Making Electrification Cool (With Ice Cream)

A guy in my neighborhood drives a very old pale pink ice cream truck. It rolls down the street like a ghost of decades past… straight out of a horror movie. I think he just drives it for old times’ sake, not even to sell ice cream.

Ice cream trucks used to be huge in America (and ice cream vans in England). But times changed and competition from supermarkets, soft-serve, and video games took its toll. Plus there were lots of accidents involving kids. And people didn’t appreciate the racist jingles ice cream trucks often played.

So if ice cream trucks are dying, why would electric vehicle makers build prototype electric ice cream trucks, like Nissan’s e-NV200 prototype?

Because ice cream is fun and electrification needs to be fun!

Nissan’s prototype electric ice cream van (unveiled 2019).

There’s also the matter of diesel fumes from traditional ice cream and food trucks. Like all food trucks, the diesel generator has to keep running to power the food service equipment inside. And who wants to wait in line for an ice cream (or be scooping one) while breathing diesel fumes?

It’s the perfect application for a battery-powered EV: doesn’t have to drive very far, but needs always-on clean power.

Nissan’s approach – which seems more of a marketing stunt – is a small 40-kWh battery, plus an additional portable power pack (using battery cells recovered from used Nissan vehicles) to power the soft-serve machine, freezer drawer, and drinks fridge.

Top view of Nissan’s international-space-station-like prototype ice cream van, with solar panels.

But back to fun.

Ice cream has always been fun, starting with the 19th century pushcarts which delivered cheap, questionable quality (you could die – unpasteurized) ice cream to the masses.

Then the Good Humor guy came along, inventing the ice cream truck as well as frozen ice cream on a stick – easy to hand out the window from a truck, and cheaper than serving it in a dish. 

Then came popsicles on a stick, Mister Softee, and the rest is history.

Marketers have always known that things sell better when they’re fun.

Electrifying food and ice cream trucks is an obvious opportunity. 

Can’t resist adding this: in 1982, as an intern reporter I was ’embedded’ with an ice cream truck for a day. Still remember how hot it was. Would’ve been nice to have some heat-pump solar assisted AC!

Cutting edge local journalism, circa 1982.