Opinion: Why must we go back for the future?

The Morris Commercial JE electric van is a reimagining of the British classic J-type van of the 1950s. Why are we looking back to go forwards?

Morris JE electric van

‘A retro-styled electric masterpiece’, reads one headline for the Morris JE van. ‘Brilliantly retro’, says another. ‘Retro-cute’ and ‘the cutest electric van I’ve ever seen’ concludes this quartet of rather gushing and sickly-sweet intros.

I’m sorry, but I’m just not buying it. Quite literally, given the fact that the JE van is expected to sell for around £60,000 in 2021.

It’s a ‘reimagining of the original [and] iconic’ J-type van, says Morris Commercial, before describing the 1950s classic as ‘unapologetically distinctive’.

What’s the obsession with reimagining stuff from our past? What next, a reimagining of other distinctive elements of 1950s Britain, such as polio, pea-soupers and women tied to the twin-tub washing machine?

Mind you, there’s no knowing what Britain will look like two years from now.

Putting aside the pros and cons of electric vehicles for a moment, shouldn’t the designs be forward-thinking, progressive and challenging? I’m not sure a van that looks like something Mr Tumble might drive is going to do much for the EV market.

Morris JE van

The company claims it will appeal to a wide range of customers, but the list is exhausting, if not exhaustive.

Small boutique businesses, larger corporate fleets, luxury and lifestyle brands, the hospitality industry, the sport and leisure industry, high-end manufacturing, the events industry and green logistics.

And… breathe. Anyone for a game of monkey tennis?

Of those, who is going to want to drop £60k on Mr Tumble’s company wheels? I can’t see an artisan coffee company ditching the H-van for one of these. Is a fleet buyer going to say “no thank you” to the resources and support of Volkswagen, Renault, Nissan and the like?

The figures don’t add up. A range of 200 miles and a one-tonne payload might look acceptable in 2019, but the technology should have moved on by 2021. The LDV EV30 boasts another name from Britain’s ‘glorious past’, 200 miles of range and a one-tonne payload. The price? Rumoured to be in the region of £30,000.

Morris Commercial says it will create “an individuality in a market where dull, generic design is normal”. Which is one way of justifying an exorbitant price tag and a dashboard that looks straight outta LazyTown.

Vans are ‘dull’ and ‘generic’ because that’s what the market wants. These vehicles are built to do a job on time, reliably, efficiently and without fuss. Sure, there’s a place for vans without ‘clean me‘ perma-scrawled into the dirt on the back doors – I know folk who love their vans more than their family car.

It’s just that most vans I see look like they’ve been used as target practice at the local paintballing centre within a few months of hitting the road. How is the JE’s carbon-fibre body going to withstand even the lightest of damage?

I don’t doubt the hard work that’s gone into creating this ‘masterpiece’. But harking back to a bygone era hints at a lack of creativity and an absence of ideas. Besides, I have a feeling the ‘retro-cute’ market will be swallowed up by Volkswagen’s Buzz Cargo thingy.

I could be wrong (and it wouldn’t be the first time). Maybe the commercial sector is waiting for Mr Tumble to roll into LazyTown in a blaze of zero emission glory. Me, I’m just waiting for someone to unearth a barn-find Bedford CF Electric.

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Gavin Braithwaite-Smithhttp://www.petrolblog.com
Writer with a penchant for #FrenchTat. Also doing a passable impression of Cousin Eddie in an Italian-German beige motorhome.

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