Ford to Launch Electric Cargo Van in U.S. Next Year, With Electric Car in 2011

By John O'Dell February 8, 2009

TransitConnect-EV.jpg (Update: Ford and Smith EV cut ties, Ford selects Azure Dynamics to outfit Transit Connect electric van.)

By John O'Dell, Senior Editor

Ending almost two months of speculation, Ford Motor Co. confirmed today that it will, indeed, base its first venture into the commercial electric vehicle market on the Ford Transit Connect van (right) that's already a best-seller throughout Europe in its conventional gasoline and diesel versions.

We don't get to do it as often as we'd like, so bear with us a moment: "Toot."

That's the sound of our own horn.

We predicted this back in December, when word first got out that Ford was planning a battery-electric cargo van for the U.S. commercial truck market.

smithampere copy.jpg Ford said today it will bring the electric delivery van to market here in partnership with Britain's Smith Electric Vehicles - which already makes its own battery-electric version of the Transit Connect for sale as the Smith Amphere (left) in Europe and just last week confirmed plans to introduce - and begin building - a much larger commercial truck, the Smith Newton, in the U.S. later this year.

The Ford Transit EV, slated to go on sale in 2010, will be the first in what Ford promise will be a family of electric vehicles that will include a battery-electric small car (possibly the Ford Focus) in 2011; and, in 2012,  a new generation of Ford's hybrid powertrain in a number of vehicles including a plug-in hybrid (likely the Ford Escape SUV, a plug-in version of which is presently undergoing testing).

At Chicago Auto Show

Ford is unveiling the U.S. versions of the van at the Chicago Auto Show which opens to the public Friday after a two-day media preview on Wednesday and Thursday.

Launching with an electric Transit Connect delivery van first gives Ford a year to gather real-world data on its batteries and electric drive system from a cadre of pretty intensive users: commercial trucks tend to see much harder wear, and many more miles, than passenger cars and light trucks.

"The new Transit Connect light commercial vehicle with battery electric power represents the next logical step in our pursuit of even greater fuel economy and sustainability," Derrick Kuzak, Ford's group vice president of Global Product Development, said in a statement.

Prompted in part by local and federal incentives, "a growing number of our commercial vehicle fleet clients have expressed interest in electrification as a sustainable mobility solution," he said. "By leveraging our global team and asset portfolio, we're able to quickly bring this environmentally friendly [vehicle] to market."

Ford and Smith - the European market's leading provider of battery-electric commercial vehicles - did not disclose particulars of their arrangement.

100 Miles Per Charge

But it is likely that Smith, at least at first, will provide much of the U.S. model's electric drive system and may even do the conversion work with its own team.

The Transit Connect presently is built at a Ford plant in Turkey. Ford hasn't said whether electric versions for the U.S. will be made here or built in Europe and shipped to the U.S.

As configured by Smith, the electric version of the van in Europe has a range of up to 100 miles using a lithium-ion battery pack. It can carry up to 1,600 pounds of cargo and has a top speed of 70 miles an hour.

The relatively short range between battery charges isn't a hurdle in the commercial delivery market because most such vans are used for short-haul, intra-city routes, the kind of hard use for which an electric vehicle is ideally suited.

Gasoline Model, Too

Ford also is bringing a conventionally powered Transit Connect to the U.S. market next year, with panel and cargo van versions as well as a wagon version with second-row seating.

The U.S. vans will use a 2-liter four-cylinder engine and four-speed transaxle with automatic overdrive.

Ford said it expects the vans to to win EPA fuel economy ratings of "at least" 20 miles per gallon in city driving and 24 mpg on the highway.

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