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Why go for electric vanlife
It was during the first lockdown of the pandemic in the Netherlands back in April 2020 that we first started to seriously consider the possibilities of electric vanlife. We knew we wanted to make a change in the way we travelled, and we got to talking about doing a big trip with a focus on slow travel — when it would be possible to cross borders again. We dreamed of going on an epic road trip across Europe in an electric campervan we would build out ourselves.
Back in 2020, the options for electric vanlife were quite limited. When we researched electric van builds online, we saw a bunch of examples of vintage vans being outfitted with a new electric engine. They looked amazing and we loved the idea of upcycling, but when we realized that most of these electrified vintage vans had a range of less than 100 kilometres (62 miles) on one charge, we were a bit discouraged. We also found a few examples of fully electric vehicles that had been converted to campervans. This was closer to what we were looking for, but the vehicles were all relatively small vans like the pop-tops Nissan e-NV200 and the Toyota ProAce. What we were looking for was a modern van with a good range, that we could comfortably stand in, with enough room for a kitchen and a set bed.
How we made our decision
We read about Mercedes’ new fully electric sprinter van, the eSprinter, but saw that it only had a range of 150 kilometres (95 miles). A new model that promised a better range wouldn’t hit the market before 2023. We were starting to lose hope when the Italian brand Fiat announced their first fully electric Fiat Ducato: the Fiat E-Ducato. When we looked at the specs we couldn’t quite believe it: Fiat E-Ducato seemed to be everything we were looking for. Not only is the diesel-edition Fiat Ducato one of the most popular vans for a camper conversion in Europe, it’s also the number one base model of European motorhomes. Built with the same chassis, Fiat E-Ducato seemed like a very solid base for a DIY van build. And on top of that, Fiat promised a range of up to 360 kilometres on one charge, blowing all competition out of the water. We were sold.
Buying our Fiat E-Ducato
In the summer of 2020, we made an appointment at a dealership near our home in the north of the Netherlands for a test drive, but unfortunately there were no demo models of the Fiat E-Ducato available yet. So we rented a regular Fiat Ducato campervan instead and drove it to Denmark to get a feel for the model. We liked the vanlife experience so much that we decided to order the Fiat E-Ducato without having done a test drive. We were told by the dealer that they expected the van very soon, but unfortunately Fiat ended up experiencing dreadful delays because of the pandemic and the worldwide shortage of computer chips. We were supposed to receive our Fiat E-Ducato in early 2021 but ended up having to wait for six months. On the 3rd of September 2021, we finally received our van, one of the first Fiat E-Ducato’s to run off the production line in Italy.
The extended model we chose
For our campervan, we chose to go with the extended length model Fiat E-Ducato Length 3, with an extended height as well, height 2 (L3H2). Our van is 6 meters (20 feet) long, just over 2 meters (about 7 feet) wide, and a bit more than 2.5 meters (8.5 feet) high. As part of our van build we’ve also added a roof rack with solar panels, so it’s ended up a bit higher still.
We chose to go with Length 3 because we wanted to be able to put in a full-length bed. Even though the Fiat E-Ducato is pretty wide, Jurrien — like many Dutchies — is very tall, so to be able to sleep comfortably in the van we chose to go with the full-length option. We went for Height 2 because it allows us both to stand fully upright in the van — me (Sara) comfortably, Jurrien just about.
Our battery and range
The 90kW electro engine is the same for all Fiat E-Ducato models, but there are two battery packs that you can choose from: 47kWh, with a range of up to 220 kilometres / 135 miles, and 79kWh, with a range of up to 360 kilometres / 225 miles — both based on a L2H1 model. We chose the biggest battery pack of 79kWh, but because we also chose the extended length and height (L3H2), our range is slightly different.
Fiat communicates a WLTP combined range of 223km/140mi for our model and a WLTP city range of 298km/185mi. This means that a completely empty Fiat E-Ducato model L3H2 should have an average range of about 250km/155mi. But because we’ve converted ours to a campervan, we have added weight, coming quite close to the maximum authorized mass of 3.5 metric tonnes for our model. How much impact this will have on our range, we’ll experience on our road trip across Europe (starting in the summer of 2022). We’ll update this blog post when we’ve done several range tests, but we’re hoping to come to about 250km/155mi of range in good conditions (i.e. not too cold outside and not too much headwind).
250km/155mi is still not that much compared to what most new electric cars are capable of these days, but with our focus on slow travel and Europe as our destination, we feel like this range will be enough for us to be able to enjoy slow travel and vanlife to the fullest.
The speed cap
Speed of our Fiat E-Ducato is capped at 100 km/hour (62mi/hour), but by using ‘power mode’ it is possible to go up to 110 km/hour (69mi/hour) — especially handy when passing someone on the highway. We don’t want to use this mode too often though as it does cost quite a bit of kW, impacting our range, so we’ll mostly choose to drive in ‘normal mode’, with a speed cap of 100km/hour (62mi/hour), or when we’re not on the highway, ‘eco mode’, which has a speed cap of 80km/hour (50mi/hour). In all modes we’re able to use regenerative braking to recharge the traction battery. Weight-wise our model is capped at 3.5 tonnes, but there’s also a Fiat E-Ducato model available with a maximum authorized mass of 4.25 tonnes, which has a capped speed of 90 km/hour (56mi/hour).
Our charging upgrades
The Fiat E-Ducato comes with a standard Type 2 AC charger of 7kW for the 47kWh battery pack and an 11kW charger for the 79kWh battery (which we chose). It’s a separate cable that connects our van to just about any AC charging station (using the right charging card of course). Fiat does offer an upgraded option of 22kW as well which we’d really have loved to have ordered, but unfortunately this option wasn’t available yet when we bought our van (one of the first Fiat E-Ducatos to hit the market). The 22kW option should now be available though.
Another upgrade we chose is the DC fast-charging option of up to 50kW. This allows us to use fast-charging DC stations, which always come with a cable of their own that we can connect to the CCS Combo 2 connector in our Fiat E-Ducato. We were a bit disappointed that Fiat doesn’t offer a DC fast-charge option with more kWs, but are really happy that we chose the upgrade anyway, because we use it quite a bit.
The final upgrade option that we chose is a home charger, which uses a normal domestic plug. This is the slowest charging option by far, but it will allow us to plug in our campervan almost anywhere, which will help when we want to visit more remote areas in Europe. Unfortunately, we didn’t receive the home charger cable that we ordered through Fiat with our van, so we use a universal home charger instead which, after some initial hiccups, now works fine.
We definitely experienced our share of problems both related and unrelated to charging though. To read more about this, see: 6 Setbacks We Experienced with our Fiat E-Ducato .
What we paid
When we bought our Fiat E-Ducato, pricing in Europe started at €51,900 (excl. taxes) for the smallest model, L2H1, and in Britain at £59,699 including VAT. Pricing for our model, L3H2, starts at €54,500 (excl. taxes) for the smallest battery pack and €72,000 (excl. taxes) for the biggest battery pack in Europe. We chose the latter and with the extra upgrades we bought, such as the ability to use a DC fast charger, we ended up paying €75,500 (excl. taxes) for our van. For current pricing, please see: fiatprofessional.com.
The Fiat E-Ducato is definitely still quite expensive compared to non-electric vans, but because we were able to make use of certain tax cuts in the Netherlands, we saw it as a worthwhile investment. That said, we realize spending this amount of money on a campervan is far from realistic for everyone. Which is why we’re hoping to see electric campervans become much more affordable in the years to come, with new models entering the market and second-hand vans becoming a possibility as well.