A new all-electric van option

posted on 18th May 2020
A new all-electric van option

As airport operators all around the world seek to minimise their carbon footprint, one UK company is offering two models of fully electric van that it says are ideal for use on busy aprons

Tony Hayes is the managing director of JLC Aviation Services, which supplies ground power – in the form of mobile ground power units (GPUs) or fixed electric ground power (FEGP) – to Royal Air Force stations and to British commercial airports such as Birmingham, London City and London Gatwick.

The group’s ground power business is growing, he notes, but another trend that has been more than apparent over recent years working in this field has been the tendency for airport operators to adopt greener sources of power for the equipment used on their aprons. This applies not just to ground power provision but across all the various types of motorised GSE and support vehicles.
The value of an economical, all-electric van to support various tasks performed on an airport ramp, not least by airport operators themselves, would be just one market for such a vehicle, which would be equally useful in numerous other applications such as local deliveries, trades people, the leisure/holiday parks business, last-mile delivery and on-site use.

Thus Hayes decided to establish a separate business – the East Sussex, UK-based Saturn EV Ltd (EV being electric vehicle) – which now offers the Saturn City Van EV to the on-airport and other markets. It is available in a flatbed form or as a box style van.

There are comparatively few small utility EVs available and yet, says Hayes, “There’s a massive market here,” not least because of the “phenomenal pressure” on airports and other businesses to ‘go green’.

Moreover, the lithium ion battery-powered Saturn vehicles are particularly suited to ramp operations, adds operations director Nathalie Hayes, asserting: “The vans are very flexible and versatile, available in both flatbed and box style.

“They are small and compact, so very easy to manoeuvre in tight spaces, which is particularly helpful as ramp areas are size-restricted.”

She continues: “The range of these vehicles for airside use is generous, and they are extremely easy to charge overnight (not requiring a special charging facility if this is not available). Finally, we believe the pricing very reasonable – much cheaper than alternatives available on the market today.”

In fact, the Saturn EV has running costs of less than 2.5p per mile. Both the flatbed and the box style vans have a payload of half a tonne. The box style City van has 2.27m by 1.4m by 1.5m of load space, while the flatbed van’s space measures 2.26m by 1.4m. The latter has a drop-down tailgate, and the vehicle’s sides can also be dropped.

The battery can be fully charged in six to eight hours, although an 80% charge can be undertaken much more quickly.

Optional extras include air conditioning and GPS vehicle tracking devices.

Saturn imports the basic vehicle chassis and batteries from China, before customising them to meet the needs of the local market. For the UK, the vehicle is modified from left-hand drive to right-hand drive amongst other changes.

While the Saturn van currently has a range of up to 125 miles, depending on payload, usage and battery size, the company is looking at ways of extending the range of the vehicle on a single charge.

Saturn has two vans for display purposes and is soon to import another batch. Should a large order be received, a significantly larger number of vehicles can be brought in at short notice, Tony Hayes notes.

He is busy talking to airport operators and handlers, as well as GSE and vehicle lessors, about the potential of the Saturn EVs – and receiving some good responses. He is not targeting any particularly geographical markets, given that the trend towards vehicles that are emission-free at point of use is increasing so quickly right across the world. Regional airports may be a particular source of business though, Hayes suggests, because they operate on a tighter budget than the global air hubs.

One of Saturn’s flatbed vans is expected to be operating out of London Gatwick Airport soon, supporting both airside and landside engineering support tasks. However, the Covid-19 crisis has meant Gatwick is operating with to a skeleton staff and has much else to prioritise at the moment, so the handover has been delayed.