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A milk float is a small delivery truck that is designed to efficiently and quietly deliver products to many stops in one area. As the name suggests, milk floats are often used for early-morning milk deliveries. Many of these vehicles are electric, ensuring that they “float” through neighborhoods during deliveries without waking residents.
A typical milk float looks like a common delivery truck or van, only smaller. A compact one- or two-seat cab may or may not have doors, and the rear of the vehicle is often flat, with an awning above it to shade the products being delivered. Since milk floats have relatively slow top speeds, often between 28 to 30 mph (45 to 48 km/h), they may be classified as Neighborhood Electric Vehicles, or NEVs. The simple designs of these vehicles mean that they can be built to withstand years of use in milk and produce delivery fleets. It is not uncommon in some European regions to find milk floats that consist of a new cab installed on a decades-old chassis.
One early type of milk float that is no longer in use is the pedestrian milk float. These small milk floats resemble wagons with a cover over their tops. The float's wheels are controlled by levers on its handle, allowing a deliveryman to walk along with his fully loaded float. As economics and urban growth forced delivery companies to cover longer trips on each delivery run, these types of milk floats faded from use.
Modern milk floats are often built by the same companies that produce electric vehicles for industrial use. Their designs may feature digital controls and sophisticated electronics that extend their ranges to more than 40 miles (64 km) in some cases. Milk floats come in traditional open designs, or can be built with refrigerated cargo areas enclosed in doors, much like a typical delivery van.
Milk floats are best suited for delivery routes that have frequent stops, such as milk delivery to a neighborhood. In larger cities, or in cases where a delivery driver needs to go long distances between stops, the limited range of a milk float's batteries and its limited top speed make it a poor choice.
Various businesses have made use of milk floats though. In countries where coal is a popular energy source, milk floats have been equipped with beds that can haul large amounts of coal. Produce vendors, lunch wagon operators and large gardens needing small, versatile trucks for hauling have successfully used milk floats to meet their needs.