Ford Transit Connect Electric van – Click above for high-res image gallery
The Ford Transit Connect Electric
. That's not a short, snappy name. Sure, it's mostly accurate and it follows the Blue Oval's naming structure for plug-in vehicles (see also: Ford Focus Electric
), but it's a mouthful. It's just "mostly" accurate because this is a only partly a Ford vehicle. The Transit Connect
Electric's "manufacturer of record" is Azure Dynamics
, which worked with Ford (and Johnson Controls-Saft and AM General) on the plug-in electric delivery van that officially went into production today in Livonia, MI, a city near/suburb of Detroit. How much did Ford have to do to get the electric van into production – aside from making the liquid-fueled Transit Connect in the first place? We don't know for sure, but there were only five Ford employees who worked full-time on the Transit Connect Electric program.
We visited the incredibly clean AM General facility this morning to learn a bit more about Ford's first foray into all-electric vehicles since the Ranger EV
. Read on for the fullest and latest on the Transit Connect Electric.
Photos copyright ©2010 Sebastian Blanco / Weblogs, Inc.
Rough, fast road to production
All the Ford representatives who were involved with the Transit Connect Electric – full time or part time – must have been happy today, because they were all under the gun, a gun of their own making. Back in February 2009, Ford promised it would have the Transit Connect Electric ready by the end of 2010. At the time, Ford's partner was Smith Electric Vehicles
, but Smith ended up being more interested in electrifying larger vehicles, and the two amicably companies parted ways. Azure Dynamics stepped in
, and the rush was on to meet Ford's deadline. The first phase of engineering development modeling and early builds happened in December 2009. Starting in May 2010, the team built fifteen test vehicles. The partners kept up the frantic pace into the fall, when they came to AM General. Rick Smith, president of commercial business for AM General said as he opened the ceremonies today that, "90 days ago, this was a dirty little facility. This quick, flash and bang type of effort is what we do here at AM General." The message from everyone was that all parties worked well together, but the Transit Connect Electric's family tree is broad and has deep roots.
Made in Michigan – with imported parts
Final assembly for the Transit Connect Electric does indeed take place in Livonia, but this is a truly global vehicle. For one thing, the chassis is produced in Europe. Ron Iacobelli, Azure
Dynamics' chief technology officer, told AutoblogGreen
that Azure worked with Ford to make sure that the bits that are imported are just what's needed to build the electric version.
The Transit Connect Electric starts life its in the U.S. by being delivered to Baltimore, and the chassis are then shipped by truck to Michigan. These vehicle shells do not contain any powertrain or fuel system components. Technically, Iacobelli said, when it comes into the country, it's a "kit of parts" which means, among other things, that the Transit Connect Electric is not subject to the Chicken Tax and associated shenanigans
Other components of Azure's "Force Drive" powertrain have similar stories, some of which go back a decade or more. Iacobelli said the Transit Connect Electric re-uses components from previous vehicles to "facilitate rapid design and development and minimize risk." The van's Siemens drive motor was also used in the Ford Ranger
EV. The Azure Gen II inverter is made in Woburn, MA and has been in used in test programs for over 10 years. The AC compressor is also used in the Escape
hybrids. Even some non-hybrid vehicles donated parts to the Transit Connect Electric. The electric power steering system was taken from the Ford European Galaxy van, for example. The Johnson Controls Saft battery is made in Holland, MI and the 3.3 kW on-board charger is made by Brusa in Switzerland.
Given the hodgepodge nature of the Transit Connect Electric, is it any surprise that the warranty
is split, too? Nope. Thus, the glider warranty is Ford's responsibility while the powertrain warranty falls on Azure's shoulders.
So, what does the Transit Connect Electric do?
For starters, here are some of the Transit Connect Electric's specs (slightly changed from Ford's September numbers
- Driving range of up to 80 miles per full charge
- Charge takes 6-8 hours from zero to full on a Level 2 (240V) charger
- Level 1 (standard outlet) takes 27 hours
- Top speed 75 mph (ICE can go 90 mph)
- Maximum payload of 1,000 pounds (compared to 1,600 in the base ICE version)
- Ford expects a 10-year/120,000-mile life instead of 10-years/150,000 miles with the ICE.
The Transit Connect Electric has two thermal management systems for the 28 kWh battery pack and the powertrain. That battery pack is made up of 16 modules and 192 cells.
All this should make the Transit Connect Electric a near-perfect vehicle for a lot of urban and suburban delivery companies. Commercial driving behavior statistics from the USDOT show that the daily mileage range is 29 to 49 miles, with the average trip length being 14 miles. The Transit Connect Electric, Ford was quick to remind us, has that 80-mile range. One perfect target customer? The U.S. Postal Service. After all, 96 percent of USPS vehicles drive less than 40 miles a day. Other prime target customers would include government and private fleets (i.e., U.S. military
Ford's small step into the electric marketplace
Even with all these numbers seemingly in the Transit Connect Electric's favor, the team is thinking small. Ford has been selling the Transit Connect (a smaller version of the Transit delivery van) in Europe for years and has imported them to the U.S. for about a year. The fairly efficient (22/25 miles per gallon
) van has filled a "white space" in the marketplace, said Sherif Marakby, the director of electrification programs & engineering for Ford. The Transit Connect has proven to be a popular vehicle for Ford's commercial customers. With car-like handling and lots of cargo room, we certainly liked it when we first got behind the wheel
at the Chicago Auto Show
earlier this year. So far, Ford has sold around 30,000 ICE Transit Connects in the U.S.
Compare that to the modest production numbers Ford and Azure expect for the Transit Connect Electric. Full production, which gets going in earnest in April 2011, will be just 600-700 units a year. Maybe that's because the electric van will cost $57,400 U.S. (before any incentives) while the ICE version starts at $21,200. That's a huge difference to make up, even though fleet customers typically keep vehicles like this between seven and 10 years and have time to recoup the money spent to "go green." There is also a CNG version of the Transit Connect available
to fleets, which might siphon sales away from the battery version.
Still, Ford and Azure have lined up some big names to give the zero-emission van a go. Right now, the Transit Connect Electric's LEAD Customer Program includes eight known entities: AT&T, Johnson Controls, Canada Post
, Toronto Atmospheric Fund, New York Power Authority, Xcel Energy
, Southern California Edison and a "large state utility company" that does not want to be named. LEAD customers have made a "double-digit" commitment to buy vehicles, but exact numbers were not revealed. So far, around 30 Transit Connect Electrics have been made or are being finished in Livonia. Fourteen are on a boat to take part in the UK government's Ultra-Low Carbon Vehicle Demonstrator program. The LEAD customers will each get at least one vehicle in 2010, with the rest following early next year.
More sales could be coming soon from across the pond. As revealed earlier this year
, Azure will launch the Transit Connect Electric in Europe at some point in 2011. The European-market vans will be produced in Europe, with the same pack that the American vans use. Most likely, unless there is a huge demand spike, the packs for the European models will also be made in Holland, MI. A global cycle for a global vehicle.