Ford is taking a very different approach to its entry into the battery electric vehicle (BEV) market from cross-town rival General Motors
We’ll probably have to wait until sometime in 2021 to see details on the battery powered pickup but Ford has now revealed the e-Transit. The full-size Transit (in Europe there is also the smaller Transit Custom and globally, the compact Transit Connect) is the best-selling cargo van in the world.
Gasoline and diesel powered versions of the Transit are offered in three roof heights, three body lengths and also as cutaway and chassis-cabs that are typically used as the basis for shuttles like those used at airport parking lots (you remember those don’t you?) and recreational vehicles. All the Transit variants except the passenger van will be available in electric form.
Ford knows its customers in the commercial vehicle market and they understand how their vehicles are used. That’s why the e-Transit’s 126-mile driving range probably isn’t actually a problem. For most consumer vehicles today, a range that short would probably be a non-starter for most buyers. But for the typical operator of one of these vans, it may actually be the sweet spot.
Consider where you typically find these vehicles. If you have an order coming from Amazon
A range of 126 miles is probably more than adequate in most of these cases. For applications where the vans might have to make delivery runs or service visits in more rural areas, there are still internal combustion versions available.
So why not give the van more range? It comes down to battery cost and weight. The e-Transit will have a 67-kWh battery pack which fits under the floor and has no impact on the interior volume of the van. That 67-kWh pack will probably weigh about 800 to 900 lbs. The 95-kWh pack in an Audi e-tron weighs closer to 1,500-lbs. For most of the use cases of these vans, payload is a much higher priority than range. Ford’s research with customers show that the Transits drive an average of 76 miles per day.
The vast majority of cargo Transits are upfitted with racks or compartments for carrying tools, parts or other equipment needed on the job-site, or simply shelves for packages. Since the interior of the e-Transit is unchanged from the ICE version, all of the existing equipment fits in exactly the same way and the 13 upfitting companies located within 30 miles of Ford’s Kansas City assembly plant where the Transit is built won’t have to change anything and existing Transit users can migrate their equipment to the electric van.
All of that equipment plus whatever is carried in any given van have mass, a lot of it. Ford is aiming for a payload capacity of 3,800 pounds for the cargo vans and 4,290 pounds for cutaways which puts the e-Transit in the same range as current models. Adding another 500 to 1,000 pounds of battery would come directly at the cost of that payload while adding range that may not be needed by the users of these vans.
In addition to the battery, Ford has revamped the rear suspension of the e-Transit and the 266-hp electric motor continues to drive the rear wheels. As usual with an electric motor, all of the 317 lb-ft of torque is available at zero rpm, ideal for a vehicle that stops and starts frequently.
The van will have support for DC fast charging at 115-kW which will add 30-miles of range in 10 minutes. Like the new F-150 hybrid, the e-Transit will also have the 2.4-kW ProPower on-board system to power tools, although without an engine that may be less useful in a BEV van.
The e-Transit also gets the SYNC 4 infotainment and connectivity with the 12-inch display that debuts on the 2021 F-150 and support for over-the-air software updates. Ford estimates that e-Transit operators will save about 40% in scheduled maintenance costs compared to a gas powered 2020 model over 100,000 miles.
Ford is also expanding its connected services for commercial customers. The Fordpass Connect telematics will provide a trove of data to fleet managers to help optimize routing, charging and service. In many applications, drivers of these vans take them home at night and will need to charge at home. One of the connected services will allow charge monitoring so those drivers can be reimbursed. Through the SYNC 4 interface, drivers will be able to find chargers and check the real-time status. Fleets can also get real-time notifications if a vehicle is being stolen or is damaged.
A 2020 Transit T150 passenger van is EPA rated at 15 mpg combined and a loaded cargo van probably gets closer to 10 in real world use. Since fuel consumption is significantly higher at lower mpg values, fuel costs make up a much larger portion of the total operating cost for vehicles like this in commercial use. Thus a switch to electric could save thousands of dollars annually in operating costs for commercial users.
The battery-powered e-Transit will go on sale about a year from now leveraging Ford’s presence in the commercial vehicle space. Ford has 645 dedicated commercial vehicle dealers in the U.S. and thousands of other Ford dealers can also service these vehicles. For customers that rely on these machines to operate their business, minimizing downtime is absolutely critical so quick access to service and parts is essential. That’s a major advantage for Ford or other established automakers over smaller companies like Workhorse or Lordstown Motors or even Tesla.
The Ford e-Transit will start under $45,000 which is about a $10,000 premium over a base gasoline fueled Transit cargo van, but the fuel savings alone could recover that in about two years. If gas prices rise in the coming years, that payback time could be even shorter.