day to day. The panel I use if not so high tech but even based on this type of panel you could get 1,000w worth of panels up there. This may not be enough to exclude the need for charge stations but it would go some way to extending the range especially in places like California. Newer technology solar panels would generate significantly more and for less additional weight also.
I would still love to make this a real project and create an ultimate all-electric camper. If any of you have any ideas or thoughts you would like to share please get in touch. email: email@example.com.
The Equipment I’m using.
160w solar panel, 20A MPPT charge controller with 3 115A/h 12V deep cycle lead-acid leisure batteries. The system works quite well most of the year in the UK.
When travelling around the south of Spain through winter it was more than sufficient but I was only running 12v lights, a few USB ports for phone/iPad charging and a 600w inverter for TV, Laptop and PlayStation. I still had to be a little mindful of my usage and if I was back in the UK during winter I’d probably only manage lights and phone charging.
My next build will be different.
First I think I’d opt for a 24v system with a 12v option step down for flexibility if I have any 12v needs. I’m happy with the MPPT controller so I’ll stick with that but I’d at least double up on the solar cells and look for a Lithium Iron battery option.
My Recommended build would be.
2 x 200w Solar Panels.
400w is a bit of a big jump from 160w but because I spend most of my time in the UK you need to grab as much light as possible.
MPPT Charge Controller.
This is the charge controller I have have been using for the last 4 years and as I’ll be feeding the 400w in at 24V it will be suitable, I’d have to upgrade if it was 12v because if the increased Amps.
2x 100Ah 12V LITHIUM LiFePO4 Batteries.
It sounds like a step down from 345 A/h to only 200A/h but LiFe has around double the usable capacity of lead-acid. If it’s not enough it’s easy enough to add two more batteries but this should comfortably give me about 2000Wh per day without cycling the batteries too deeply.
24v 2000W Pure Sine Wave Inverter.
24V inverters are a little better on efficiency and I’d suggest paying the extra for a “pure sine wave” for running a laptop, TV and fridge.
DC 24v to DC 12v Step Down Converter.
I use a few 12v USB & cigarette lighter style connectors so having the option for 12v could prove useful and these are a simple and inexpensive part so it makes sense to have the option.
There are of course a few other things you should consider. A low voltage disconnect and a low-temperature sensor. Running your batteries too low will damage them and if you try to charge LiFe below freezing you’ll cause them some damage too.
There are heating systems you can consider that will automatically come one below a set temperature and also look at the other side of the scale and consider cooling and ventilation for when you are in warmer climates.
Totally off the grid.
For me, this where this idea was originally born. The idea that I could travel up to 1,000 miles is an all-electric campervan, park somewhere beautiful for a few days as the solar panels recharge the battery cells. Work and explore new places before moving on and discovering more of our world. I get to do this pretty well now and my little 2.1L turbo diesel has hauled this shell for more than 250,000 miles only deciding a hand full of times that it wants to take an unscheduled stop and have a minor part replaced.
Maybe this is where electric just isn’t ready for the long haul, or maybe the maintenance infrastructure isn’t yet in place………….
A vision of the future?
In theory, electric vehicles are more suited to a modular manufacturing and maintenance regime. Battery packs made from many hundreds of 18650 cells, sealed unit motors. It is conceivable that the service schedules we are already accustomed to with the good old internal combustion engine will morph into the new electric vehicle schedules.
6 monthly oil and filter changes make way for power pack diagnostic and swapping out of a few failed cells.
Timing belt replacement is replaced with electric motor swaps and the average mechanic no longer goes home with oil in his fingers.
Change is coming and I look forward to seeing what form it takes. I would love to see Mercedes and Telsa team up and build this vision. Imagine an AMG version ripping down a drag strip at sub 9 seconds.
If Mercedes want to donate a nice new Sprinter LWB and Tesla a P100d I’ll find a way to marry the two into something beautiful.
Winter is coming to England, the clocks have gone back and my thoughts have turned to getting away. This year I think I will leave the van behind this winter, at least for the first part. I have a wedding booked for the 21st December so I have to be back in the UK a few days before that and I’ll need my van when I’m back here.
I think I’ll take a flight to Barcelona and maybe even find some work there. It will be nice to be back in the UK and with family for Christmas. If possible I’ll head back to warmer weather between Chrismas and New year. Depending on how long I’m planning to be away I might take the ven.
My single 160w solar panel doesn’t cut it at the moment, some of that is being in England in the winter but also I suspect at least one of my batteries isn’t what it used to be and is probably draining the system. The van is in need of some TLC and I must take some time to address the growing list of jobs.
If you have stumbled across this and are also looking for a photographer, especially if you are getting married please take a moment to have a look at my work here. I am better at taking pictures than I am at predicting future motoring trends.
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The future is in Solid State?
I have been hearing about recent developments in the lithium-ion battery technology and I’m a little excited about the potential that could be coming from Solis State Batteries. It has been reported that Samsung is close to developing a solid-state battery that would double the capacity of the current technology with the potential of a 10x and a significant increase in life cycle.
Just to make the trilogy complete, it is rumoured to be able to remove the “none oxygen environment” needed in current manufacturing and possibly even eliminate some of the more costly elements such as cobalt and Nickle.
All fantastic and a possibly exciting leap forward coming in the next ten years. Of all these gains I think the huge potential weight reduction p/Wh is massive. At the moment any electric vehicle is held back but the bulk and weight of the cells. Imagine only having a fifth of the current weight and bulk and still doubling the current capacity.
At that point, it becomes difficult to put forward a logical argument for combustion engines. There will always be the emotional argument but that one will fade but always be alive in nostalgia.
Just the recharging time vs refuelling battle to be addressed but if you have a vehicle capable of 600+ miles on a charge then there might be less of a battle on your hands.
Recharge vs swap out.
On that thought. for me the two biggest arguments I hear about electric vehicles are – the main one “once the batteries are flat you’re stuck for a few hours recharging but id your car runs out of petrol it takes 5 minutes to fill it again, then you’re off”. There has been a lot of really good work done with highspeed charging stations but there are some inherent problems with pushing a lot of amps into a cell quickly.
The other is that the cells degrade over time (and quicker if you are “power charging” them) you’ll see the car’s performance start to significantly drop off after a few years and it’s a bit of a task to swap out the cells .
So why not make that part of the system. Once the cell packs get smaller and lighter for the same Wh have them “hot-swappable” you pull into a station and pop in a new cell. The average car will get you around 400 miles on a full tank. If you can get more and be back on your way as quickly as fulling up a fuel tank you’re on a winner.
The added bonus is that the packs and cells could be rebalanced and serviced regularly, as part of the system. This would extend the life cycle of every cell in the pack and reduce the running costs further.
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Equally, you can find out more about Mercedes vans here.