Battery-electric vans are currently only rarely subject to individual conversions. Especially when the sector concerned is the transport of temperature-sensitive products like food or medicines. Why is that? The energy required for the cooling previously meant concessions in the payload or the range. But as a provider of holistic systems-oriented solutions, Mercedes-Benz Vans has a solution for precisely this field of operation: the refrigerated eVito with a cooling upfit made by Kerstner. Seven of these vehicles have now been brought into operation by the Belgian food box provider HelloFresh. “Our refrigerated eVito vans are a great example of how we collaborate with our customers and bodybuilders to develop vehicles which are tailored to a specific set of requirements and use cases,” explains Christin Egermeier from Mercedes-Benz Vans Sales for eGrocery applications.
Co-creation: from the idea to market maturity, the customer is always in the loop
Many customers would like to change their vehicle fleet over to sustainable drive concepts and, especially in urban zones, to operate their routes using battery-electric vans. In order to meet the specific requirements for the transport of temperature-sensitive goods, as part of the co-creation approach, there was intense discussion with more than 40 customers worldwide from the field of food and medicine transport. Mercedes-Benz Vans joined numerous drivers on their routes in order to see where the sticking points were in the daily life of a delivery driver, as well as to ascertain where processes could be optimized and how locally emission-free vehicles can best show their strengths in this domain. Together with food box provider HelloFresh from Belgium, the company held a series of workshops, created process analyses and, on the basis of accompanying the drivers on their routes, determined the needs and requirements of the customers. The result was a vehicle which is based on the Mercedes-Benz eVito and which, together with the refrigerated body specialists from Kerstner, was further developed to market maturity. The electrically-powered mid-size van also uses its batteries for the active cooling of fresh produce in the load compartment and is thus positioned as a solution for sustainable and locally emission-free food deliveries in urban areas.
In September 2019, the special refrigerated eVito was used by HelloFresh as part of a four-week pilot project in order to check its suitability for everyday use. It reliably maintained the load compartment temperature (fresh produce deliveries) and was able to assist the driver with up to 50 deliveries per route. “The refrigerated eVito were a technical co-creation between Mercedes-Benz Vans and HelloFresh, and it resulted in vehicles that fulfill the specific and complex operational needs of HelloFresh,” explains Thomas Stroo, COO of HelloFresh Benelux. “The long-standing partnership between both organizations has allowed for a space to innovate within the world of transport”. What resulted was a tailor-made electrical transport vehicle. As Thomas Stroo puts it: “A vehicle designed specifically for the operational needs of HelloFresh. The way in which the engine works together with the cooling unit is tailor-made with the number of stops and the length of our routes, and allows us to drive our routes without disruption.”
The ideal basis for such a vehicle: the Mercedes-Benz eVito
Previously in the eGrocery delivery market, the active cooling of temperature-sensitive products in the load compartment either meant independent auxiliary battery solutions or the use of passive cooling methods using such things as cooling pads or dry ice. Whilst additional batteries are big, heavy, expensive and detrimental to the payload capacity, the alternatives are neither sustainable nor environmentally friendly. What’s more, this growing sector is also facing the challenge of increasing restrictions on entering cities and thereby the possibility of not being able to deliver to inner-city locations. A locally emission-free vehicle concept is therefore an inevitability in such cases and, in view of the typical tours driven and their plannable daily nature with an average operating range of between 80 and 120 kilometres, the Mercedes-Benz eVito is a great choice.
The technical concept of the refrigerated eVito is based on the idea that the electrical energy available in the Mercedes-Benz eVito is also used for the active cooling. To this end, the particularly energy efficient Kerstner C106EA refrigerating unit is connected to the vehicle’s on-board electrical system, thereby allowing the size of the additional battery required for the supply of energy to be kept as small as possible. Accordingly, this refrigerated vehicle has three operating modes which guarantee constant cooling during the entire delivery process: stationary cooling via mains electricity for operating the system whilst the vehicle is loaded at the hub; cooling using the high-voltage vehicle battery while driving; and using the buffer battery for cooling during deliveries or breaks. In order to reduce the energy consumption of the cooling system, the Kerstner insulation of the load compartment has an especially low thermal transmittance value of 0.30 W/m²K. “The eVito is ideal for converting it as a refrigerated vehicle, because the vehicle has a good range and therefore heavy and expensive additional energy sources are unnecessary. With the concept, we have already put an absolutely future-oriented vehicle on the road together with Mercedes-Benz Vans,” says Philipp Klause, representative at Kerstner.
The concept for locally emission-free deliveries of temperature-sensitive products is also expected to be extended to other sectors and model series in the future.