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From the outside it’s nothing special, just a regular Defender 110 Truck Cab. Only the huge road train coupled to the back of it, and the words ‘All-Terrain Electric Research Vehicle’ on the side, offer any clue as to why I’ve come to Cornwall’s Eden Project to see this Defender 110. Because it’s under the bonnet that it starts to get interesting.
The vehicle is the latest project by Land Rover’s Innovation Acceleration Team to establish the feasibility of all-electric Defenders. It’s the first of seven electric research vehicles to undergo real-world trials, and here at the Eden Project it replaces a New Holland T6155 tractor in the task of lugging an astonishing 12-ton road train up gradient of one in 17 (6%).
Jeremy Greenwood has been leading the project, and gave me a tour of the vehicle. ‘It all started about three years ago when the owners of a game park in South Africa put together their own electric Defender to work as a game viewer. It was well overweight, but it worked. They asked if we could help them build a better one, so we went out and designed an improved version, which went down extremely well.’
Keen to find out what else it can do, Land Rover decided to fund seven electric Defenders as research vehicles for various placements around the UK and Europe.
‘There’s a lot of theoretical work going on about low-carbon vehicles, but there’s not much in terms of real-world data collection. There’s no substitute for non-engineers driving them, as they do things that engineers don’t do, and it gives us real information about typical usage. So we have data loggers in each vehicle giving us information about how they’re used, and all that knowledge goes into future products.’
I drop the handbrake to a lovely slow hiss from the train’s brakes and after a gentle nudge of the throttle, the dormant motor picks up a gentle whirr. Then it’s off we go in low ratio, with the queue of coaches bustling along in the rear view mirrors. It’s all so effortless I have to remind myself that I’m pulling nearly eight tons (a full cargo brings the total to 12 tons).
Our favourite bit?
Hill Descent Control takes over when I turn downhill. It holds the vehicle at 5mph, recovering 60 to 80 per cent of the energy used on the way up. I turn around at the bottom and point the train back up the slope. Going uphill, the torque is sensational. It’s all so immediate, so easy, it’s actually quite weird.
And the verdict from LRO writer Theo Ford-Sagers?
It’s not hard to be impressed by the work of Jeremy and his team, especially seeing it in action at the Eden Project. Who would imagine that such an ordinary-looking Defender could point the way to such an exciting future?