Racing to save the planet
As eco funerals gain ground, Midcounties Funeralcare has bought an electric hearse that can go 120 miles on a single charge with zero emissions. But can it outdo a traditional model?
Published 10 Jul 2017
The funeral directors arrive, heads bowed in respect, dressed from head to toe in ceremonial black with top hats. They’re joined by a colleague, but he has swapped his usual sombre work attire for a racing suit, and his top hat for a motorcycle helmet. Thankfully, there are no tears, there’s no coffin, and none of the team is overseeing a funeral. Instead, they’re here to compare an eco-friendly electric hearse with a traditional black one.
While they want to know which of the pair – a converted Nissan Leaf car and a Mercedes E Class – is the faster round a track, they’re also keen to discover which wins the fight against pollution and the race to save the planet.
And as the colleagues pay tribute to one of their favourite TV shows, BBC’s Top Gear, the racing driver – funeral assistant Luke Carter – is The Stig, and he’ll be driving the electric hearse, which is becoming more and more popular for green funerals.
‘A lot of people now request an eco-friendly service,’ says funeral care co-ordinator Ashley Davies, from the Midcounties Funeralcare headquarters in Aldridge, near Walsall, in the West Midlands.
‘They may have asked for a green funeral that doesn’t harm the environment, so they choose
the electric hearse and a willow coffin,’ Ashley explains.
Mark Brumfitt, vehicle logistics centre manager for Midcounties Co-operative Funeralcare, adds: ‘Generations coming through are much more environmentally conscious. It’s part of their culture. When people are no longer here, they like to leave their wishes for a green funeral as a legacy.’
At Curborough Sprint Course near Lichfield in Staffordshire, the cars are going head-to-head. One of four electric hearses in the UK, the Nissan Leaf, now with adapted seats, doors and windows, cost £50,000, the Mercedes £100,000. Both have leather interiors and can carry a 6ft 4in coffin.
The Leaf joined the fleet a year ago. They cover from Rugeley, in Staffordshire, to Wednesbury in the West Midlands. With 18 branches in the area, and 1,800 funerals a year, the hearses can each attend three funerals a day.
As part of a funeral package, the electric car costs £295, while the Mercedes is £405. And the electric car emerges triumphant in another important area, too. Mark Brumfitt says: ‘The Leaf wins on eco-friendliness. Normal vehicles put out emissions that pollute the environment, and the Nissan has zero emissions.
‘It charges up overnight, costs about £3 per session, and can then do 120 miles. Some service stations have rechargers too, but we plan recharging into the schedule.’
A 7 kilowatt charger powers up the electric hearse in six hours, a 21 kilowatt charger within an hour. Both are available at fixed charging stations. By contrast, the Mercedes will do 380 miles on a full tank of diesel, at 29.1 miles to the gallon. But what about tradition… aren’t hearses usually black? ‘Being silver, the Leaf has a softer feel,’ says Mark. ‘It’s less daunting and imposing.’ So how does the electric car handle a racing track?
Funeral assistant Luke drives the Nissan, while colleague Bill Farman – just for today – channels Jeremy Clarkson, and drives the Mercedes. As the two cars are put through their paces, funeral director Christie Lambe times them racing separately. While the Mercedes takes 70 seconds, the Leaf romps round in 52 seconds. So what’s the verdict?
‘The electric hearse is certainly much nippier and far more maneuverable,’ says Mark. ‘It’s definitely the winner – greener, cleaner and better for our planet.’
The electric hearse can be booked via Midcounties Co-operative Funeralcare.