The giant Turin football team of Juventus has for decades tried to balance the pragmatic defensively-minded tradition of Italian teams with the more exotic talents of the game’s great creators. Platini, Baggio, Zidane and now Cristiano Ronaldo have thrilled the city’s crowds by daring to come up with something dramatic, inventive and magical.
There was a touch of the unexpected when Fiat Professional invited the world’s media to its Turin home at the height of another hot European summer. Given the industry’s current pursuit to electrify mobility, it may be a stretch to call the Ducato Electric van as the work of an unpredictable genius but its surprise showing – and the even more eye-opening launch date of 2020 at the event – has caught some observers off-guard. In the crowd noise of the world premiere it may also have been lost that the company is also determined to give the van a release in the Middle East.
“Well the Ducato Electric is here,” Domenico Gostoli, head of Fiat Professional Electrification Programs says with an effortless coolness reminiscent of a French midfield general setting up a goal with a looping pass from inside in his own half.
Behind him is the new vehicle itself. Doused in purple light, its shining new body deflecting the flashing cameras of the media around it, it is still difficult to escape the fact that it remains a van. A vehicle destined to spend a life of drudgery and shifting.
The reality is that electric commercial vehicles are now out in the field in some markets and ready to be in fleets that have the infrastructure and know-how to use them. We need them to work, not to impress. Consequently, the Ducato Electric is also the identical twin of the MY2020 Ducato that will be launched earlier in the year and this was a launch to pare down wizardry with much needed pragmatism. Furthermore, anyone with an interest in a sustainable future for fleets will be happy to see that in a short time we have moved on from, say, the eSprinter reveal in 2016 at IAA which came out with a Hans Zimmer-like soundtrack and a dancing, spinning, digital grille.
Gostoli says the company has had to find the sweet spot between the standard Ducato’s best-in-class load volumes from 10 to 17 m3, and a payload of up to 1,950 kg (the best in its category) and the need to get enough power from the battery. In electric vehicles, batteries are everything, he says, and the company has opted for modular battery size options, with range from 220 to 360 km (NEDC cycle) and different charging configurations. This is combined with impressive performances: speed limited to 100 km/h to optimise energy use, maximum power of 90 kW and maximum torque of 280 Nm.
When asked by T&FME what that could translate to in the Middle East, he admits that the region remains a challenging environment to get a similar performance but is cautiously optimistic that the development of the technology will see it improve in the years to come.
The standard Ducato has been in the field now for almost four decades since its arrival on the scene in 1981, and all-electric BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle) version completes a line-up that also includes the natural gas Ducato Natural Power. The brand has been built on combining performance, economy and a strong focus on TCO (total cost of ownership). The company stresses that its newest family member has been developed in deep consultation with fleets and follows a long-standing strategy of trying to understand the “different needs of every professional mission.”
Emphasising how important going into the market to work out what their requirements are, Gostoli says that this process is more important than the specs themselves.
“I guess you expect me to go straight to the technical data? This would be the usual norm, wouldn’t it?” He asks. “Well, this would be the normal type of presentation if this was just a normal product – which it’s not.
Gostoli adds: “The Ducato Electric is much more. The Ducato Electric is a new mobility solution and it is essential to understand how the Ducato Electric was born and why was there innovation value it brings to the market.”
Fiat Professional’s research has uncovered the fleets working in specific business areas which are well placed to be early adopters of this technology. It has looked at the growth of online retail, postal and courier services and seen how it could help those operations but there others too, such as: home ready-to-eat food deliveries and hub-spoke local transport.
With access to city centres and ever-increasing traffic restrictions on conventional fuel vehicles encouraging a movement to cleaner vehicles, Gostoli sees a connection between early adopters – customers already interested in electric mobility – and specific mission types which give particular importance to TCO.
“We started by building a holistic database using fleet data, an extensive study of a wide number of connected vehicles across the whole of Europe. We analysed this date: vehicle-by-vehicle, mission by mission, mile by mile, with of course the customer’s specifications.”
These fleets generally have a low level of route variability and a high number of days of use per year but fairly low daily mileages, the company has found.
“Large scale electrification is coming into our lives and we are ready to move to the next level,” says Gostoli. “Indeed, electrification is not a bad move in terms of technology or mobility. Electrification is leading and enabling change in customer culture and dedication. And electromobility will be deeply involved in the customer approach.”
The development of the Ducato Electric has involved the company being pro-active in seeking cooperation with its customers, he adds.
“We started with customer Pilot Projects involving some large industry players to fully exploit their knowledge base, letting the vehicles run for 15 million kilometres during the trials.
He adds that the study meant they could set benchmarks of how to build a TCO for the vehicle that would mean it could remain a profitable investment for the fleet customer – even if it was likely to come with an added premium.
“Finally, we could use it to see the potential of the market,” he adds. “The real-life demand and applications.”
He believes this process has helped create the optimum mobility solution not just in terms of the basic van but also wrapping it in services, including route and charging optimisation, for fleets.
With this approach, Fiat Professional believe it can now confidently offer complete electric mobility solutions, based on its study of energy needs and fleet roles. The finished vehicle will be marketed as an extension of the popular brand – 100% electric, 100% Ducato – and able to cover every single mission.
“And that is the reason why we started with the customer first. These new perspectives gave Fiat Professional the determination that it was best to find a 100% solution into a 100% Ducato.”
But the company also wants to go beyond vehicles to the charging infrastructures they need and inevitable range of services increasingly required by today’s new, constantly evolving mobility scenarios.
“We are moving from being a manufacturer to a solution provider. We want to recognise the best for each customer and identify all specific use demands to be borne in mind during individual customisation and configuration for every application,” he remarks.