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Ford Unveils Electric Transit Connect, Focused on Fleet Owners

Mary Catherine O'Connor | Tuesday February 9th, 2010 | 0 Comments

Ford announced today that an all-electric version of its Transit Connect small cargo van will roll off production lines and into vehicle fleets later this year.

The Transit Connect has been, so far, a hit for Ford, selling well in Europe, where it debuted before coming state-side last year in a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder gas-powered engine that gets 19 miles to the gallon in the city and 24 mpg highway.

Will fleet owners embrace this EV version? That will likely depend on its yet-unannounced list price. Christopher DeMorro at Gas 2.0 estimates that Ford will give it an attractive price point—maybe as low as $35,000—to attract fleet buyers.   The gas version of the Connect goes for around $22,000, and it’s hard to imagine that fleet owners would go for the electric, zero emissions version if it costs more than twice that—although the cost of electricity will be a determining factor, certainly. In the Northwest, where hydro power generates some of the cheapest energy in the nation, fleet owners are in a better position than those in places with higher or more volatile energy costs.

The electric Transit Connect will get 80 miles of range on a full charge, according to Ford—although this will depend on how much is being hauled and the topography of the driver’s route. And the vans will come with both 240 volt and 120 volt charging options, which will provide some versatility. But charging up the 120 volt option takes even longer than the 6 to 8 hours needed for a full charge using 240 volts. Wonder how fleet owners will feel about that if they need to reliably charge vans that are operated on back-to-back shifts without much idle time for the vehicles. On the other hand, EVs make sense for fleet vehicles in cases where they are driven on the same route each day, since the needed power is predictable day in and day out.

Ford isn’t the first out of the gate with an electric cargo or utility vehicle (and there are a number of niche manufacturers entering this space), but its prominence in the industry should mean a pretty big push for EVs for work vehicles.

Ford is partnering on the EV Transit Connect with Azure Dynamics (on which it has developed a gas-electric hybrid in the past). Azure is providing its Force Drive electric powertrain and also integrating it into the vans at their final assembly location in Michigan (the vans will be mostly assembled in Turkey).

The EV Trans Connect is the first in a series of all-electric and electric-assist vehicles that Ford is planning on introducing in the next few years—part of its efforts to reinvent itself as an EV leader and reinvigorate auto manufacturing—and generate green collar jobs—in Michigan.

And Ford is also enjoying a little good fortune at the moment, seeing its sales lift 24 percent compared with a year ago  And it’s running ads that seek to capitalize on Toyota’s serious trouble on the recall and safety issue front.  But one might wonder where Ford gets off casting the first stone regarding safety—even though it’s been decades since the Pinto disaster.  Plus, like Toyota, Ford is moving through the learning curve on the hybrid front: a software problem can give Ford Fusion Hybird and Mercury Milan drivers the impression that the brakes have failed, and Ford is addressing the problem with a software fix.

Look for more on Ford and the state of the green auto industry this week as Triple Pundit provides live coverage from the Chicago Auto Show…on Ford’s dime. Yep, Ford invited us to cover the show and we’re taking the opportunity, and our reporting chops, out to the frigid Midwest to do so. UPDATE: Not so much…the snowpocalypse, or whatever they’re calling the big awesome snow storm that blanketed Chicago, put the kibosh on our trip. So we’ll be bringing you any relevant news from our desks, instead.


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