Ford Transit Connect Electric
Ford Transit Connect Electric. Click image to enlarge

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Article and photos by Jil McIntosh

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Ford Transit Connect Electric

As countries around the world deal with unstable oil prices and concerns about air pollution, automakers are investing in alternative vehicles to help deal with the problem. At a recent press event in Toronto, Ford primarily focused – no pun intended – on a prototype of the all-electric Focus hatchback that it will bring to market next year.

But parked outside the venue was a vehicle that’s far more likely to lead the way toward an electrified future. It’s the Transit Connect Electric, a full battery version of the little commercial van that Ford introduced to Canada for 2010. Electric trucks are already in use in many areas of the world, and Canada Post is already running a few of these Transit Connects.

Although electric consumer cars are a reality, commercial battery vehicles will probably provide the real push needed for more widespread adoption and for the volume production that will help to bring prices down. For starters, major companies are more likely than consumers to be able to afford their more expensive price tags, and since the trucks are usually in constant use, they’ll be able to recoup the difference between the purchase price and the fuel savings much faster. The Transit Connect Electric is around $63,000 in Canada, while a conventional gasoline version starts at $26,799. That’s primarily because of the battery, the most expensive item on any electric vehicle. Automakers have been able to produce viable electric cars since the late 1800s, but battery technology and volume production haven’t kept pace.

Ford Transit Connect Electric
Ford Transit Connect Electric. Click image to enlarge

Battery vehicles are also ideal for companies that send their trucks out on set routes, such as couriers, since they know how many kilometres the trucks will have to cover in a day. The trucks also come back to a central depot around the same time each night, where they can be recharged. That type of range restriction is still an issue with many consumers, who want the convenience of a vehicle that can be driven for any distance at any given time, and who don’t yet have access to a network of charging stations beyond any that can be installed at their homes.

The Transit Connect Electric is a collaboration between Ford, which makes the vehicles; Azure Dynamics, responsible for the technology, motor controller, software and integration; Johnson Controls-Saft, which makes the high-voltage lithium ion battery pack; and AM General, which upfits the vehicle. As with regular Transit Connects, the vans are imported from Turkey, but without engines.

There’s a lot of technology crammed into the little van, although it retains virtually the same interior configuration as its gasoline-powered siblings. All Transit Connects are front-wheel drive, and the traction motor, inverter, controller and gearbox are under the hood. The liquid-cooled battery pack is tucked under the cargo floor, just ahead of the rear wheels, and the charging port is located behind the conventional gasoline door on the side. The front cabin is unchanged except for some minor alterations to the instrument panel. It retains the same layout as the gasoline version, but the tachometer becomes a meter that keeps track of the vehicle’s approximate range, and the gas gauge becomes a battery’s charge meter.

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