Ford unveiled the all-electric version of its popular Transit delivery van, with connected vehicle technology to help commercial fleet owners better manage their cargo operations. The E-Transit will have a smaller battery and less range than most passenger EVs released in recent years, but Ford insists that it will be more than sufficient to meet the last-mile delivery needs of its commercial customers.
The E-Transit is the second major electric vehicle to be released as part of Ford’s $11.5 billion push into electrification, which the company says will last through 2022. The first vehicle was the Mustang Mach-E, which Ford will start delivering to customers at the end of this year. Next year, the company expects to unveil an electric version of its best-selling F-150 pickup truck.
Ford is revealing its electric cargo van at a time when more people are using delivery than any time before. The coronavirus pandemic has forced more people to shop online for groceries and other services. And the need to invest in less polluting technology is at the front of mind for many automakers as nations around the world move to crack down on combustion engine vehicles.
When it’s released in 2022, the E-Transit will come packing a 76-kWh battery, which should power it for 126 miles of range. That may seem paltry when compared to long-range EVs like Tesla, Lucid, and others. But Ford says it made this decision based on 30 million miles of real-world driving telematics of its non-electric Transit customers “to deliver the right amount of range based on fleet needs.” Based on that analysis, Ford determined that the average daily mileage of a Ford Transit customer was just 76 miles.
People who are shopping for themselves are looking for “an aspirational vehicle that truly exceeds rocket ship acceleration, range that’s beyond belief, etc,” said Yaroslav Hetman, global director of marketing for electric trucks and commercial vehicles at Ford. “When you talk to commercial customers, they view things through two lenses: total cost of ownership and safety.”
The price has to be right, too, Ford says. If it had opted for a larger battery with more range, the price would have gone up, making the E-Transit unaffordable to those customers Ford is hoping to target. To that end, the Blue Oval automaker is recommending a price tag of $45,000 — about 80 percent more than the non-electric Transit van’s suggested price of $24,625 but priced to be competitive with other electric utility vans.
Ford’s commercial customers buy anywhere between one Transit van and tens of thousands of them. An important selling point when it’s released will be the availability of the $7,500 federal EV tax credit. For how long, though, is unclear: a phase-out plan is triggered after an automaker delivers its 200,000th eligible car.
Ford is offering three variants of the E-Transit, each with a different roof height or body length — but notably nowhere close to the 60 trim levels available for the gas-powered Transit van.
Of course, the E-Transit is an EV, which means it needs to impress us with its vision of the future. But it’s also not a Tesla or even a Mustang, so the E-Transit’s high-tech facade will have more to do with fleet operations for commercial vehicle owners. And that means features that sound a bit Orwellian on the surface.
Ford describes one such feature as “in-vehicle, real-time driver coaching,” in which fleet operators can use the vehicle’s SYNC 4 operating system to monitor their employees’ driving. Anytime an employee exceeds a speed limit, accelerates too fast, brakes harshly, leaves the engine running while parked, or fails to fasten a seatbelt, the disembodied voice of their boss will pipe in over the vehicle’s speakers to correct their behavior.
“We’re able to use the voice assistant inside of the vehicle to actually communicate to the driver that they are effectively driving unsafely or have an opportunity to correct some of their behaviors,” said Julius Marchwicki, chief operating officer of Ford Commercial Solutions, “and that real-time feedback to the driver is much more effective than trying to do any coaching after the fact.”
There’s also a Driver ID feature, giving fleet operators a way to connect specific drivers with their vehicles. Drivers will need to enter a unique code into the SYNC screen to give their employers a record of which driver is using which vehicle. “By associating a driver with a specific vehicle, managers could analyze performance metrics to potentially identify new coaching opportunities to help manage driver performance,” Ford says.
The E-Transit will also serve as a mobile power source with 2.4 kW of exportable power for vehicle owners who need to plug in power tools or other devices. The plugs are located on the rear edge of the passenger side door for easy access. Ford envisions contractors using the E-Transit to power a circular saw, for example, while on the job.
The E-Transit will also share some features with other EVs in Ford’s lineup. For example, owners will be able to remotely adjust the vehicle’s heating and cooling system to optimize charging speed while the vehicle is plugged in, much like the Mach-E. Fleet operators can also remotely monitor their vehicles after hours and receive alerts if one of their vehicles is being stolen, used without permission, towed, or even if it has been damaged while parked.
The E-Transit will land amid a wave of new electric vehicles going into production for the North American market. Most will be passenger vehicles, but a handful will be for commercial delivery.
Mercedes-Benz has already unveiled an electric version of the Sprinter van. Ford’s main competitor, General Motors, is working on an electric delivery van, codenamed “BV1.” Recently, Amazon revealed its first all-electric delivery vehicle, which is being built by EV startup Rivian. And another startup, Bollinger, recently revealed the Deliver-E, an all-electric delivery van concept that is slated for production in 2022. Ford is also collaborating with Volkswagen on commercial vans after the two companies formed a global alliance early last year.
Ford is gearing up to mass-produce the E-Transit, investing $100 million in a plant in Missouri that will serve as the central hub for the van’s assembly. The company also recently broke ground on a new manufacturing plant outside of Dearborn, Michigan, where it will build the electric F-150.
At first glance, the E-Transit looks almost identical to its gas-powered progenitor. You have to hand it to Ford for showing restraint when designing the E-Transit. It even kept the ventilated grille instead of going with the smooth fascia of a Tesla Model 3 or the layered front end of the Mach-E.
Everything else about the E-Transit is nondescript and meant to blend in to traffic — and that’s a good thing. This isn’t a vehicle that’s meant to trigger your salivary glands and make you fumble for your wallet; it’s meant to appeal to “business customers” who make “business decisions” using spreadsheets with lots of numbers and columns. And to that end, Ford thinks it has a winner.
“We don’t focus so much on what our competition,” Hetman said. “We focus on the customer. And if we can exceed their needs on a daily basis, whether it’s with trucks, vans or retail vehicles, we know we’re going to win.”