First Look: Ford Transit Connect Electric and Taxi
Electric, CNG, and LPG Power, but No Diesel Yet
At this week's 2010 Chicago auto show, Ford is introducing no less than three new propulsion options for its Ford Transit Connect commercial vehicle workhorse, along with showcasing a Taxi version of the vehicle that could serve as Ford's eventual replacement for its long-serving Crown Victoria.
Included in the Transit Connect's expanded powertrain mix is the long-expected EV version featuring a lithium-ion battery pack, along with compressed natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas-powered models. Ford says all of them will be available at the end of the year and claims the biggest benefit of the new options are reduced operating costs - which Ford believes will be music to commercial fleet owner's ears.
First up: The Transit Connect Electric. It's the first entry in Ford's aggressive electric vehicle strategy, going into production in late 2010. Following it will be an electric Focus in 2011 and an unnamed plug-in hybrid model in 2012.
This Transit Connect uses a liquid-cooled, lithium-ion battery pack supplied by Azure Dynamics, a company that specializes in electric powertrains for commercial vehicles. The connection between Azure and Ford is budding one. Azure's Balance Hybrid Electric is a medium-duty commercial truck based off the Ford E-450.
In the Transit Connect, its 28-kilowatt-hour "Force Drive" powertrain boasts an 80-mile range and a top speed of 75 mph. If the range seems low, consider the Transit Connect EV is aimed at "fleet owners that have well-defined routes of predictable distances and a central location for daily recharging," as Ford's press release says.
When the juice runs try, the charge port above the passenger rear wheel can be connected to a 240-volt or standard 120-volt outlet. A full charge takes six to eight hours, and Ford estimates the pack will last the lifespan of the vehicle. The battery pack doesn't impede on space either, as the Transit Connect Electric still boasts 135 cu-ft of cargo volume with 59.1-in of load height and 47.8-in of width between the wheel arches.
Of course, Ford's biggest callout is the lower operational costs of the electric-powered Transit Connect. There are far less moving parts than the base Transit Connect's 2.0-liter gasoline engine, in addition to sealed liquid cooling systems (no flushing required), no oil changes, no belts, and Ford says the regenerative braking reduces the wear on brake pads.
Compressed natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas are expected to offer similar benefits. They arrive in 2011 as options to the Transit Connect lineup, each adding a compressed tank in the rear cargo area. Ford's draw to these fuels involves the cleaner combustion they provide over gasoline. Ford cites EPA CNG greenhouse emissions figures that are some 30% to 40% lower than gasoline, while available government tax credits give fleet owners an incentive to adopt. And the domestic infrastructure is another consideration: Ford claims 87% of natural gas used in the U.S. is rendered here.
The flagship vehicle for these fuels is the 2011 Transit Connect Taxi. Accommodations include pre-run wiring for roof signage, dual sliding doors, a rear seat pushed back three inches, and climate control for rear seat passengers. A big update is the 8.4-in infotainment screen that offers a host of features to passengers, including navigation, news, weather, sports, and a stock ticker. The screen opens up many options for taxi drivers, as passengers can trace their route on a map, find points of interest -- like restaurants, museums, and shops -- and manage billing at the end of the trip.
Alas, Ford has made no mention about a diesel offering for the U.S. We're eager to see how the addition of the electric powertrain and alternate fuels push the Transit Connect around. But the readily available 1.8-liter common-rail oil-burner, with as much as 206 lb-ft of torque available, mated to a five-speed automatic, has always seemed a natural fit.