Across the Chiltern Hills and out as far as Oxford, a little electric van full of ice-creams, gelatos and sorbets weaves its way, delivering its rich, fullflavoured concoctions to restaurants, cafés and independent stores with a taste for the artisan.
“Some people thought we were mad when we got this van, but going electric just seemed to fit,” says Arthur LaCour, owner of the Chiltern Ice Cream Company.
“I was always committed to the idea, but it wasn’t an easy decision. When you transport ice-cream - if it melts, you don’t have a product. And with the current technology, electric vehicles and refrigeration don’t really mix. It would just drain the battery.”
So before committing to a purchase, Arthur first had to find a packaging solution. “We found these big, recycled polypropylene boxes that only lose 1oC an hour. That’s fine for our 3-4 hour delivery schedule.” Problem solved.
Then he had to find the vehicle. “A lot of dealerships quote a 9-month wait or don’t have one to test drive. We went for the Kangoo, because although it’s smallish, you can get around 110 miles out of a full charge. That works for us.”
The first thing everyone worries about is range. “It takes about 6 hours for a full re-charge, which we do overnight. Then, as long as we plan our routes properly, we’re able to complete even our longest delivery rounds with something in reserve. At lunchtime, we can come back to base, charge up for an hour, reload and go again for a shorter round in the afternoon. That gives us an extra 15-20 miles.”
Arthur has also adapted his driving style. “If you try to drive it like a fossil fuel vehicle, you won’t get far. You have to accelerate more slowly, anticipate stopping and take your foot off the accelerator. It prefers speeds under 55mph.” The Renault’s range projection computer has proved to be consistently accurate, which significantly reduces range anxiety.
And what’s the reaction been like from the Chiltern Ice Cream Company’s customers? “Really good. Restaurant chefs come out to see what’s under the bonnet. Under the right circumstances, an electric delivery vehicle is definitely a viable alternative, even in semi-rural areas like ours.”
The Chiltern Ice Cream Company has cut its carbon emissions by 1.7 tonnes per year.