New Morris JE electric van – iconic J-Type returns as an EV

  • New retro-styled electric van, designed in Britain
  • Famous Morris Commercial name is back, starting from £60,000
  • Promises cutting edge tech – including carbonfibre bodywork

If you've been looking for a 'premium' van that's also a marketing tool, and none of the usual suspects are quite fitting the bill, new player Morris Commercial might just have the solution for you.

Due in 2021, at a cost of £60,000, the new JE van oozes retro style and cutting edge materials – including an all-carbonfibre body for reduced weight, which is not only absolutely unheard of in the van sector, but frankly a little bit crazy. Morris reckons it'll build 1,000 vans a year.

It is – of course – also an electric van. Designed and engineered right here in the UK, it’s targeting businesses and private buyers who want an eco-friendly solution with difference. 

Any by golly, if you want to make your business stand out - it's certainly eye opening.

Keep reading for what we know about the Morris JE electric van so far.

Wait a minute – Morris Commercial is back?

Morris Commercial JE electric van front

Ah. Yes. When we said it was new, what we actually meant was that a 'UK-based management team' has acquired the rights to the old Morris Commercial name and resurrected it to build what they are hoping will become a family of electric vans inspired by models from Morris Commercial's past.

So the JE is a modern J-Type?

Exactly right. The original J-Type was unveiled all the way back in 1948, launched in 1949 and on the market until 1961; its distinctive design has earned it iconic status in some quarters.

Morris Commercial JE electric van side door open

And to be fair, even if you’ve never heard the name you may well recognise the shape – it’s a kind of British equivalent to the Citroen H-van in those terms, and was noted in its day for having impressively generous load volume for its size.

The new JE certainly hasn't been shy about stealing many of the original's most recognisable features, including the prominent wheel arches and front lighting pods.

The firm says 'the new vehicle is not a replica of a 70 year old design, but it takes the DNA and values of the original van and brings it up to date.'

Main differences? Well, the front doors are no longer sliding (but the side ones are), the cab is bigger, and of course, it isn't powered by a 1476 cc petrol engine either. 

Principal designer, David Obendorfer, told Parkers: 'It's important to be respectful of the history of this iconic design.'

Any details about the electric driving range yet?

Yep. Morris reckons 200 miles to a virtual tank, although it hasn't been through the WLTP cycle yet. Not exactly what you'd call long range - although 75 miles more than a Kangoo Z.E. can muster.

The JE has been designed 'from the ground up as a full EV' – EV standing for Electric Vehicle – and it uses a completely bespoke modular platform, with a 'state-of-the-art' lithium ion battery powertrain, all sourced from the UK, according to CEO and founder, Dr. Qu Li.

Other promises include 'the best available zero emissions technologies with exceptional engineering integrity and beautiful craftsmanship.'

Morris Commercial JE electric van front

Bold claims, as developing electric vehicles presents substantial challenges to even the most well-established engineering firms – consider the recent collapse of the Dyson electric car project, for example.

Regardless, we’re pretty sure the electric motor drive will provide far better performance than the old 1.5-litre engine of the original.

Is it really going to have a carbonfibre body?

Morris Commercial promises so – and we thought LDV’s plan to launch an electric van with an aluminium monocoque was ambitious. At least the LDV EV30 is backed by the might of Chinese automotive giant SAIC.

Composites Technical Director, Nick Smith, explains that carbonfibre looks expensive, but it can be cost effective for projects of this size (1,000 units a year for now). 'While carbonfibre is more expensive than aluminium, using an economy of scale brings with it big savings. Carbonfibre is costly to make, but you use less of it. And there are well-established ways of doing it in bulk, like seen the aeronautical industry.'

The choice of carbonfibre is a big deal for several reasons.

Morris Commercial JE electric van rear doors open

It is an extremely high-end material, usually only reserved for supercars (though the advanced BMW i3 electric car also makes extensive use of it).

It brings potentially massive weight advantages because it is very light and very strong – which will help counteract the weight penalty involved in using batteries instead of a fuel tank in an electric van.

Thanks to this, Morris says the JE has one of the best power-to-weight ratios of any light commercial vehicle, which is good news for performance and driving range.

For example, 0-62mph should come up in 10-12 seconds, although it hasn't been tested laden or unladen yet.

But carbonfibre is also more difficult to work with than traditional metals and it's more complex and costly to repair, too. Making the decision to use it on a van a particularly interesting one.

This all sounds a bit fanciful – does the Morris Commercial JE really exist?

It does. We've seen it in the carbonfibre. The project has been on the go since 2017, and there is now a fully functioning engineering prototype.

It looks good too. It doesn't have the lovely metal bumpers of the old van, but it looks retro and kitsch without being cloying.

Morris Commercial JE electric van driving

Nevertheless, it takes more than one prototype to create a brand new range of vans, let alone cutting-edge electric ones. We’re intrigued but a touch cynical about its chances of success at this stage.

Who’s behind the new Morris Commercial?

CEO and founder is Dr Qu Li, who has previously been involved MG Rover and LDV. The firm is based in Worcester, and has what's described as a 'highly experienced team of established automotive designers and engineers.'

Dr Qu Li had this to say about the project so far: 'I am so pleased to reach this stage after two years of intense development. It's been a fantastic journey and I am extremely proud of what the whole Morris Commercial team and its incredible suppliers have achieved.'

She continued: 'We 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.'

How does the Morris JE interior look?

Morris Commercial JE electric van interior

OK, the interior is disappointing for a £60,000 van. The pre-production model (pictured) looked like a work in progress. The biggest dissapointment was the drive selector and manual handbrake. Both look to be lifted straight off an LDV.

The leather seats looked decidedly second-rate too, and felt a bit plasticy. Upfront, the touchscreen looked highly unitegrated.

To be fair, this is a pre-production van. And Morris Commercial promises finished models will be a much more premium proposition.

No word yet as to whether the sliding front windows will remain in production models...

What about Morris JE practicality?

Morris Commercial JE electric van cargo space

Rear cargo space is 5.5 cubic metres - up from 4.2 of the original J-Type. Payload is 1000kg, and from what we've seen, it seems a bit bit more finished than the interior.

That space should fit two standard sized Euro pallets in the back. The wood looks good too, but we can't help but feel that they should put a bit more wood up front.

Technical bits?

Go on then. The factory is set to be in Worcestershire, England, where the headquarters are at the moment. The time per build is also up in the air at the moment because Morris Commercial hasn't sorted out the supply chain yet.

It'll be front-wheel-drive too. And it hasn't been Euro NCAP tested yet.

  • Battery: 60kWh
  • Range: 200 miles
  • Charge time: 80% in 30 minutes via rapid charger
  • Payload: 1,000kg
  • Price: £60,000 (TBC)

Morris Commercial JE Pickup and Minibus

Morris Commercial full fleet

Details are pretty sparse, but Morris Commercial has promised both pickup and minibus variations. We've seen renderings and they look adorable. They will run the same modular chassis and powertrain as the van. Plus they'll be available in the same pastel hues.

Dr Qu Li told us that these variations are far along in the design process, but more details about them won't be released until first deliveries of the standard van are completed. Expect more info towards late 2020.

Also read:

>> The Parkers guide to electric vans

>> LDV launches impressive new EV30 electric van at CV Show 2019

>> Ford Transit Custom Plug-in Hybrid review