• Feb 12th 2010 at 7:37PM
  • 18
Ford Transit Connect Electric – Click above for high-res image gallery

Not only did Ford reveal the all-electric version of the Transit Connect Electric at the Chicago Auto Show this week, but they also pulled the electric vehicle (EV) into the snowy Chicago streets and allowed us to take it for a quick spin. After our five minutes behind the wheel, we can say that, if your company needs a sensible delivery vehicle that doesn't have to travel all that far each day, then this should be your electric van of choice. Well, depending on how much these vans will cost, a number we won't get until later this spring.

The most noticeable thing about the Transit Connect Electric is that this is a fully realized EV. Based on a very popular model – the standard gasoline and diesel Transit Connects have sold around 655,000 units since going on sale in Europe in 2003 and the van won the North American Truck of the Year after its introduction here in 2009 – the Transit Connect Electric feels like a utility car, electric or otherwise, should feel. Ford and its partner on the project, Azure Dynamics, have created a winner. Read on past the jump for the rest of the story.



Photos by Sebastian Blanco / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

From what we can tell, the Transit Connect Electric will operate like any other Transit Connect, except that running costs should be far lower than versions that burn CNG or gasoline (or, in Europe, diesel fuel). Turning the key, as in a standard vehicle, brings up the dashboard lights and turns the van on. At this point, the range and battery state of charge gauge come to life. While the Transit Connect Electric has an official range of 80 miles (depending on drive cycle), when we sat down in the driver's seat, we had just under 50 miles on the range gauge and just over half of the battery left in the state-of-charge indicator. This seemed a bit high to us, and reminds us that companies that opt to add some of these vans to their fleets shouldn't rely on these indicators until they've had some experience with just how quickly the last 20 miles might drop away. We're not saying drivers will get stranded, just that we're heard an ounce of prevention makes a lot of sense.

The Transit Connect is small, but there's a lot of practical room in back. Furniture stores probably won't want to invest in a fleet of these, but we can see telephone repair crews and food delivery companies seriously considering them. Scott Staley, chief engineer of HEV/FCV technology development for Ford and the leader of the technical team from the Ford side, rode with us and said the whole reason the Transit Connect Electric exists today is because customers came to Ford and expressed an interest in an electric delivery van. Fleet operators like the post office and AT&T are the most interested in the electric van, he said. For companies looking for something a bit larger, Azure does offer Ford's E-450 chassis vans and shuttle buses upfitted with the Balance hybrid electric drive system.



Driving the city-sized Transit Connect Electric, though, proves just how well all of the bits fit together well and it feels like you'd want a production EV to feel. This isn't a highway-ready long haul vehicle, but for scooting around corners and fitting in with traffic, the Transit Connect Electric performs as expected. The 0-60 is about the same as the gas version, for example, and the electric version has the same 39 foot curb-to-curb turning radius.

Last fall, things didn't appear quite as smooth as they are now. In October 2009, Ford and partner Smith Electric Vehicles mutually split ways on the Transit Connect Electric's powertrain and Ford scrambled to find a new partner in Azure. Staley said that one of the reasons Ford went with Azure was because it had the propulsion experience:
In a lot of programs, you work on optimizing every component, right? In this vehicle, we've taken advantage of existing Azure experience with other components. For example, the charger for the vehicle is a Brusa charger, the electric drive is a Siemens motors which is an AC induction motor. It's not the latest permanent magnet technology, but is quite robust and they have a lot of field experience with it. So that's helped us meet the timing requirements to get this thing ready by the end of the year.
Why will the Transit Connect Electric be ready so soon? Because Ford promised to have an electric vehicle to market by the end of 2010. When the Smith partnership fell through, Staley said, teaming up with Azure as an upfitter made Ford realize they still had a chance to meet the deadline. After all, "We've got things backing up behind us," he said, referring to the Focus Electric and other hybrid and plug-in vehicles Ford has announced. "There's only one chance to get this car out first."



The logistics of building the Transit Connect Electrics look like this. The bodies will be built in Turkey and shipped as rolling chassis to southeast Michigan. There, in a city and plant to be announced later, they will be upfitted with the Force Drive powertrain by Azure. (The large vehicles that are upfitted with the Balance hybrid system undergo the procedure at a Utilimaster plant in Wakarusa, IN.) Azure is buying the vehicles from Ford and doing the EV powertrain work themselves, so it will fall to Azure to actually sell the vans. Staley said:
In this case you see an upfitter strategy, where you share the costs of developing the vehicles. We also share the costs of marketing and selling the vehicles. So, Azure, for the electric truck, is going to be the marketing and sales agent, through selected Ford dealerships. They do all the heavy pulling.
Ford is using a similar strategy with the CNG/LPG version of the Transit Connect Taxi it announced in Chicago. The variety of powertrains for the vehicle came about as a result of customers coming to Ford, Staley said. "They say, 'we need to do something to reduce our emissions," and Ford worked with them to figure out which powertrains would work best. Since taxis need to run more or less 24-7 or at least two shifts, electric vehicles could not handle the load and CNG was selected as an alternative. Having a variety of powertrains allows also Ford to respond to customer and government emphasis, Staley said. If the federal government were to say, for example, that plug-in hybrids will be the only vehicles to get tax credits, then Ford could relatively easily put a PHEV powertrain into the Transit Connect.

Right now, there's no lengthy waiting list for the Transit Connect Electric – the van was only officially announced Wednesday, after all – but Staley said that he expects Azure representatives will soon be out talking to potential customers and taking orders. Setting and announcing the price is Azure's responsibility and will be revealed later this spring. For the first few years, Ford and Azure expect to build around 1,000 Transit Connect Electric vans annually and test the market demand. If our few minutes behind the wheel are any indication, they'll probably want to up that number sooner rather than later.

Click above for high-res image



Photos by Sebastian Blanco / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 18 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      Sounds good. 6-8 hours charging is a bit worse than I hoped. So you'll have to be able to go the whole day on 80 miles, which will be no problem for many customers.

      To me, the biggest advantage of this thing is running costs. Yeah, it reduces emissions too, but if you are a city delivery service, this thing will be dynamite on running costs with all that start and stop driving.
        • 5 Years Ago
        yup, sounds about right, long charge time but not an issue for most 9-6 companies (plug it in overnight). I'd actually love one or two of these at my work... *strokes chin*
        • 5 Years Ago
        Oh, and I don't get why this has a tachometer. You can't shift it and it uses a fixed reduction gear so the two needles will always move in perfect synchrony (unless you are in reverse).
        • 5 Years Ago
        That's an analog range meter, not a tach.
      • 5 Years Ago
      how many and what cost? azure is not exactly a mass producer nor cheap.
      this would appear to be at best a pilot project and more likely a lip service publicity stunt
        • 5 Years Ago
        Jake said, "And on building ICE, there are a plenty of companies that do this. You need a block to start as a base, but I have seen plenty of shows (discovery and speed channel) where people build an entire engine by hand in their garage. Contrast this with electric motors, which I have never seen a hobbyist hand build; they either buy it whole or they take one from another machine, for example a forklift."

        Oh yes people build ICE in there garage after they receive the block as you mentioned, the heads, fuel injectors, wiring harnesses, water pump, oil pump, valves, springs, crank shafts, cam shafts, intake and exhaust manifolds, bearings, radiator and many other components. What they do with ICE's in their garage is assemble parts, they build nothing, though they like to refer to themselves as builders. All the parts are bought whole and assembled, many parts come from a machine shop were they are built and balanced. Assemblers is what they are doing in there garage.

        Tesla has a hand wound motor.


        • 5 Years Ago
        @skierpage
        Seems kind of like the MINI-E thing. They don't want to take the risk. There aren't many automakers like Nissan who are truly going full bore into EVs, even though every automaker out there now has EVs in prototype or concept stage in cash in on the interest in EVs.

        Hopefully Ford tries a bit harder for the Focus EV; I don't think buyers are looking for a third party conversion, they want something that is actually developed by Ford.

        @Dan Frederiksen
        "EVs are very easy for these big automakers." That's what Bob Lutz said, he found out it is not so easy. This is because to get an affordable EV you have to find suppliers and so far there are few suppliers of EV components. Sure, it is easy to do a conversion for ~$60-70k (there are plenty of companies that do this), but if you want an EV on par with an ICE in terms of quality and for a reasonable price, you can't just do a conversion like that. You mentioned the MINI-E, and that is a prime example that building a good EV is not easy, given how many problems it has.

        There are plenty of tough engineering issues with EVs. Accurate battery capacity/power consumption/range estimates, battery pack thermal management, battery cell manufacturing (at least a joint venture is necessary for reasonable prices), regen braking/traction control (the issue the Prius has), electrical air-con/heating, charging management (depth of discharge, current levels, safety etc), park/neutral/automatic creep (MINI-E had issues with popping into neutral), power electronics (the battery-motor interface) are a couple. A major issue with any one of these is unacceptable in a production car (though a conversion may have plenty of issues in these categories).

        And on building ICE, there are a plenty of companies that do this. You need a block to start as a base, but I have seen plenty of shows (discovery and speed channel) where people build an entire engine by hand in their garage. Contrast this with electric motors, which I have never seen a hobbyist hand build; they either buy it whole or they take one from another machine, for example a forklift.
        • 5 Years Ago
        It's CRAZY STUPID that Ford isn't building these themselves. Ford gains no experience manufacturing electric vehicles, doesn't develop relationships with the suppliers, and Azure Dynamics will be paying those suppliers much more for components than Ford could negotiate. How long will it take a brand new assembly plant "in a city and plant to be announced later" to produce these in any volume?

        "the whole reason the Transit Connect Electric exists today is because customers came to Ford and expressed an interest in an electric delivery van..."
        "... So here is one from a small company you've never heard of, for (??) $80,000. Have fun with your small limited trials, don't forget to mention Ford when you spend 10x as much on Greenwashing ads trumpeting how environmental you are!"
        • 5 Years Ago
        yeah it is concerning that Ford doesn't build this capability on their own. same with bmw and the mini-Es. compared to making combustion cars, EVs are very simple, easily something they should be able to develop in very short order.
        people build their own controllers, put together their own batteries, some even make electric motors. imagine making a combustion engine from scratch..

        EVs are very easy for these big automakers. they just dont want to make them
        • 5 Years Ago
        Don't forget that there is also the BEV Focus. IMHO that is much more likely to be built in-house, seeing as it is a new achitecture.
        • 5 Years Ago
        jake, you've never seen anyone on discovery build an engine. take it apart and reassemble it perhaps but that's grease monkey work. they didn't actually make the engine. some big company did.
        it is simply far easier to develop a good electric motor than it is to develop a halfway decent combustion engine. maybe 100 times easier.
        the only somewhat iffy thing in electric cars is the battery because it's ugly chemistry and many cells that have to all work or things will go progressively wrong. that's where they will spend most of their engineering time and where you will see the biggest complexity in the solution.
        power electronics is surprisingly cheap and strong. the motor will be cheap. I expect a nice set to be in the 200$ range for automakers. battery will be relatively cheap too but it is the nastiest part of an EV but still easier than ice cars.
        • 5 Years Ago
        "For the first few years, Ford and Azure expect to build around 1,000 Transit Connect Electric vans annually and test the market demand."

        Cost is an interesting question. However, it has been repeated endlessly (by the fanboys) that BEVs' are cheaper to operate in the long run, due to reduced maintenance costs and the cheaper price of electricity. That has yet to be proven in the real world - but it certainly justifies a higher up-front purchase price if the vehicle can deliver lower overall operating costs.

        My point is a fully-electric Transit should be cheaper to own over its lifespan than a standard Transit.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Skier, Ford has received much praise recently for not taking any federal subsidies as other car makers have. GM has been lambasted as "Government Motors" and Ford has been lauded for fiscal responsibility. Indeed, these co-development deals have allowed Ford to reap the benefits of billions of dollars of investment without the expense showing on their books.

        Is it a wise strategy or are they just treading water while GM and Nissan gain market share and experience? Time will tell.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Letstakeawalk:
        It is not just a rumor that EV's are cheaper to maintain.
        Smith Electric has been running fleets of thousands in Europe for a hundred years, and no doubt can provide chapter and verse on running costs to potential buyers as their engineers maintain both electric and diesel for their customers.
        http://www.smithelectricvehicles.com/whyelectric_lowmaintenance.asp

        And:
        http://www.smithelectricvehicles.com/whyelectric_costsavings.asp

        'Smith Electric Vehicles can provide significant whole life cost savings compared to the equivalent diesel vehicle. Our mobile service engineers maintain both diesel and electric vehicles for major fleet operators, giving us a unique insight into the comparable maintenance and operating costs.'
      • 5 Years Ago
      I believe that recent news was that USPS was planning to convert thousands and they had a company to do it
        • 5 Years Ago
        USPS is currently planning to evaluate EVs from several different companies.
      • 5 Years Ago
      The USPS should test a few of these.
      • 5 Years Ago
      For now, Ford sees a limited market for pure EVs and so is outsourcing the major tech. The Transit Connect conversion was, as the article makes clear, a rush job to make a deadline for bragging rights. The more significant vehicle is the electric Focus, being developed with Magna:

      http://media.ford.com/article_display.cfm?article_id=29683

      The higher-volume hybrid and PHEV technology apparently will be developed largely in-house. Ford is betting that it can afford to let vendors deal with the EV tech while it is still limited in scope and market appeal. Certainly a vehicle that has an 80 mile range and takes at least 6 hours to recharge (never mind the likely steep price) will appeal to only a specialized audience.
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