ERF was started in 1933 by Dennis Foden, the son of Edwin Richard Foden (Foden Trucks) who had recently left Foden Ltd. Britain was suffering a recession in the early 1930s and times were tough. Insurers were increasingly reluctant to underwrite steam boilers and history has several accounts of why Edwin left Foden. Most common is that while Edwin believed the future of road transport lay in diesel engine power the Foden board room did not and he son Dennis resigned over the issue. The other account is that Richard was ousted by his stepmother who was by then in charge of the business. Dennis initially stayed with Foden but soon left to set up his own business. No-one could have envisaged at that time that ERF would be started and indeed, thrive while many others fell by the wayside.
Dennis was responsible for starting ERF naming his new business in honour of his father using his initials to form ERF as the name of his marque. With the help of Dennis and two former Foden colleagues Edwin built the very first ERF diesel lorry in 1933 giving the chassis the number 63 which was his age at the time. Initially ERF made their own chassis and cabs and used engines from Gardner, gearboxes from David Brown and axles from Kirkstall rather than making their own components. In later years they also used Cummins, Perkins, Detroit Diesel and Caterpillar. ERF lorries designated C.I. (Compression Ignition) followed by the number of cylinders, followed by the number of wheels eg: chassis number 63 had a 4LW Gardner engine and two axles so it was identified as a C.I.4.4.
The advent of WWII saw ERF change to the AEC 7.7 litre engine. Gardners were prioritised for military use including for vehicles and searchlight generators. To differentiate them from the trucks with Gardner engines trucks fitted with AEC engines were designated D.I.
ERF was purchased by Canadian truck maker Western Star in 1996. When PACCAR's purchase of Foden, DAF Trucks and Leyland Trucks increased competitive pressure, and when Western Star was approached by Freightliner the ERF division was sold to them. ERF also built a specialist fire engine chassis in association with in-house company JH Jennings, (Cheshire Fire Engineering and later Saxon Sanbec. In Australia ERFs were usually marketed under the Western Star badge although some badged ERF certainly found their way there.
Edwin Richard Foden died in 1950 at the age of 80 and Dennis became Managing Director at just 30 years of age. The company went public in 1954. It was in this era of change that the striking new ‘Kleer Vue’ cab was developed. The KV cab became the epitome of 1950's style with its use of curved glass. Transport operators loved the distinct rounded shape and the truck with its Gardner engine became a legend. A semi forward control with three seats in the cab was released soon after. These were given the nickname 'Sabrina' after the busty television personality of that name.
In 1958 Rolls Royce Diesel engines became an option and by the end of the first American designed British built ‘Cummins Diesel’ powered ERF had been built. Later still, Perkins and Orman were also offered although Gardner engines were still in used in the majority of ERF chassis at this period. It was a sign of things to come as Cummins went on to dominated the ERF range in later years.
Dennis Foden died in the early 1960s and Peter Foden took over the business setting yet another a program of change heralded with the release of the stylish Long Vue cab which featured full width front access panel for maintenance, concealed door hinges, a large one piece windscreen and vertical push button door handles. New regulation allowing 32 ton gross weight vehicles saw both the domestic and export markets thrive.
In 1970 ERF attempted to purchase competitor Atkinson. The bid failed and Seddon were the successful buyers and Seddon Atkinson was formed. Severasl Atkinson employees went to ERF including Jack Cooke who designed yet another new groundbreaking cab for ERF. The steel framed, fibre-glass paneled SP (Steel / Plastic) was fitted on the B Series models.
By 1979 ERF were building just 16 trucks a day and by the end of 1983, the Sandbach workforce had been cut to 600, less than half of what it used to be. The factory operated on a two day week and managed to stay afloat. Other competitors were not as fotrtunate. Throughout the 1980's ERF rationalised it's product rangedeveloping the Common Parts CP Series which would prove highly popular with operators. In 1988 ERF joined with Austrian truck maker Steyr, to use Steyr's all steel cab. The 1990s heralded the EC range which turned out to be ERF's best ever selling product.
ERF became part of MAN AG in 2000. MAN bought the company on the understanding that ERF was profitable although, it was widely rumoured at the time that somebody had been “siphoning” cash from the company. Suggestions ranged from the company accountant to a company director. Never-the-less the finances were in a mess and huge sums of money unaccounted for. MAN subsequently sued Western Star successfully in the British Courts. Freightliner then tried to sue Western Star and ERF's auditing firm, but the action failed on technical grounds of corporate negligence.
ERF's final model range, the ECT, ECM and ECL, were built in MAN's heavy truck production line in Nuremberg and lighter trucks were produced from the plant in Sandbach .ERF trucks were based on MAN's existing products except that the ERF model came with the option of using the Cummins ISMe power plant as an alternate to MAN's own D20 common rail power-plant. MAN closed the Sandbach plant in 2002 and moved production to Salzburg in Austria. ERF badging was there after only used for the British market so MAN ceased the supply of ERF badged trucks from July 2007, just a year before it would have celebrated its 70th anniversary.