New Life for a Long-dead Van?

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
new life for a long dead van

Startups come and go, and in the age of electrification a great many companies are issuing promises their meagre resources can’t deliver.

Time will tell if a reborn Morris Commercial follows through on a plan to return the iconic J-type commercial van to the rainy streets of Britain — and beyond. Retro appeal has its perks, but getting a new production vehicle, least of all an electric one, off the ground and into garages is fraught with challenges. So, without further introduction, here’s the Morris JE.

Morris Commercial LTD, a UK-based startup that acquired the rights to the defunct British marque not very long ago, plans to build the JE — a spiritual successor to the van seen everywhere in that country in the years and decades following WW2.

Fully electric and boasting a lightweight platform and body born of an “experienced team of established automotive designers and engineers,” Morris Commercial’s JE retains the former model’s profile and “funky” styling. A fully functional prototype is said to be undergoing testing.

“The combination of advanced lightweight chassis with a complete carbon fibre body makes the Morris JE one of the lightest LCVs in the marketplace,” the company stated in a release. “The result is an outstanding power-to-weight efficiency which fully maximises the range of the vehicle.”

Note the liberal use of carbon fiber — a material not often associated with affordable commercial vehicles.

Built from 1949 to 1960, the blunt-faced half-ton J-type excelled in its role, offering voluminous cargo capacity, a compact footprint, and efficiency and affordability in equal measures. A 1.5-liter side-valve four-cylinder provided motivation. The company itself entered the Morris Motors fold in 1924, accompanying it on a journey through BMW and later British Leyland. Morris Commercial ceased to exist as a brand in 1968; its Adderley Park assembly plant closed in 1971, marking the end of the line for the brand’s products.

During its time, Morris Commercial vehicles found their way to 25 countries.

How exactly the new Morris Commercial plans to build, disseminate, and price the JE is unknown at this time. That, and the vehicle’s specs.

“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,” Morris Commercial CEO and founder Dr. Qu Li stated. “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.”

Dr. Li received much British press a decade ago when her specialty vehicle engineering company, Eco Concept Limited, purchased the assets of fallen UK van manufacturer LDV. She sold the intellectual property rights to Chinese state-owned automaker SAIC Motor Corporation Limited the following year. Li is also the founder and director of business consultancy China Ventures Limited, which owned the now dissolved Eco Concept, and purchased the assets of UK-based Multidrive Limited, a designer and manufacturer of specialty on- and off-road vehicles, in 2007.

What little we know about the vehicle, the company’s suppliers, and Li’s plans for production, coupled with the nature of the fledgling EV market and the list of job vacancies posted by Morris Commercial on August 28th, compel the reader to temper their expectations for an immediate resurrection of the J-type.

[Image: Morris Commercial]

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  • THX1136 I think that the good ole interwebs is at least partially to blame. When folks can get content for free, what is the motivation to pay to read? I'm guilty of this big time. Gotta pay to read!? Forget it! I'll go somewhere else or do without. And since a majority of folks have that portable PC disguised as a phone in their pocket, no need for print. The amount of info easily available is the other factor the web brings to bear. It's perhaps harder now to stand out. Standing out is necessary to continued success.In an industry I've been interested (and participated) in, the one magazine (Mix) I subscribed to has become a shadow of it's former self (200 pgs now down to 75). I like print for the reasons mentioned by another earlier. I can 'access' it in a non-linear fashion and it's easily portable for me. (Don't own a smarty pants phone and don't plan to at the moment.)I would agree with others: useful comparison reviews, unique content not easily available other places, occasional ringers (Baruth, Sajeev, et al) - it would be attractive to me anyway. I enjoy Corey, Matt and Murilee and hope they continue to contribute here.
  • Daniel J I wish auto journos would do more comparisons. They do some but many are just from notes from a previous review compared to a new review. I see where journos go out to a location and test drive and review a vehicle on location but that does absolutely nothing for me without any comparison to similar cars. I also wish more journos spent more time on seat comfort. I guess that doesn't matter much when many journos seem to be smaller folks where comfort isn't as important. Ergonomics are usually just glossed over unless there is something very specific about the ergonomics that tick the journo off. I honestly get more from most youtube reviews than I ever do about reviews written on a page.
  • Namesakeone It's not just automotive. All print media is treading water. Time Magazine has gone from weekly to biweekly. Playboy no longer exists as a print magazine. There are lots of other examples. How to fix it? Let me be (among) the first to say that I have no idea.
  • Teddyc73 Was anyone really clamoring to buy one?
  • MaintenanceCosts This looks really surprisingly different from the Blazer EV. It's more boring, but it's also more Honda, and for that reason alone it will be taken a lot more seriously in US markets.