Posted by: David Welch on August 6, 2010
With all the hype surrounding the pending launch of the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf electric cars, Ford’s Transit Connect EV has gone almost unnoticed. It’s easy to see why. When the van goes on sale later this year, it will sell primarily to commercial fleets. In the car business, there are few things less sexy than commercial vans.
Still, Ford and Azure Dynamics, the company that engineered the electric drive system for the car, may be onto something. Companies like AT&T, which has agreed to buy a few Transit Connect EVs, have drivers motoring around all day in stop-and-go traffic. They burn a lot of fuel even though they travel fewer than 50 miles in a day, says Curt Huston, Chief Operating Officer of Azure. Since the Transit Connect EV can go about 80 miles on a charge, their needs are mostly met. The van has a 28 kilowatt-hour battery that takes six to eight hours to charge and has a top speed of 75 mph. The Leaf can go 100 miles on a charge, but it’s a compact car. This is a small deliver van. For range, the Volt beats both since it can go 40 miles on electric drive and another 300 miles once the gasoline engine kicks in and starts charging the battery. Again, it’s a small car. The Transit Connect will appeal to business owners.
Commercial fleet owners can install a charging station in the garage and get the vans juiced up overnight before heading out the next day. It’s actually a great application. Huston says the fuel savings should return the added cost of an EV in four or five years. Unlike some of the startup EV companies, Azure partnered with Ford. That means vehicle owners can take them to a Ford dealer for service. The company will have 75 dealers to start and may add more later on.
If it takes off, building sales volume through fleet sales can help drive down the cost of the technology and make electric cars more affordable in the future. There is one catch to the whole plan. The price has to be right. Ford and Azure have not set a price yet. Commercial buyers will look at the car purely on a fuel cost savings basis. It’s dollars and cents. If the car costs too much, they won’t see the savings at the pump that they want as quickly as they want it, says Jim Hall, principal of consulting firm 2953 Analytics in Birmingham, Mich. The car also won’t appeal to environmentalists and technology buffs the way a Volt or Leaf will. But for what its target buyer wants, Azure’s Transit Connect may be the right idea.