The Director of a London-based firm whose sustainable flat-pack buildings were first seen on Channel 4’s Grand Designs is now visiting customers and transporting materials in a zero-emission Mercedes-Benz van supplied by Dealer Rossetts Commercials.
U-Build employs a modular timber construction system that is, according to Nick Newman: “Reusable, environmentally responsible and incredibly cost-efficient, with no sacrifices in terms of quality.”
The concept was developed and the business established in 2020 by award-winning architects Studio Bark. U-Build’s precision-cut components are quickly and easily slotted together, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle – given the company’s eco-friendly ethos, the eSprinter is an equally perfect fit.
U-Build purchased its new eSprinter from the Aldershot branch of Rossetts Commercials, which represents the Mercedes-Benz Vans brand in North Hampshire, Surrey and Sussex. The vehicle is powered by a 114 hp electric motor that drives the front wheels, and the 55 kWh high-voltage battery pack is securely mounted beneath the body, so does not impinge on cargo carrying space.
Indeed, the load volume offered by the L2 (medium length), H2 (high roof) eSprinter’s is key to its appeal. The vehicle offers a cargo area of 11m3, which is identical to its diesel-engined, front-wheel drive stablemate, and half a cubic metre more than its rear-wheel drive equivalent.
Crucially for a new-start business such as U-Build, not only does the eSprinter make environmental sense but it adds up from a financial perspective too. Acquired with the assistance of an £8,000 grant from the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles (OZEV), the new van is proving significantly cheaper to run than its predecessor, thanks to the lower cost of electricity relative to diesel.
The fact that it produces zero tailpipe emissions means the eSprinter is exempt from the London Congestion Charge of £11.50 per day, while U-Build has also ‘future-proofed’ itself against further tightening of the rules relating to the capital’s Ultra Low Emission Zone.
The eSprinter’s four parallel batteries can be restored from 10% to 80% of maximum capacity in a couple of hours, using the 20kW DC fast-charging system supplied as standard. However, U-Build chose the optionally available 80 kW alternative, which does the same job in just 30 minutes.
Nick Newman is currently the van’s sole driver and uses publicly available facilities for recharging. Once Coronavirus restrictions have been lifted, however, the eSprinter will become a pool vehicle so available to colleagues as well, and U-Build will install a 7.4 kW (AC) wall box charger at its base in Hackney Wick, east London.
Nick explained: “As an environmental building specialist U-Build is committed to promoting sustainability and delighted therefore to be acting as an early ambassador for the latest zero-emission technology from Mercedes-Benz.
“I’m using our new eSprinter to travel between customer locations, which are all over London and beyond and will often be carrying timber sections, as well as other materials and tools. The van is the perfect size, just the job in fact, while in terms of range it’s doing exactly as we were promised.”
The eSprinter will travel 95 miles (combined WLTP with 80 km/h speed limiter) on a single charge, which is ample for the majority of urban delivery and last mile applications. It also relies on recuperative energy recovered when decelerating to supplement the batteries’ output.
While the van is hooked up and fast-charging, Nick often uses the cab as an office from which to work on his laptop, send emails and make calls. At other times, though, he will seize the opportunity to stretch his legs as the batteries are replenished. “I plugged-in on the edge of Regent’s Park last Sunday,” he said. “It was a beautiful day so I went for a walk, which was really lovely.”
A stablemate for the more established, mid-sized Mercedes-Benz eVito, the 3.5-tonne eSprinter comes in the PROGRESSIVE trimline and has brought a welcome injection of premium quality, practicality, driver appeal, and safety to the segment for large, zero-emission vans.
From a driver’s perspective it is impressively smooth and refined, with silent power delivery and the superb handling that is a hallmark of the Sprinter range. With 295 Nm of torque available from standstill it is also quick off the mark, and a pleasure to pilot around towns and cities.
The spacious cabin is fitted and finished to typically exemplary Mercedes-Benz standards, with high-quality materials and plenty of storage. The eSprinter also shares the same multi-award-winning safety specification – including Active Brake ASSIST, ADAPTIVE ESP®, ATTENTION ASSIST and Crosswind ASSIST – as diesel versions. Double locks and an integrated connected Thatcham approved alarm system provide security.
“The eSprinter is beautifully smooth and quite dreamy to drive, while also feeling very solid and safe,” observed Nick. “Everyone who’s seen it has been genuinely impressed – the standard response is: ‘Wow! I didn’t think you could get an electric van as big as that.’”
He continued: “Our old van was a diesel and would have failed its MOT anyway. We knew it had to be replaced, and given our commitment to sustainability, and the fact that we spend so much of our time working in and around London, an electric van was the obvious choice. We know it’s not a step that everyone can take yet, but we wanted to vote with our feet and switch to electric in the hope that we might bring others along too.”
Nick recalled: “After a search online we contacted Rossetts Commercials, whose Sales Executive Ian Burdett could not have been more helpful. We had lots of questions, but Ian really knew his stuff and was able to answer every one of them, while he also ensured that we benefited from the maximum OZEV grant. I couldn’t fault his service.”
U-Build aims to transform the way people think about buildings. It simplifies the process of creating anything from a house or garden studio, to one of the ‘micro homes’ installed within old industrial buildings. The company also produces affordable workspace units and even furniture.
Crucial to the success of the U-Build concept is its use of CNC (computer numerical control) cutting technology. Not only does this ensure a high degree of accuracy, with tolerances of 0.1mm, but it also means that digital designs can be sent to customers anywhere in the world, with their own access to CNC equipment.
“Our approach eliminates many of the difficulties associated with traditional construction, by harnessing the accuracy speed and repeatability of offsite manufacture,” explained Nick. “Modular buildings can be assembled and, if necessary, taken down again and reused elsewhere by people with limited skills and experience using simple hand tools. Our aim is to make construction more accessible to everyone.
“It can be a lot of fun – as well as individuals and families, we work at the other end of the spectrum with businesses and charity groups, for which we’ve produced meeting pods, partitioning and the like.”