Welcome to EV Ownership Stories! Every week, we’ll be posting an interview with an owner of an electric vehicle. We’re here to show that people have been living with EVs for longer than you’d think, in stranger places than you’d imagine. If you’d like to be featured, instructions are at the bottom of the article.
The phrase “late ’90s EV” most likely conjures the bubbly, futuristic GM EV1 or the utilitarian people-carrying wagon form factor of the Nissan Altra. If you were looking for an option to haul cargo, you’d probably be waiting around another year or two for the Ford E-Transit. But what if there was another option 20 years ago for all your electric delivery needs?
Today’s featured reader EV is a ’99 Peugeot Partner owned by Joris in Belgium. Joris’s Partner is a cargo van that would have normally come equipped with a 1.9-liter four-cylinder diesel, but this version is the Partner Electric, with a DC motor and 27 6V nickel-cadmium batteries powering the front wheels instead of an internal combustion engine. It was sold as both a Peugeot and the Citroën Berlingo Electrique, and they were originally marketed as mail vans for Europe. Joris bought it in 2006 in less-than-perfect condition. As he put it:
Buying it was troublesome. The seller said it ran poorly. By the time I got there, it did not move under its own power. I couldn’t resist because it was cheap and I needed a weird hobby. I had it pulled on the truck of a friend and towed it to a specialized Peugeot shop near my house. They spent several months, but could not get it started again. I had it flat towed home behind my father’s car. That was especially stupid and dangerous, since the regen would sometimes work for a few seconds. Then, I spent months of my free time to diagnose and investigate a simple problem in the motor.
Joris got it working, and since then has enjoyed much better luck. The van has a range in the real world from 60 to 100 km (37 to 62 miles), which Joris says is generally enough, as cities are much denser in Belgium. Take note that the entire nation of Belgium fits easily into just the region of Texas I live in. The van is charged from a normal wall socket with a regular power cord and takes eight hours to fully recharge. (Do take note: Belgium outlets are 230 volts.) For longer trips, Joris said that “in an emergency, running out of charge in front of a bar is your best bet. Bar owners are social and a bar is a good place to wait a while.”
Joris put 163,000 kilometers on the little panel van during his 12 years of ownership, all on the original motor, speed controller, and batteries. The charger and cooling system for the battery were replaced a few times in that period, as they underwent higher levels of stress from the many shorter in-town trips the van took.
The van has the typical utilitarian interior expected of a ’90s French work vehicle — in a word, terrible. It retains all of the original creature comforts it left the factory with, though, including two speakers, a radio, electric windows and a Webasto gas heater for winters. The dedicated heater unit gets to temperature faster after startup, though it means these vans are one of the few EVs that also have a fuel tank. (It’s just five liters, as noted in this contemporary review.)
The van profile has its upsides as well, with operating costs being dirt cheap and the robust industrial vehicle “stand[ing] up to a lot of abuse. Like rough terrain, snow and ice, and some mild crashing with ease, courtesy of long-travel, forgiving suspension and big plastic bumpers.”
The Leroy Somer DC motor is rated at only 30 horsepower, with a 0 to 50 kilometers per hour (0 to 31 mph) pull taking a very leisurely eight seconds. In his words,
I would leave the lights first and get a head start. Most cars would have passed me before I did 50 km/h. All other cars would have passed me before I did 70 km/h. It would eventually do 100 km/h, but highways were a big no-no.
This seems excruciatingly slow, but the original diesel powertrain performed the 0 to 100 kph run in 19.9 seconds and topped out at 141 kph (88 mph), which actually makes the electric version only slightly more sluggish. I still would avoid merging those short ramps without a good run-up, admittedly, but Joris found it plenty powerful for his needs and sold his diesel daily driver in favor of the van.
Thank you so much for sharing your fantastic French van, Joris! We’d love to hear from more readers about their EVs, modern or classic, factory or otherwise.
- Your name
- What car do you own? (If you owned a car in the past, let us know what years!)
- Where do you live with it?
- How and where do you charge it?
- How was buying it?
- How long have you had it?
- How has it lived up to your expectations?
- A photo of your car
If you want to be interviewed, please let us know an email with an re: EV Ownership Stories to tscott at jalopnik dot com!