The tale of Lamborghini's lost electric van
Say hi to the other EV1 (or the Ecovan? UPDATED)
This post is also available on opposite-lock.com:
Say hi to the other EV1 It's sure excited to meet you too with that face. This post is also available on the Opposite Lock Drivetribe: Lamborghini, like pretty much every sports car manufacture, has long toyed around with going outside of their comfort...
Lamborghini, like pretty much every sports car manufacture, has long toyed around with going outside of their comfort zone into more mainstream stuff, like how they went outside of their comfort zone of tractors. Take their failed military contract attempt, or how about various plays with a proper 4-seater Lamborghini saloon? And than there's the obligatory non-vehicular collabs, old and new, like motorbikes, motorless bikes, sea-going affairs, a helicopter and dumpsters.
Photo from Lamborghini, presumably.
The remains of that military project, the LM002 and it's eventual successor the Urus, are to this day Lamborghini's only 4 wheeled successes at expanding the brand outside 2 door performance coupés. And although a 4 door off-road pickup may seem the complete opposite of what they're known for, if you take the other aspects of what you think about Lambos (post-Muira); massive roaring engines, angular maximalist designs, expensive, impractical and irrational, than I think the LM002 fits pretty well. Even the closest other thing to a Vanborghini, their tenuously involved Bertone Genesis concept, checks alot of the boxes. No, if you wanted the opposite of all those virtues, you'd probably find it in the EV1.
Lemme preface this by saying you probably know as much about the EV1 as you do. There are only crumbs of this vehicles existence on the internet, as I struggled with apparent deleted forums, a missing article which the full contents eludes me, and tiny slivers of text of old magazine rumours and Italian scientific journals. Is it even called the EV1? Really the only concrete information I have is these 2 photos hosted on allcarindex.com, which is the most extensive site of concept cars I know of. Even more aggravating, is that the photos are clearly taken from a book, but what's the title?! So therefore, I had to loosely stitch together the small bits of info I had together, so the following info may all be completely inaccurate.
Photo from CESI.
In 1989, Italian electrical utilities company ENEL tasked affiliate company CESI with a 3 year wide-arching research task into electricity storage, including electric vehicle prototypes. It seemed to have led into a new 90 billion (Italian Lira?) research project in 1991 (or maybe just the same project continued). For one section of this project, ENEL and CESI recruited a bunch of fellow domestic companies: Ansaldo, Oto Trasm, Savigliano, Ducati Energia and Lamborghini Engineering, for a 3 year programme to develop a new high-tech electric car, with an estimated development cost of 10 billion somethings, to be partly covered by each of the various companies. Fiat and Breda were also involved with the overarching programme.
Past 1991, it seemed only ENEL and Lamborghini was involved anymore, with Lambo's engineering department in charge of the body; I couldn't find any evidence of further involvement from any of those other companies. (It may look like a dully surprised Fiat 900, but the EV1 was entirely bespoke.) Maybe the others worked on separate equally obscure electric projects with ENEL (why recruit so many train builders for a car?) or it was like a contract bid, and hilariously, they thought tiny Lamborghini would be the best for the job. This isn't uncommon, the engineering departments of companies like Porsche and Lotus do all sorts of random stuff for other companies, but I've never heard of Lamborghini doing anything like this.
In case you were doubting this was a Lamborghini project, check out those Diablo shells on the left. Image from allcarindex.com, original source unknown.
The EV1 was designed by Lamborghini Engineering director Mauro Forghieri, who previously designed Lambo's sole Formula 1 engine, the LE3512. Intended for various urban services like taxis, business fleets and freight transport, the 5 seater van's body used composite materials for lower weight, around 1,300kg including passengers. It would also bring higher payload gains, which would've ranged from roughly 500 to 800kg depending on the battery. The battery types also affected range; lead-acid ones would give a mileage of around 60km, while sodium-sulphur ones would double that. A quick-charge system was being developed, but it seemed the plan was changed to solely go with a swap system, with the batteries to be discarded after a single use, possibly zinc-air ones. Targeted top speed was around 80 to 90km/h, and could go from 0 to 45km/h in 12 seconds.
Have the title pic again, because that's all I got! Image from allcarindex.com, original source unknown.
Lamborghini apparently built at least 5 prototype vans by 1993, with 50 units planned for initial testing with ENEL, to be potting around major Italian cities for demonstration purposes. An official public reveal was slated for the first half of ’94. According to the only modern source about this vehicle I could locate, at least 100 units were built, which were sold to 10 metropolitan cities with the help of EmilianAuto, a large dealer network for Lamborghinis. However I could not find any other proof of this happening. Either way it seemed nothing further happened to it. Mind you, Lamborghini was undergoing one of their no-money initiatives, and this was all happening nearly concurrently with the process of Chrysler selling off Lamborghini to a new owner. Apparently there was performance issues too. And so ends the tale of the EV1.
Was the EV1 intended to go into mass production, or was it only ever meant as an experiment? Did Italy's streets really ever see any EV1s or whatever they may have been called? Could it have possibly shared dealer space with Diablos? Would Lamborghini have shifted to being a primarily electric city car manufacture had it become a massive hit, like how they went from tractors to supercars? And will Lamborghini whip out a pristine EV1 that miraculously escaped the crusher at the press event for their inevitable first EV? All questions we may never know. Well I'm pretty sure that last one is going to be a no.
Update: I’ve since come across more findings. In the middle of 2011, an exhibition was held at the World Trade Center Modena called L'ingegner Forghieri: la “Furia” dei motori. Trent'anni di Ferrari e oltre, a celebration of Mauro Forghieri’s achievements. And on display at the event was none other than sketches of this mysterious van. Unfortunately pictures of this event in general are difficult to come across, let alone these elusive sketches. There’s got to be some images somewhere on the web, but I’ve exhausted myself looking into this damn van.
Some more information came with that discovery: It appears the name of the van was actually the Ecovan, not EV1, which was what allcarindex.com called it, none of the other sources I previously found gave it a name. (In fact, I have no definitive proof that the 1992-ish Lamborghini EV1 electric van pictured on allcarindex is the same project as the Lamborghini and ENEL electric van project from around 1991-1994, but come on.) Maybe EV1 was the project codename, with Ecovan intended as the final consumer name? Unfortunately, this discovery doesn't seem to help at all with searching. Thanks to Google Translate, we know what the unspecified lightweight composite construction involved: a pressured fibreglass foam platform, for rigidity, thermals and sound insulation. It had a 2-speed + reverse gearbox with a propulsion block, with the (150kg) lead-acid battery equipped, it could put out 18kW in stationary gear, and max to 30kW for overtaking. The suspension was attached to the floor with elastic rubber systems, and the battery swap process involved an extraction coupling system. It also reveals what happened to some of the other companies’ involvements: Ansaldo provided the engine, it wore some of the first energy efficient tyres from Michelin, and although the 2 photos show it being worked on by Lamborghini workers, “the bodywork was built by the same operators who were building those of the Eurostar in the Tuscan hills”, which appears to be referring to Breda and their plant in Pistoia, but whether the Ecovan it was actually built there in Tuscany I don’t know. It also says it could seat 8, while another source listed 5 seats, maybe referring to different versions like a cargo and a minivan version. The Ecovan past many tests, and it confirmed that they were used by municipalities before the project stopped, and allegedly some Ecovans still existed by 2011. There could be some still out there somewhere!
I think it’s likely there will be information on the Ecovan in one of Forghieri's books, maybe that’s where the photos came from? Unfortunately, as someone who doesn’t really care much about motorsports, I can’t really justify these purchases for the possibility of them containing a few pages I’m interested in. And speaking of books, anyone know how to find this old Autocar & Motor issue?