Ford Motor Company and Azure Dynamics have teamed up to introduce a battery electric commercial van called the Transit Connect. The electric van will be available in America and Canada beginning in 2010 and is the first vehicle to be produced as part of Ford’s accelerated electric vehicle strategy. Azure will integrate its Force Drive battery electric drive train into the van and Johnson Control-Saft has been selected as the lithium ion battery cells and battery packs supplier. The Transit Connect van is being marketed for fleet and retail use.
What Ford has not brought to market is their Ford Escape Flex-Fuel Hybrid which they have been working on for close to a decade. I actually drove one in a car rally in upstate New York two years ago (it was a great car) but the company discontinued its work claiming that there was no demand. How quickly times change.
The work has not been completely lost as the same technology is currently being used in the Ford Escape plug-in hybrid fleet vehicle that is already on the road. The technology will also be used in Ford’s upcoming car, the E-450 Balance Hybrid, that is set to debut in the Fall of 2010.
Nancy Gioia, Ford’s Director of Global Electrification said in a press statement, “We recognize an increasing interest in electrified vehicles and have an aggressive strategy to bring these vehicles to the marketplace. Our work with Azure to create a pure electric battery Transit Connect vehicle will allow us to offer our commercial customers an additional option for environmental friendly transportation.”
Other similar concepts include the electric truck manufactured by Modec and currently being tested by FedEx in the UK as well as Smith Electric Vehicles which won a DOE grant earlier this year for work on their all electric truck.
The electric van will have a targeted range of 80 miles on a full charge and zero tailpipe emissions. Components of the Force Drive battery electric drive train have been used in more than 40 other vehicle integrations and have more than 25 million miles of on-the-road tests as part of Azure Dynamic’s work in developing hybrid electric and electric drive technology for shuttle buses and commercial trucks.
“The opportunity to work with Ford on the Transit Connect BEV is a breakthrough advancement for us at Azure and for the light commercial vehicle market,” said Scott Harrison, CEO of Azure Dynamics. “For Azure, it’s an important evolution of our existing relationship with Ford. From an industry standpoint, we are seeing delivery fleet and utility vehicle operators move to smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles. The Transit Connect BEV will come to market at an ideal time to meet this growing trend.”
The trend to more fuel-efficient vehicles is being helped by the continued volatility of gasoline prices. Last week, a barrel of oil hit the $80 mark, the highest in 2009, and many experts are predicting that we’ll see $100 per barrel by the end of the first quarter of 2010.
However, other experts, such as Tom Kloza with OPIS (Oil Price Information Service) said during the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) convention in Las Vegas last week that due to current overproduction, which is about 7 million barrels a day, oil prices will fall dramatically in the later months of 2010 and could even go as low as $20-$30 per barrel within the next four years. While this may be good for our economy, low oil prices are not good for our country’s security nor our environment. They have the potential to cause the development and production of alternative vehicles to falter. Let’s hope our country has learned a lesson and continues to support and bring to market alternative vehicles such as the Transit Connect.
In addition to this project, Ford is also working on several other vehicles including:
- Ford Focus BEV in 2011
- next-generation hybrid vehicle in 2012
- plug-in hybrid vehicle in 2012
The manufacturing location for the Transit Connect has not yet been announced, but the BEV does meet all commercial vehicle safety and durability standards.