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Opinion: Why must we go back for the future?

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.

Morris returns after 32 years – with a £60,000 electric van

Morris JE

The new Morris JE electric van has been revealed in full and it looks as unapologetically retro as we’d hoped. Just a couple of obstacles stand in your way if you want one. Firstly, it won’t go into production until late 2021. And secondly, it will set you back around £60,000.

In spite of its quaint styling, the JE is very much a modern van, with carbon fibre panels to add strength and save weight.  A modular platform also means there can be different products spun off in future. These could include, says Morris, a pick-up, minibus and camper van.

Morris JE

The JE is also electric, of course. With an expected 200-mile range, 1,000kg payload and a 5.5 cubic-metre carrying capacity, it is decently practical. Morris says that, in spite of it being within the 2.5 tonne segment, that kind of carrying ability is something you’d ordinarily see in the 3.5 tonne class.

“It is a delight to unveil the new Morris JE to the world and for us to show what we have been working so hard to achieve,” said Dr Qu Li, CEO of Morris Commercial.

“From the outset, our vision was to bring a new concept to the LCV market, not just in terms of the battery electric powertrain, but also to introduce a timeless design that takes the aesthetics and appeal of such a vehicle to a whole new level. What we have created is a beautiful, retro design that sits upon a cutting-edge, modular BEV platform, delivering practicality and functionality to compete with the best in its segment.”

Morris JE

Still, £60,000 remains a lot of money for a small van. But while builders or tradespeople may not see the appeal, there are more premium ‘lifestyle’ applications. Morris highlights the hospitality, sport and leisure industries, along with high-end manufacturing. 

We could quite easily imagine one of these as a vegan food truck parked up in Shoreditch. They’d make appropriate additions to Goodwood’s commercial fleet, too. The right buyers could well exist for the JE, then. But they will have to wait.

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Retro electric: Morris is back, with an electric van

Morris JE electric van

The classic Morris J-type van is returning, in spirit, as an all-electric commercial vehicle. The JE is described as a ‘21st-Century re-imagining of the iconic Morris J-type van’.

The new Morris Commercial company wanted to drag the J-type, considered by many to be ‘the ultimate iconic British van’, kicking and screaming into the 21’st century.

A tall order, over 70 years on from the original’s debut at Earls Court.

From 1948 to 2019

Morris JE electric van

So what’s new about the new JE? Pretty much everything, bar the characterful styling and the fact that it’s built in Britain. 

The important stuff obviously is what powers it. It’s electric, although the exact specifications of the powertrain are yet to be disclosed. Morris Commercial says it’ll have ‘high functionality and [a] long range’.

It’s also due to be relatively lightweight. Based on a modular chassis, the body is made of carbon fibre. Yes, this is a carbon-clad Morris van. It’s not quite ready yet, although there is a fully working engineering prototype.

Morris JE electric van

There’s also no word on when it’ll be available to buy, or indeed how much it’ll be. The prototype will, however, be revealed in full in a matter of weeks. 

I am so pleased to reach this stage after over two years of intense development,” said CEO and founder of Morris Commercial, Dr. Qu Li.

Morris JE electric van

“It’s been a fantastic journey and I am extremely proud of what the whole Morris Commercial team and its incredible suppliers have achieved. The working engineering prototype has undergone extensive road testing and the end of 2019 is an amazing conclusion to the first phase of the project. 

“We still have a little way to go to bring the project to full production, but we have the team and the product to make this an enormous success.

As a business we are committed to environmental sustainability and we are trailblazing a new approach to the production of appealing, fully electric commercial vehicles.

“We are very excited to unveil the JE to the public this autumn.”