Vauxhall Motors, Bedford’s parent company, began collaborating with Lucas around 1975. The first Lucas conversion was of a CA van. Lucas-Chloride EV Systems provided the complete power train, including the battery pack, and Bedford was responsible for all body and chassis engineering. Bedford claimed to have invested £8 million in the development project.
The base vehicle was the CF250, with its GVW increased from 2.5 tonnes to 3.5 tonnes (presumably by doing things like fitting an uprated suspension) and to be known as the CFE. The CF range had replaced the CA in 1969. Each van had a transversely mounted Lucas CAV MT 305 separated excited 40 kW traction motor behind the rear axle. This was connected to a chain-drive reduction unit from which a short prop shaft drove the rear axle. The 216 V, 184 Ah one-piece battery pack was attached by quick-release pins to the underbody. The controller, incorporating regenerative braking, was housed under the bonnet.
The original 100 prototype Bedford CF electric vans were produced by Wilsdon and Company of Solihull. This firm took van shells supplied by Bedford and fitted the Lucas drive trains and batteries according to Lucas’s specification. The later full-production vehicles were built on the main assembly line at Dunstable and a number of different combinations of van layout (hinged doors, sliding doors, extra side door, etc) were possible. The prototypes were tried out by a wide variety of operators – one was the Liverpool Echo which ran it for a month.
The electric Bedford CFE acquired a particular cachet when Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, took delivery of an electric limousine (actually a personnel carrier with leather seats). An earlier, less glamorous, ‘limousine’ was taken over to the United States in 1976 or 1977 for testing by NASA at Dana Corporation’s proving grounds in Michigan, for the US Government.
Some 400 Bedford CFE electric vans were built in the two years from 1984, including nearly 35 sent to the United States, 31 of which ran with seven public utilities and were badged as GM Griffons. A further six went to Japan, where they were operated by Chuubu Denrokyu, a large electricity supplier. UK users included the Post Office (where – for example – ten CFs were allocated to Cardiff for parcel deliveries), the Central Electricity Generating Board, and the Property Services Agency.
In spite of such a promising start and such high hopes, the commitment to large scale electric vehicle production did not last long. Bedford was rapidly losing ground in the UK commercial market leading to heavy losses and big redundancies. During 1986 it was announced that electric vehicle production would cease.
Prior to its own involvement with electric van development, Bedford provided a CF 18 cwt van to the Electricity Council Research Centre as a platform for experiments into sodium sulphur battery power.
Chloride’s Motor Power Project Group (MPPG) was set up in Swinton, near Manchester, in 1973. After the Silent Karrier and Dodge S66E projects it decided to build its own vehicle as a test bed for the sodium-sulphur cell it was developing. As well as putting together a power train team, it recruited Mike Appleyard from Leyland to be in overall charge of the vehicle design. At Leyland he had been closely involved with the 1974 C4 van concept that never progressed beyond detailed engineering studies.
The Chloride vehicle was initially called the Van About Town. It was projected to achieve a payload of three tonnes within a GVW of 7.5 tonnes, and be able to run at 50 mph. Sodium-sulphur batteries would give it a range of 150 miles.
Leyland’s chief research engineer at the time, Keith Hemmings, had a sneak preview of the Van About Town in March 1978. He noted that, from a vehicle design point of view, the vehicle embodied lots of lessons learned from the Silent Karrier, and was also strongly influenced by the C4. Among its features were fully integral construction, a cassette battery module with on-board battery handling system, and hydraulic power steering and brakes. The rear-mounted motor was fitted transversely, with an angle drive turning the drive to a short prop shaft connected to the rear axle.
Although presented as the Van About Town at exhibitions, Chloride also referred to it as the Battery Parcel Van or BPV. Chloride’s sodium-sulphur battery development project could not resolve stubborn practical problems with the technology and so the BPV remained a solitary effort.
Crompton Electricars came about as a result of the takeover of Crompton Leyland Electricars by Hawker Siddeley in 1972 and that firm’s rationalisation of its electric vehicle interests into one business unit, based in a new factory in Tredegar. To the dismay of many in the industry, Hawker Siddeley soon dropped any mention of Morrison in the marketing and badging of its electrics, and they were referred to as Crompton Electricars, with an Electricar badge or transfer applied to the vehicles.
At that point the company was claiming that half of the 40,000 electric vehicles in use in the UK had been built by Crompton Electricars and its antecedents. By around 1980, the firm was producing about 600 vehicles a year of all kinds, although the factory had the capacity to build two and a half times that. 1977 sales included 177 E models, 268 F models (including the Thruline described below) and about 100 industrial vehicles.
In 1974 the Urban Delivery Van was announced, based on the F chassis. This had sliding cab doors and a very airy interior. A basic ambition in the design process was to create an experience for the driver that was as close as possible to that of the diesel vehicle it was likely to replace.
Probably the main customer was Initial Services, a linen supply company with operations in London and throughout the country for whom this model was its first electric. The firm acquired a sizeable fleet from 1974 for use on urban centre pick-ups and deliveries in London, Ipswich, Manchester and Reading. The sorts of rounds Initial Services ran tended to be 8 to 10 miles in London, and 18 to 20 miles in the provinces. Around 1980 the UDV was enlarged and based on the K chassis. Initial Services bought examples of this version, bringing their total fleet up to 25.
In spite of the decline in home milk deliveries (or perhaps in response to it) there was still some innovation in the dairy vehicle market. In 1975 Oxford Electrics, one of Crompton Electricars’ agents, took an F36/85 chassis and built on it an unusual body. The so-called Oxcart had a half cab from which the driver would step out on to a passageway running the length of the vehicle with a low step height at either end. On either side of this passage were decks, and above it roof-mounted shelves on cabinets. This allowed anormal load of milk, 400 loaves of bread, 400 lbs of potatoes or whatever to be arranged so that everything was in easy reach of the driver.
Oxford Electrics was purchased by Crompton Electricars and the Oxcart was developed into the Thruline (retaining the distinctive half cab) which went into production in 1977.
At the turn of the 1980s the core line-up consisted of the E range (24 to 36 cells, 4.5 m long), the F range (36 cells, 4.7 m long), the TS range (48 cells, 4.7 m long) and the K range (rear entrance cab, 36 cells, 4.9 m long). The TS was developed to provide an extended range to compete with liquid fuel vehicles on longer rounds. All of them were marketed as milk floats but also for other uses such as dropside lorry, panel van with tail lift, and so on.
The market for battery electric road vehicles was now in sharp decline, even though sales of industrial trucks were holding up well. That said, the UK government was keen to explore the potential for electric vehicles in the face of uncertainties over the supply of liquid fuels. Crompton Electricars accepted a £15,000 grant (one source says £50,000) from the Department of Industry to design from scratch a 30 cwt payload vehicle with a 30 mph maximum laden speed and range of 50 miles, code-named the NP10 and then put on the market as the ‘Electricar’.
The premise was to combine the rugged reliability of an electric vehicle with the opportunities for better road performance offered by new generation batteries and control equipment, to create an urban vehicle which could compete head on with petrol and diesel alternatives and have an attractive whole life cost. It was also to provide a level of driver comfort that was as good as that in mass-produced vehicles, including cab heating.
The Electricar was constructed in two forms, one a panel van with a glass fibre body and integral walk-through cab, and the other a chassis cab. Extensive use was made of off-the-shelf automotive components. Eight pre-production examples were built for the Department of Industry. One was earmarked for development work and undertook testing at the Motor Industry Research Association, intended to simulate a 15 year operating life.
The remainder were placed for long term trials with seven operators, including Autobar Vending, Eastern Electricity, Harrods and Initial Services. Initial Services employed two NP10s on suburban and rural routes where their decent range and higher road speed were real benefits. The price of production chassis cabs was hinted to be £12,500 complete with battery and charger, and Crompton Electricar hoped to be producing 100 vans within 18 months and eventually making 1,000 per year. Alas, sales did not live up to those ambitions. Five were employed by Eastern Electricity in Hertfordshire, at least one with a demountable body, but few others were sold.
Towards the end of 1982, Hawker Siddeley decided to rationalise its business activities and put Crompton Electricars up for sale, with an asking price of £3 million. A consortium of distributors put in a lower offer that was not accepted and eventually M&M Electric Vehicles bought the whole outfit for an undisclosed figure. The factory closed in 1983 and was reclaimed by the Welsh Development Agency (who succeeded the Board of Trade as the owners). All the equipment was either moved to M&M’s base in Atherstone or disposed of. The factory was later demolished and a housing estate stands on the site.
The small Daihatsu electric was offered for sale in the UK in 1980 through TKM Vehicles. During that year two vans and two pick-ups were sold along with a couple of cars and golf buggies. However, it looks like the firm failed to make much of an impression.
Chrysler UK took over the share of the British Rootes Group it did not already own in 1967, and found itself running not only a rather tired car operation but a commercial vehicle range including the Commer, Dodge and Karrier brands. The corporate headquarters were in Luton and the commercial vehicle factories in nearby Dunstable. There was no recent history of involvement with electric vehicles. Karrier had seen a few electric versions of its Bantam made in the late fifties; its trolleybus business was sold to Guy in the 1940s. Tilling-Stevens (taken over by Rootes in 1949) had long since stopped building battery-electrics.
Given the myriad of problems it was facing it the mid-1970s with lots of loss-making activities, it is perhaps surprising Chrysler UK was prepared to team up with Chloride Technical Limited and National Carriers to explore the potential for an electric version of its Commer (or Dodge) KC40 Walk-Thru van.
During the course of the 1970s the firm rationalised its commercial brands. Commer had been Rootes’ core commercial vehicle brand but by 1976 it had disappeared in favour of Dodge, which was Chrysler’s main American brand for vans and trucks. Hence, what was until the mid-1970s the Commer KC60, became the Dodge KC60. The Karrier brand was ultimately reserved for vehicles sold for municipal and non-standard uses.
A battery-electric prototype based on the KC6055 variant was built in 1975, and was named the Silent Karrier Mk1. The 160 V motor was installed in the same place as a diesel engine, under the bonnet, along with the controller. The batteries were arranged in boxes in the wheelbase and behind the rear axle. A Calorgas heater was installed to provide cab heating and windscreen demisting. The panel van body was built by Star Bodies, like National Carriers a part of the National Freight Corporation (NFC).
A follow-on batch of 70, with improved performance and with the motor housed in the wheelbase, was designated the Silent Karrier Mk1A and marketed as the Dodge Silent Karrier.
In 1978 Chrysler’s European manufacturing operations were acquired by the PSA group (Peugeot and Citroen). PSA wanted to concentrate on cars and so set up a 50:50 partnership with Renault Vehicules Industriels (RVI) to build and sell commercial vehicles. A consequence of this was that the Karrier name was suddenly the one over the door – the UK commercial vehicle activities now being run as Karrier Motors Limited.
In November 1980, Karrier Motors announced that the Silent Karrier would be replaced by the Dodge 50 Series, and that the company would be building a production run of 100 units the following year. This was very significant because the Dodge 50 Series was a brand-new model, only introduced the previous year.
Development of the Dodge 50 Series electric had begun early in 1980. This continued the relationship with Chloride, who designed the power train. A new type of yokeless motor from EDC was specified, along with a transistor- rather than thryristor-based controller. The Dodge also introduced a much-improved and lighter cab heating and demisting system, using a paraffin heater.
A year later the prototype was going through an exhaustive proving regime at the Motor Industry Research Association (MIRA) near Nuneaton. That work included running the prototype over the gruelling pave track so see if the batteries could be literally shaken lose. Four further vehicles were built, two for development and two for demonstration.
The essence of the specification was a Chloride 160 V, 420 Ah battery supplying an EDC separately-excited compound-wound DC motor rated at 50 kW, with a transistor electronic controller and regenerative braking. The S66E was only available as a chassis cab or a hi-screen front end (to enable an integrated body, like a personnel carrier), with either a 3.66 m or 4.04 m wheelbase. Within its 6.6 tonne GVW, 2.4 tonnes was available for bodywork plus payload.
Production at the Dunstable factory began in 1982, with an initial batch of 80 vehicles, the first 20 of which went to Southern Electricity. The price of these was subsidised by funding from the Department of Industry.
The Dodge S66E was the first electric vehicle to go into production on the same assembly line as its diesel counterparts anywhere in the world, which helped to reduce costs. Only the batteries were fitted off line. The Silent Karriers were also built this way, but they did not count as true ‘production’ vehicles. The eighty were built pretty quickly, for a Commercial Motor road test in October referred to some rectification work on all of them.
The specification was revised in November 1984, with the GVW being increased to seven tonnes, so the model became the S70. More compact batteries enabled a short wheelbase (3.23 m) version to be offered, albeit with a slightly increased load height. The base price remained £14,625. By 1986 the operation was entirely in the hands of Renault Vehicles Industriel. The 50 Series was updated in 1987 and it is likely that the electric option was dropped at that point.
ElecTraction, of Maldon, Essex, announced the E.700 in 1976. It has based on Bedford HA van running gear with a 7.5 hp Lansing Bagnell motor. The GVW was two tons with a payload of 6 cwt. It had forward control, a tubular frame and a glass fibre cab. There is no evidence how many were sold, if any.
In 1949 Croydon-based Trojan Limited began selling a one ton van powered by a crude two-stroke engine that was unattractive to many potential customers. This provoked the unusual response of replacing the engine with an electric motor. In 1950 the company unveiled the Electrojan, externally identical to the petrol van. The 60 V, 175 Ah battery was mounted in two long crates outside the chassis in the wheelbase. A 6 hp series-wound motor sat under the bonnet.
Instead of a controller there was a clutch and a two speed gearbox. The logic was to replicate the layout and feel of a petrol vehicle so that drivers in a mixed fleet of petrol and electric vehicles would feel at home. A spiral bevel single reduction rear axle was employed. This package gave a performance of 18 mph sustained speed and a range of between 20 and 25 miles. Hardly astounding.
The Electrojan was no more popular than its petrol cousin, and only about a dozen were sold up to 1953. In a more conventional response, Trojan then engineered in a Perkins P3 diesel engine, sales picked up, and the Electrojan was dropped in 1956.
T H Lewis was a coachbuilder in London, founded in 1854. The firm entered a contract with by Express Dairy in 1873 to deliver the milk across London. It built most of its horse-drawn floats and hand carts for that purpose, as well as bodywork on chassis from other firms. The company was taken over by Express dairy in 1931.
It started making three-wheel pedestrian controlled milk delivery prams in 1937, branded as Electruks. In 1949, a four-wheel version, called the EB, was brought out. Five years later the EC Rider Pram was unveiled, a compact driver-controlled 25 cwt milk float with tiny wheels and a very basic forward control cab. This in effect was a PCV with a basic cab bolted on to the front of it. Express Dairy bought 1,400 of these 25 cwt Rider Prams – which may have had the designation Rider EC. One of its principal features was a claimed ability to surmount a 1 in 4 gradient (25% grade). In 1955 Electruk showed off its type AER, which followed the trend of adding a box behind the cab able to carry some ice and enable the vehicle to carry perishable goods.
T H Lewis was permitted to sell its products beyond Express Dairy, but factory constraints actually meant some of the production was sub-contracted in the mid-1950s. Hindle Smart was asked to build 168 Helecs 10 Rider Prams to the Lewis design, and it further sub-contracted the job to Ross Auto & Engineering.
Austin Crompton Parkinson Electric Vehicles bought the electric vehicle side of the T H Lewis business in 1961 and production of their vehicles moved out of London.
The exact story of Energyelec is unclear. In 1981, Energyelec Systems of Rossendale produced a narrow four-wheeler with a dropside body that was employed by York city council for waste collection. The cab at least had a bit of a European air about it, so some of the parts, if not the technology, may have been imported. It had Oldham batteries and a Cableform controller, both made in Manchester. In 1982 it spent some time with Greater Manchester Council’s recreation department.
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