The most important British EV maker you've never heard of

4 weeks, 1 day ago - 27 May 2024, autocar
The most important British EV maker you've never heard of
British firm Bradshaw makes tractors, water tenders, and quarry tugs with 28-mile ranges - we hear their story

As drivers considering making the switch to an electric car anxiously sift through model specs, comparing ranges and PCP bills and plotting the locations of rapid chargers, over at Bradshaw Electric Vehicles they couldn’t be happier with their EVs that have ranges of 28 miles and top speeds of 18mph.

‘Horses for courses’ is the phrase that springs to mind as I survey the Cambridgeshire firm’s range of own-make, French Goupil and American Club Car EVs, some in production, others awaiting dispatch. And it’s one that all EV buyers would do well to remember when browsing the digital brochures.

Why do I need a 250-mile range when all my driving is local? Why am I obsessing over public-charger provision when charging at home will do just fine? Why do I need to be able to do 0-62mph in 5sec when everywhere I go is a 20mph zone?

For Bradshaw, ‘horses for courses’ is defining. The family firm, founded in 1960, makes and distributes EVs for industry – everything from small three- and four-wheeled tractors capable of towing up to 25 tonnes to compact water tenders for factories, from small tugs for pulling giant quarry trucks down production lines to tunnel vehicles with a steering wheel at each end (have you ever tried doing a U-turn in a cramped tunnel?).

For all these applications, pulling power and ease of charging (most just plug straight into a domestic socket for an overnight top-up) rather than speed, range and rate of charging are key.

Bradshaw’s customers tell the firm so. Some also tell it they are quite happy having lead-acid rather than lithium ion batteries, despite the former requiring the occasional liquid top-up, so Bradshaw offers those too.

Depending on the vehicle, choosing a heavier lead battery over the lighter and more energy-rich lithium alternative saves around £6000 on the vehicle’s purchase price, although it does impose a payload penalty.

Last year, Bradshaw, which employs 50 people, turned over £10 million and shipped almost 1000 vehicles, most destined for the UK but around 20% abroad. Production and assembly takes place in the main factory while, to meet demand, a second one is under construction.

A few of Bradshaw’s own-make vehicles are rebranded by some globally recognised industrial equipment manufacturers, which says a lot about the company’s quality and reputation.

Otherwise, you can find its logo proudly displayed on vehicles labouring away in major factories, including Perkins’ diesel engine plant in nearby Peterborough, Ford’s Dagenham site and JCB’s base in Staffordshire. A special projects department ensures specialist requirements can be catered for.

Additionally, Bradshaw has since 2017 been the UK’s sole distributor of Goupil utility vehicles. Offered in G2 and larger G4 chassis sizes, complete with two-seat cab and a choice of bodies from pick-up to tipper and box van to pressure washer, the Aquitaine-built models are popular with private and public sector operators.

Prices start at £18,000 for the G2 and £26,000 for the G4, both before VAT. Lead-acid battery power accounts for 60% of sales, and depending on the model, power spans from 7bhp to 13bhp, range from 27 miles to 68 miles and top speed from 18mph to 31mph.

As you might expect of vehicles emanating from the République, they are distinctive-looking things with bags of character – quite an achievement when their primary function is to convey two people in hi-vis jackets and, in some cases, up to 1.2 tonnes of rubbish.

With its T-shaped nose, the G2 is the more striking Goupil. It’s actually so shaped because the battery sits inside it, whereas in the slightly more conventional-looking G4, it’s slung under the chassis.

Both vehicles are front-wheel drive. With a steel ladder frame, alloy business ends and lots of tough plastic, they are hardy workhorses. Comfortable and fun to drive, too. Quiet, torquey, easy to maintain… Electric power really is the future for industrial vehicles like these.

BMW certainly seems to agree: the company has one of these on standby with a water tender body inside its Mini plant in Oxford.

And then there are the Club Car golf and event buggies that Bradshaw imports from Georgia. When I visited, just before the season started, hundreds of them – some for rent, some for leasing – were parked in rows out the back.

Bradshaw has Car Club’s south of England concession, and demand for its two-seat golf buggies (prices from £6000 or £26.50 per week on a lease) has never been higher. At the other extreme are the stretched buggies with as many as eight seats. Look out for them at the British Grand Prix, perhaps shuttling Max Verstappen and his team-mates to the trophy cabinet.

With so much focus on the challenges of EV ownership at the moment, it’s good to see one company making EVs work and work hard. As they say, horses for courses. That low-cost, short-range Mazda MX-30, for example, might be all you need…

Driving the Goupil G4

With things such as conventional key ignition and a handbrake, the Groupie G4 is designed to be instantly familiar. Twist, release and off you go.

The example I drove, a pick-up, was unladen so weighed just 900kg (versions with the lead-acid battery weigh around 1200kg). As a result, it pulled away cleanly and keenly.

Bradshaw's yard is far from smith but, surprisingly for an unladen pick-up, the G4 felt comfortable. The steering was accurate and the little vehicle felt like it could turn almost within its own length. Add its positive brakes, quiet-running motor and attractive interior and I imagine a day spent collecting rubbish might not be half bad.

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