Electric Vehicles of the Past

A few weekends ago, I visited the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in Northern Ireland and in the transport part, I came across some electric vehicles. One was a bread delivery van from 1948, one a milk float from 1954 through to 1986, and finally a Post Office van from 1994. Clearly, electric vehicles are not new and as you’ll read later on, the performance of electric cars doesn’t seem to have changed much in the last few decades.

I’ve reproduced the salient parts from the exhibit placards below each photograph.

Bernard Hughes Bread Delivery Van, 1948. This battery electric delivery van was one of a fleet of vehicles used by Bernard Hughes bakery to deliver bread door-to-door. Drivers had a short regular route as the vans could not travel over long distances. With age, the batteries became less reliable and the sight of a battery-powered bread van being towed back to the depot was fairly common.

Co-op Milk Float, 1954. This battery-electric vehicle delivered milk for the Co-operative Society Ltd. from 1954 to 1986. By the 1970s, it was also being used to deliver cream, yoghurt and fruit cordials. Driving the milk float was a slow but simple task. It had an electric motor, powered by batteries. Each night the batteries were recharged at the depot for the next day’s milk round. The maximum speed was 30 mph (48 km/h). It could travel up to 40 miles (64 km) before its batteries needed recharging.

Electric Royal Mail Van, 1994. This electric Ford Ecostar was used by the Royal Mail to enable Ford to test the effectiveness of electric vehicles for working purposes. About 100 of the vans were produced and they were tested throughout North America and Europe.
This van had a top speed of 70 mph (112 km/h) and its charge would last for about 100 miles. Drivers would connect the specially developed battery to a normal domestic supply and wait between five and seven hours for it to charge fully.

This last vehicle is probably the most interesting because it’s not too far off the plug-in electric cars being promoted today.

Ford Ecostar – top speed 70 mph, range 100 miles and charge time approx 7 hours.
Nissan Leaf
– top speed 90 mph, range 109 miles and charge time approx 7 hours.

Note – the UK domestic supply uses 240 V.

So, in nearly 20 years, all we’ve managed to do is increase the top speed?