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Morris JE – An Electrifying Classic

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By Chris Pollitt

Cute, isn’t it? Those little dog dish hubcaps, the kitsch colour, the chrome, the off-white insert on the sides. Yes, very, very cute indeed. It’s a friendly little face that’s trying to push its way into the modern commercial space. But does the commercial space want a friendly little face, or does it just want a van that works? We’d err toward the latter. A van is, after all, a working vehicle. Who cares what it looks like as long as it does the job? Do vans need to be charming and cute? Do they need a personality? Not really, no. 

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The original Morris J-Type

We can’t fault Morris Commercial for trying something different, and for trading on one of its most successful commercial vehicles of old, namely the J-Type van. There is an insatiable appetite for EV vehicles at the moment, and there is also an insatiable need to dress the future in retro wrapping. Almost as if we’re not quite yet ready to accept the technology on its own – we need its appearance to be softened by the familiar. That’s weird, but it’s especially weird in the case of a commercial vehicle, because honestly, the looks don’t matter. 

But still, here we are. Presented with the cute Morris JE. A vehicle that “heralds a new electric future for the historic British brand” according to the gushing press release. It’s been designed “to take a timeless and quintessentially British design classic into a sustainable future”. Except it doesn’t. 

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Let’s look at the nuts and bolts of the thing. Or should we say, let’s look at the wires and batteries. The Morris is based on a UK-sourced lithium-ion battery powertrain, though Morris has given out no power figures. Instead, it has just told us that the van will have a range of 200 miles. But we have no idea if that’s urban or extra-urban. Charging can be as much as 80% in just 30 mins, which is decent, and the little van that buzzes has a payload of 1,000kg care of a 5.5m3 load area. 

To keep weight down, the little Morris features a body made from carbon fibre, which is all very modern and clever, but also really expensive to repair. On a car, suited PR people can talk around this. On a van, it’s not so simple. Vans get battered. It’s part of the job. Other than a brand new one, go outside and find us a van that’s not got a dent or scrape on it…

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Morris, however, isn’t positioning the JE as a prospect for heavy trades. Instead, the press release spills prose about where the company sees the van fitting in. “The vehicle’s stunning and distinctive aesthetics will provide a perfect and eye-catching mobile marketing solution for many customers. The JE will be attractive to small boutique businesses that crave individuality, as well as larger corporate fleets. There are numerous luxury and lifestyle brands and businesses that could make significant use of a vehicle such as the Morris JE, where its clear differentiation from other LCVs can be exploited. Obvious examples would include the hospitality industry, the sport and leisure industry, high end manufacturing businesses, the events industry and green logistics.”

Right, so small, boutique businesses that crave individuality. We get that, and we can see how this little eco-friendly machine would be of appeal. However, here’s the kicker – the JE is SIXTY THOUSAND POUNDS. We doubt that the local artisanal arabica bean coffee hemp shop can afford that. And as for ‘larger fleets’, what fleet buyer is going to order the JE in numbers? A Transit PHEV, with a massive dealer network behind it, is twenty grand less. Or, if you want to go full electric, you could buy a Nissan e-NV200. It has a range of 187 miles, though the payload is less at 705lg (but how much do arabica beans weigh?) and it’s (before VAT) FORTY GRAND LESS. Four. Zero. Or, fleet buyers reading this, three for one. 

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The Morris JE is a nice idea, but that’s it. It’s too expensive, it’s too fragile and it’s too kitsch. It seems this idea was born out of a desire to be retro first, everything else second. It’s one of those retro-look Roberts radios, or a SMEG fridge, but with wheels. And in a marketplace as competitive as that of the commercial vehicle, you can’t do that. Vans need to work, and work hard. Not look pretty.

For more information on the Morris JE EV van, head over to www.morris-commercial.com

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