Ford rolls out all-electric van


Ford Motor Co.’s first all-electric vehicle made its Los Angeles debut this week at the Petersen Automotive Museum, a fitting locale for a manufacturer to take a successful product from its present lineup and push it into the future.

The electric version of a light-duty cargo van that has been available globally since 2003 and has sold more than 600,000 units, the Transit Connect Electric is the first of four electrified vehicles the Detroit manufacturer plans to bring to market by 2012. The Ford Focus Electric passenger car is due out next year; plug-in and next-generation hybrids should be available in two years.

Despite the public’s clamor for an all-electric passenger car, Ford decided to debut its lithium-ion-powered technology with a fleet vehicle whose corporate and government users typically drive them about 40 miles a day, said Praveen Cherian, Ford program manager for the Transit Connect Electric.

That’s well within the 80-mile maximum that a Transit Connect can reach on a single charge, he said, allowing the vehicle to recharge at the owner’s on-site parking facilities.

“Fleets are more ideal for these applications because they have a predetermined fixed route and don’t have to depend on infrastructure outside the home station to recharge their batteries,” Cherian said.

Production of the Transit Connect Electric will begin in the fourth quarter.

Ford has yet to set a price for the electric cargo van, whose charging time is six to eight hours at an estimated cost of $300 annually, depending on local utility rates.

The gasoline-powered version costs $21,000 and gets about 25 miles per gallon; the average annual fuel cost is about $1,500, Cherian said.

The weight of the van’s batteries reduces its payload by about a third, but the electric version has the same 135 cubic feet of cargo volume and a 39-foot turning radius as its internal-combustion inspiration.

It’s what makes it move that’s different. There’s an AC induction motor instead of a 2-liter, inline-4 engine and a liquid-cooled, 28-kilowatt-hour battery pack mounted under the floor instead of a gas tank.

“It’s almost like the platform was designed in 2003 with an electric vehicle in mind,” Cherian said.

The dashboard controls look very much like those in a traditional car, with gauges for motor temperature and speed; there are additional displays for remaining battery life and range.

Both the brakes and the accelerator pedal incorporate regenerative technologies that extend the vehicle’s range by recharging the battery when the vehicle is slowing down.

The Transit Connect Electric’s battery cells are similar to those used in Ford’s Escape plug-in fleet, cells for which Ford has accumulated 250,000 miles of test time, Cherian said. The all-electric powertrain is made by Azure Dynamics, the same company that has been upfitting Ford’s E450 chassis with its balanced hybrid power pack technologies.

The rolling chassis will be built at a Ford plant in Turkey and upfitted by Azure Dynamics at an as-yet-unannounced Michigan assembly plant. Ford plans to make 1,000 units in 2011, adjusting its production numbers to “what the market will accept,” Cherian said.

Ford sells about 100,000 trucks to U.S. fleet customers each year, including AT&T, Best Buy, United Parcel Service and the United States Postal Service.

According to Cherian, “We hope to leverage those same customers with the Transit Connect Electric.”