By John Addison (3/7/10)

Before I got behind the wheel of the Transit Connect Electric, I asked myself, “Who is going to buy a battery-electric van of this size?” Fleet managers of utilities, universities, and city delivery all came to mind. Electric utilities have plenty of off-peak electricity for charging vehicles. For a utility with 5,000 vehicles in its fleet, hundreds could be replaced with the Transit Connect Electric.

AT&T ordered two of the Transit Connect Electrics for delivery later in the year. “Cleaner, alternative-fuel vehicles are the future of our corporate fleet, and the Transit Connect Electric represents a real breakthrough and will be a strong addition to our range of alternative-fuel vehicles,” said Jerome Webber, vice president of fleet operations at AT&T. “It’s exactly the kind of vehicle we envisioned when we mapped our long-term vision to invest up to $565 million to deploy more than 15,000 alternative-fuel vehicles through 2018.” AT&T currently operates more than 77,000 vehicles in its corporate fleet, including 15 gasoline-powered Ford Transit Connect vehicles AT&T began piloting in 2009.


Many universities have hundreds of light electric vehicles for maintenance and on-campus delivery. The Transit Connect Electric would greatly increase the range and cargo for these applications. Many city delivery applications do not require much range and space, but value fitting in a tight parking spot.

The Transit Connect Electric looks identical to its gasoline cousin that was awarded 2010 North American Truck of the Year. The Transit Connect Electric has over 6 feet of cargo length that can be accessed through two sliding side doors, and two swinging rear doors. By keeping the cargo space to this size, the Ford has an 80-mile range on a charge of its 28kWh of lithium-ion batteries. The cargo space is perfect for many delivery, maintenance, and contractor needs, but not for all. Many fleet applications need the 290 cubic feet available in the Ford E Series vans or the 547 cubic feet of the Mercedes Sprinter.

As I get behind the wheel, I notice that the Transit Connect Electric is still ¾ fully charged, even though Ford has been giving journalists test drives for a couple of hours. The dash is simple in comparison to the Fusion Hybrid. No fancy telematics, GPS, or back-up camera. The rear view mirror won’t help me because of the high cabinets in this particular vehicle’s cargo space. I use the side mirrors to back-up. The vehicle is easy to maneuver out of the tight parking space.

As I turn and accelerate on the busy city street, the vehicle is silent. I cannot even hear the electric motor. Zero to 60 in 11 seconds is nothing to brag about, but the acceleration was adequate on the level street. Initial acceleration felt slow, when I accelerated on a 6 percent grade from a stopped position.

I asked Ford if I could get off their two-mile loop and go up a 20 percent grade. They declined because too many journalists were waiting for their turn to make a test drive. I was assured that the Transit Connect Electric is speced for a 25 percent grade.

After of few more blocks, I looped back to our starting point. With electric power steering, the vehicle was easy to drive. The electric drive system was always quiet and smooth. When I parked the Ford the charge was still ¾ full.

Ford has not yet establishing the pricing for the Transit Connect Electric, but with 28kWh of expensive lithium batteries, it will cost more than the $21,500 gasoline version of the Transit Connect and more than the natural gas version. The 2011 Transit Connect Electric uses a Force Drive electric powertrain manufactured and integrated by Azure Dynamics who has built electric delivery truck drive systems for the U.S. Post Office, Purolator Courier, and Fed Ex. In addition to the Transit Connect Electric, Ford will sell the Focus Electric in 2011 and Plug-in Hybrid 2012.

Transit Connect Electric is well-suited for fleets that travel predictable, short-range routes with frequent stop-and-go driving in cities and have a central location for daily recharging. The electric vehicle will have a top speed of 75 mph and a targeted range of up to 80 miles on a full electric charge. At 240V, the 28kWh Johnson Controls-Saft (JCS) lithium-ion battery back can be recharged in 6 to 8 hours. The battery pack is liquid cooled. An onboard charger with J1772 communications converts the AC power from the electric grid to DC power to charge the battery pack. JCS has supplied Ford for many years. JCS will supply the 8 to 13 kWh lithium battery cells for the 2012 Ford Plug-in Hybrid, but Ford will make the actual pack.

With an 80-mile charge range, the Transit Connect Electric will be used in fleet applications of less than 20,000 miles per year. The lithium batteries have been tested at many electric utilities. The Johnson Controls li-ion battery modules on bench testing at utility giant SCE accumulated the equivalent of 180,000 road miles before losing more than 5 percent of the original charge capacity. This Ford van with its JCS batteries is designed for years of use.

By partnering with Azure and JCS, Ford will be one of the first to delivery commercial freeway-speed electric vehicles in the United States. The Transit Connect Electric is part of a growing family of Ford hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric vehicles.