lifestyle transport

Say hello to the zero carbon ice cream van

I’m on holiday this week, so I suspect that even as you read this, I am being nagged for ice cream by the small people. And I will be explaining for the third time today that ice creams from a van are twice the price of those in a shop. Unless it’s a vintage van of course, in which case it’s three times the price – but we don’t get those in Luton.

The ice cream van is a staple of the British summer, and they are more or less unchanged in decades: adapted van with a sliding glass serving hatch, diesel powered freezers. The large fibre-glass cone on the top is optional, the chimes to announce your arrival are not.

Into this sticky mess of sugar and nostalgia drove Nissan this month, with the unveiling of their zero carbon ice cream van:

Unlike your traditional van, this one has the server standing next to it. There’s a drinks fridge and soft-serve ice cream machine, all running off the vehicle’s considerable battery pack. Solar panels on the roof keep the batteries topped up and the ice cream cool – though I think they missed a trick by not putting solar panels on the top of the hatch and the back door as well.

The vehicle fulfils a particular need at the moment, quite apart from the obvious point that we need to electrify everything in the coming years. London has a low emissions zone to help control air pollution. It’s been a success and around twenty other British cities have either announced plans for one or are discussing it – including Bristol, Oxford, Newcastle and Aberdeen. In a low emissions zone, polluting vehicles have to pay a charge to enter the area, and ice cream vans would have to pay a steep charge to serve the city.

There’s also the health concern of diesel fumes right next to queues of small children, which hasn’t gone unnoticed by air quality campaigners. Some councils have already banned older ice cream vans with running diesels, though more modern vans already come with electric systems and batteries that operate when they’re parked up.

Nissan have got their press release out first, but they’re not the leaders in the ice cream van market. That’s a family business called Whitby Morrison, which is responsible for 80% of the ice cream vans on the road. They can retro-fit vans to run clean, and are working on a fully electric model. So if you’re one of those people who has a very clearly defined idea of what an ice cream van should look like – and Nissan’s isn’t it – don’t worry. Your traditional Mr Whippy can be electric too.

Now, where can I find a shop selling multipacks?


  1. Lovely post Jeremy thank you. The chimes always meant that the van had sold out in my childhood!

  2. Even lower in energy use was the first type of ice cream “van” I remember as a small child. It was a pedal pushed tricycle, with two wheels at the front supporting a large insulated container which held the ice cream. The “chimes” were a simple hand bell. This must have been in the summer of 1939, followed by about six years with no ice creams at all.

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