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Can a high-performance electric scooter work for fleets?

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Minimal maintenance, cheap running costs, a tiny carbon footprint, plus decent performance.

It sounds too good to be true, but the Vectrix electric scooter promises all of this.

There are other battery-powered scooters, but all of them have the performance of a 50cc moped (as in a 30mph top speed) and a limited range.

The Vectrix has a substantial bank of nickel metal hydride batteries and claims a range of 68 miles at urban speeds.

More to the point, it will also top 62mph and has the acceleration of a 400cc petrol scooter.

Like any electric vehicle, the Vectrix should score in low maintenance costs and reliability as well as low emissions.

To recharge, simply plug it into the mains.

It takes two hours for an 80% charge, and costs about 50p.

The downsides are the price, currently £6,748, and the limited range – anything from 35 to 70 miles, depending on use.

Now, Vetrix is to launch the VX2, a lower-priced version with lower spec battery.

The first Vetrix has been on sale in the UK for more than a year, and Fleet News talked to three fleet users who bought it.

In use

The AA runs eight Vectrix scooters, used when answering breakdown calls in central London.

“We want to be seen to be doing the right thing environmentally,” says the organisation’s Gary Aitken.

“But the bikes just get there quicker, and they can cope with 80% of breakdowns.”

They manage a 50-mile range when fully laden with tools.

Gary allocates two bikes per rider.

If one runs low on juice, the rider can nip back to the depot, put it on charge and take the other machine.

It sounds like an expensive way of doing things, but Gary is convinced that the lower running costs will pay off in the long term.

In the meantime, the scooters are answering more calls per day than their petrol equivalents.

A few police forces have the Vectrix on trial, but so far only Strathclyde has gone ahead and bought them.

Two are used to patrol Glasgow Airport, mainly to keep the traffic moving.

The Vectrix scooters are not there to respond to urgent calls, according to Alan Tait, Strathclyde’s assistant fleet manager, but he’s pleased with them so far.

Only one of the airport roads has a 60mph limit, so the Vectrix are often used at lower speeds, and a 50-60-mile range is the result.

“So far we’ve been lucky, and that’s been enough for a whole shift, so they get put on
charge at the end of the day,” Alan says.

EnterpriseMouchel is a highway maintenance company, working on contracts with the Highways Agency, local authorities and Transport for London.

In the capital, that means keeping the red routes clear.

Two-wheelers are used to respond to anything from a car wrapped round a lamp post to a dead fox in the road. Heavier vehicles are called in if needed.

“We’ve got a commitment to be carbon neutral in London by 2010,” says Colin Ridley, the company’s customer care and communications manager.

So all its heavy diesel trucks are Euro IV compliant and the four cars on the fleet are Toyota Prius hybrids.

For lighter jobs, they have a number of Modec electric vans, which can cover up to 100 miles on a charge, with a payload of about 400kg.

The two Vectrix scooters fit nicely into this low-carbon fleet.

“So far, we’re very pleased with them,” says Colin.

The riders

Of course, allocating any staff a scooter isn’t the same as handing them the keys to a Mondeo.

This wasn’t an issue for the police, who already have their own highly trained riders, but at the AA Gary Aitken sought out patrolmen who already had a bike licence, and put them through the IAM advanced test.

Colin Ridley took a similar line, finding current bikers among the staff, and putting them through the police-run Bikesafe course.

Either way, it’s much cheaper than training riders from scratch.

Whoever rides the bikes they’ll need decent protective gear – helmet, jacket, gloves, boots and leggings.

The AA and EnterpriseMouchel simply gave their chosen riders a budget and sent them off to the motorcycle dealers.

“We used two guys as guinea pigs,” explains Gary Aitken.

“They chose IXS jackets and trousers, which are good all year round, and Shoei helmets.

"When you’ve got someone out on a bike for eight-10 hours, they need to be comfortable. If you’re comfortable, you can concentrate better.”

You might expect experienced bikers to be a bit sniffy about a battery-powered scooter, but the feedback has been good.

“They love them,” continues Gary. “The acceleration is great, and because all the weight’s at the bottom of the bike, they’re really easy to manoeuvre.”

The Vectrix isn’t very powerful, and tips the scales at 210kg (30kg more than the petrol equivalent) but the motor delivers high torque from a standing start – hence the acceleration.

Riders also find it very easy to use, being fully automatic. Police riders like the fact that it’s a big, imposing machine.

Two things take some getting used to. One is the unnerving silence while waiting for the lights to change.

The other is regenerative braking, which turns the motor into a generator as you slow down, feeding power back into the batteries.

“Get it right,” says Colin Ridley, “and you don’t have to use the conventional brakes at all.”

Users do have to keep an eye on the battery level, to ensure they don’t get stranded, but the AA’s experience has been that, if anything, riders were too cautious at first. They soon got used to running it right down.

Gary Aitken reports that the Vectrix goes into limp home mode when it’s nearly empty, which gives another four miles at reduced speed.

Maintenance

The Vectrix has no engine to service, and there’s no gearbox as the motor is directly geared to the rear wheel.

All that’s needed, says Vectrix, is a periodic check of the tyres and brakes.

None of the fleets or private owners have experienced any reliability hiccups, and all were full of praise for the aftersales service.

If there is a question mark, it’s over battery life.

Vectrix claims a life of 10 years or 50,000 miles, which if it’s true would be very impressive, but has yet to be proved.

A new battery pack will cost around £1,600 and a 24-month warranty covers the whole scooter.

They also offer a ‘Plug & Go’ package which includes a four-year warranty.

So there it is. It’s interesting that all three fleets picked the Vectrix for specific low-mileage urban jobs, but that’s what it’s most suited to.

And so far, they appear to be happy with the performance, reliability and running costs.

With the cost of fuel still looking unstable, going electric looks like a smart move.

What else?

All other electric scooters have limited performance with a range of about 20-25 miles.

They have a role for low-mileage use on quiet roads. Prices start at £1,100.

Another alternative is the electric bicycle which needs pedalling but gives the rider a useful power boost. They cost from £600.

For more information see www.whatscooter.com and www.atob.org.uk

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