First Drive: Ford Transit Connect Electric
Transit (Grid) Connected
Electricity is the new black where vehicles are concerned during this millennium's second decade, and now it's not just for little city cars, but little city trucklets too. Azure Dynamics, a firm located about three miles from my suburban Detroit home that has been building electric drive systems for 20 years, is the manufacturer of record for the electrified Ford Transit Connect, and will assign each a unique AZD VIN number.
Rolling "gliders" are built in Turkey and shipped to Livonia, Michigan where AM General (the Humvee folks) install the so-called Force Drive battery-electric drivetrain, controllers, electric climate control systems, etc. under license from Azure. Open the hood, and in place of the little 2.0-liter gas motor there's a large DC-AC converter/controller on top (made in Boston), which sits atop and is connected via six orange high-voltage cables to a 00kW (00 hp) Siemens traction motor that drives the wheels through a Borg Warner single-speed transaxle. Behind all that is the onboard charger controller and in front is the electric heater that circulates coolant to the stock core, and the electric air-conditioner from the Fusion Hybrid. The DC-DC converter, brake booster vacuum pump, and electric power steering are Ford systems. Azure Dynamics warrants all the parts it installs for 5 years/60,000 miles, matching the Ford powertrain warranty.
A 640-pound lithium-ion battery pack from Johnson Controls Saft packages just ahead of the solid rear axle where the gas tank used to live, and holds 28 kilowatt-hours of energy, about 24-25 of which are usable in delivering up to 80 miles of range (under ideal conditions). Loading that energy into the battery is via a standard SAE plug that accepts 110 or 220 volts, and topping it up takes six to eight hours with the higher voltage. Some weight savings in the drivetrain lower the total weight penalty to about 500 pounds over the standard Transit Connect. That means that the two-seat Transit Connect EV can still carry 1000 pounds of payload in its roomy 135-cubic-foot hold.
Top speed is quoted at 75 mph, the vehicle is supposedly capable of scaling a 20 percent grade (San Francisco florists will have to detour around Lombard Street), and acceleration is said to be on par with the leisurely pace of the original. Expect zero-to-60 mph to require about 12 seconds with the quarter-mile taking just under 19 seconds at 73 mph or so. My drive suggests these claims are all reasonable.
From the cockpit everything looks pretty conventional except the giant range meter that fills the left side of the instrument cluster. Key on, drop the shifter into D (an L or B setting with more aggressive off-throttle regen will be featured in the production models, but my prototype had a stock carryover shifter).
Like all EVs, the Transit Connect jumps smartly off the line smartly, its peak torque at zero rpm masking the added mass pretty effectively. Having that big battery pack mounted low in the center of the vehicle, helps the TC feel nimbler than its mass suggests and of course its tidy 39-foot turning circle remains unaltered. There's a distant whir from the motor that sounds about like what you hear f every electric vehicle from a radio-controlled car to a Segway to a Leaf. This one's electric steering motor added its own amusing sound track, but that's an isolation and integration issue that's already been addressed as--I was assured--will be the strange shuddering that occurred a few times when braking to a complete stop using enough pedal effort to fully engage the hydraulic brakes. Applying gentle but ever deeper pressure on the brake pedal from city traffic speeds I was unable to detect any transition from regenerative to hydraulic braking.
Azure Dynamics plans to build 30 vehicles yet this year, 20 of which have been purchased by Johnson Controls. Next year production is expected to ramp up to 400 with double that number selling in the second year if all goes to plan. The size and shape of the TCE certainly looks similar to that of the US Postal Service's neighborhood delivery trucks, and indeed AZD's Engineering VP Jim Mancuso says that their typical urban/suburban shift mileage is closer to 30 miles--easily doable within the TCE's useful range. But can we tax-payers and postal patrons afford to go green? With an anticipated price premium of $0000 over the standard Transit's $21,895 base price, the answer is probably "no," but since when did that stop us?
|2011 Ford Transit Connect Electric|
|Vehicle layout||Front-engine, FWD, 2-pass, 4-door, van|
|Motor||000-hp/173-lb-ft AC electric motor|
|Curb weight||3950 lb (mfr)|
|Length x width x height||180.6 x 70.7 x 79.3 in|
|0-60 mph||12.0 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA city/hwy fuel econ||NA mpg (gasoline equivalent)|
|CO2 emissions||0 lb/mile (at vehicle)|
|On sale in U.S.||Currently|