With a modest 1275kg maximum payload and limited top speed, the little Goupil ‘G4’ does at least have two ‘big’ things going for it - it’s light footprint. And lack of noise. Malcolm Bates puts it to the test.
It has to be said right up front - the Goupil G4 is not built for speed. In fact, it would be really useful if the French-based manufacturer could squeeze another 10kph out of the electric motor and battery control system that drives it as the current maximum speed of 45 to 50kph (unladen) doesn’t lend itself to journeys on fast moving inter-urban highways.
But... Having said that, the latest ‘G4’ model is, in many ways, a glimpse into ‘The Future’, where emissions (or rather, the lack of them) are of greater importance than the time it takes to get to a destination.
You might argue that there is plenty of time to consider the future of our planet and the impact mankind is having on the natural environment when you’re only driving down the highway at a modest 45kph. And that is indeed the case. But after a week of use - mostly collecting roadside debris and using it to transport groundscare machinery - I have to say, it is a useful little truck. It’s fine for short distance journeys. But even when driving it on faster secondary roads, it’s lack of speed - when compared to other traffic - was never enough of an issue to cause serious concern to other road users.
And in congested urban traffic? Recent statistics suggest that the average traffic speed in our major cities is no more than 15kph anyway - a figure well within the Goupil’s capabilities. But the important issue here is that while internal combustion-engined vehicles continue to pump out emissions when in stationary traffic (automatic engine stop/start isn’t really a solution), the Goupil is totally emissions-free and silent.
So what types of existing vans and light trucks could be replaced by a fleet of G4s? It’s important to be realistic - in effect, the G4 sits in between normal road-going petrol and diesel-powered light commercials (and a few electric versions) and the various on/off highway ‘side-by-side’ utility vehicles available from a number of manufacturers - a couple of which are also now available with a battery electric option.
Indeed, you could argue that where the G4 scores is by being ‘in-between’. It has a smaller physical footprint than even the smallest light van, yet comes with a proper truck-style alloy dropside body and, as tested, caged mesh sides.
There is also a tipper and satellite-type waste collection body option. In contrast, most light commercials are panel vans and utility vehicles feature a cargo bed made out of plastic.
The G4 also comes with a proper two-seat driver’s cab with steel roll-cage construction, three-point seatbelts, lockable doors and a front screen with wipers and washers. And unlike many ATV/Utility vehicles, it features brakes, suspension and steering to automotive industry standards.
So having established that the G4 comes with a sturdy chassis and running gear - and a body loadbed to stand some hard work - we now need to ask;- ‘What kind of work?’ Operations where the maximum distance that has to be travelled in any one shift is less than 80kph is our starting point.
The maximum operational range is a tough one to estimate as a single ‘high speed’ journey will deplete the battery faster than you can read this paragraph. Likewise, a full load - or a steep hill - soon has the battery reserve power indicator ‘heading south’. In contrast, short stop-start trips with some downtime in between, enabled the charge rate to stay higher for longer.
The growth in urban battery charge points might help, but the on-board charger on the test vehicle - which was the cheapest version with standard traction batteries - could be plugged into any standard socket. Lithium-ion battery packs (there’s a choice of capacity) and fast charger is optional at additional cost.
Reaching the Parts
Yes, of course payload is limited - but anything over 1000kg is a useful figure. The key advantage of the G4 as a load carrier is that it can access cycle tracks and underpasses that heavier diesel pick-ups just cant reach. And because it is just 1200mm wide, it can be safely parked by the kerbside without obstructing passing traffic. Downsides? Lack of another 10kph in top speed is top of my list - it would really make it more suited to driving in city traffic, as well as on inter-urban and rural highways from the depot to the worksite.
Second item on my list? Lack of interior storage space for jackets and personal effects when a driver and a crew member are employed. Although having said that, I’m not sure there’s any spare storage space to be found in such a compact cab. A roof net for documents maybe?
True, there are the customary ‘beverage holders’ in the dash and the instrumentation and controls are easy to live with, but a four seat crew cab option on a longer wheelbase would be a useful option - not unreasonable considering that Goupil parent company Polaris manufactures ATVs with just such an option.
The Goupil is ideal as a ‘gofer’ (as in ‘go fer this, go fer that’) collecting missed bins, emptying litter bins, or removing waste and recyclable materials from busy pedestrian zones. This is where a compact, zero-emissions electric vehicle really could be a cost-effective asset - and where ‘top speed’ is of no real value thanks to traffic congestion, traffic ‘calming’ humps and reduced speed limits in inner zones. Driving the Goupil in such areas is much less of a strain than with a conventional petrol, or diesel truck.
There’s one issue than needs further consideration - because electric vehicles are so quiet in busy city streets and pedestrian precincts, it might be advisable to install a bell or ‘bleeper’ to warn of the Goupil’s arrival. There a real irony here - in operating a vehicle with ‘zero-emissions’ in the context of reducing your fleet’s carbon footprint, we then have to consider introducing an alarm that increases noise emissions so as to ensure pedestrian safety! My take? A ‘white noise’ alarm, with confined ‘sound envelope’ during the day. But the Goupil is likely to be most effective is early in the morning, or during the night, when silence could be a real operational advantage.
This latest G4 model (originally launched in 2016) is now available in both left and right hand steering. So far some 10,000 Goupils have been produced. The company was founded in 1990 and has been a division of Polaris since 2011. If your budget allows for it, the lithium-ion battery pack option is the one to go for.