Everybody is making a big fuss about Ford Motor Company’s EV version of its iconic Mustang line, but the company has been working on a game-changing EV version of its super-popular Ford Transit van, too. Practically nobody has been making a fuss about that because, let’s face it, who gets excited about light-duty commercial vehicles? Well, in terms of rapid decarbonization, it really is something to write home about. The Transit van is a market leader in its class, and it is beginning to attract non-commercial buyers, too.
Sneak Peak At Big Splash For The Latest Ford EV
The new EV version of the Ford Transit van comes under the wing of the company’s Ford Pro pilot program, which is aimed at integrating the EV experience into fleet management.
That covers a lot of territory. Though “transit” implies that the main use of the van is to ferry passengers, the Transit line is a workhorse that covers a lot of ground, including cargo delivery and utility fleets among others.
Ford is making sure the so-named 2022 E-Transit will make a big splash even before it hits the market next year. Last week the company announced it has released a preproduction model to at least two leading customers.
“Penske Truck Leasing and National Grid are among the first companies adding preproduction E-Transit vans to their fleets for a variety of uses, including testing the BlueOval™ Charge Network, America’s largest public charging network, plus depot fleet charging tools that monitor and help manage energy usage,” Ford explains.
The idea is to collect data and usage patterns that will make EV adoption even more seamless by fleet managers once the production model is released.
“Operating in fleets that span industries such as rental, delivery, service, maintenance, telecom and utilities, these E-Transit pilot vans will give companies the opportunity to experience how battery-powered vehicles coupled with Ford Pro Intelligence and Ford Pro Charging solutions can help improve fleet efficiencies,” enthuses Ford.
EV Adoption Made Easy, For The Whole Fleet
EV enthusiasts have long advocated for fleet managers to push the electric vehicle trend, and that goes double for rental companies. The theory is that renting an EV gives drivers and fleet owners a chance to taste the electric mobility experience without the expense of a permanent investment.
Well, the moment has come, perhaps sooner for some than others. Last month Hertz splashily announced that it ordered 100,000 cars from Tesla for its fleet. Last week Tesla appeared to dampen expectations for quick delivery, but Hertz seems willing to wait if needed.
Meanwhile, it looks like Ford is dipping a more cautious toe in the waters with the Penske partnership. Rather than providing the E-Transit on a deliver-and-go basis, Ford is leveraging the preproduction model to help Penske to develop the van rental market.
The president of Penske Truck Leasing, Art Vallely, already anticipates strong demand from commercial fleets for last-mile and short-haul deliveries, potentially leading interest by individual consumers who would like to move their households in an EV.
Penske plans to evaluate the E-Transit EV with a focus on battery charging and driver experience in addition to performance, eyeballing the rental market for small- and medium-sized business.
On its end, Ford Pro will use the pilot program to improve “vehicle performance across a broad range of use cases, upfits, temperatures and driving environments to continue to refine products and develop additional training tools.”
E-Transit And The Customization Craze
You’ll have to look fast if you want to spot a preproduction E-Transit on the road. Penske says it has one plying the streets around Reading, Pennsylvania, so drop us a line in the comment thread if you catch one over there.
National Grid also plans to put an E-Transit EV to use on one of its established home meter-reading routes, to compare it with the gas-powered vehicles currently in use.
Even if you do spot one, chances are it will look quite a bit different from the production models. Ford plans on a choice of eight configurations with three lengths and three different roof heights in addition to chassis cab and cutaway versions, giving fleet managers plenty of options for customization.
Ford is already playing up the customization angle with its retro-styled all-electric F-100 Eluminator concept, billed as a “demonstration truck powered by the all-new Ford Performance Parts Eluminator electric crate motor that customers can now buy online.”
“Globally, vehicle performance parts and accessories industry generates approximately $50 billion annually, that covers hardware for everything from hot rods to off-road vehicles, and from mobile electronics to vehicle accessories,” Ford notes, adding that it plans to grow its footprint in the area of EV customization.
E-Transit Vans And Home EV Charging, Perfect Together
Another interesting thing about Ford’s plans for the E-Transit EV is that it appears to view the gig work and individual ownership as a growth market for light-duty commercial vehicles. For a hint as to where that is going, take Vallely’s perspective on the potential for demand for van rental by individual consumers and roll that into Ford Pro’s plans for home E-Transit charging by fleet drivers:
“Ford Pro Charging intends to offer end-to-end tools to enable home, public and depot charging tailored to fleet operational needs. Employee home charging will include available hardware and software solutions to manage overnight charging along with access to energy reports to make driver reimbursement simple,” Ford explains, adding that Ford’s public network of more than 63,000 charging plugs nationwide is also available for use by E-Transit drivers.
All else being equal, the home charging model is a beneficial one for fleet drivers who would not have to go out of their way to drop off their van at the end of a shift.
It could also be a plus for gig drivers and other self-employed workers, who won’t have to factor gas price spikes into their vehicle upkeep budget. Ford Pro also has an assist in that regard, by providing drivers with information on avoiding peak demand rates for home EV charging.
The EV Revolution Is Coming
As demonstrated by the E-Transit venture, legacy automakers like Ford have the potential to push the electrification envelope by playing to their existing strengths. Back in 2018, Ford promised a sharp pivot into EVs, and that is well under way, including plans to construct a new “Blue Oval City” electric vehicle campus in Tennessee.
Our friends over at fordauthority.com noted that the Ford Transit slogged through the initial wave of the COVID outbreak with a dip in sales last year but still held onto its dominating position in that segment against all other rivals. Transferring that command of the market into the EV field would make a significant difference, especially since neither the gig economy nor the e-commerce sector show signs of slowing down.
It’s also worth noting that the e-bike trend could help offset part of the manufacturing footprint that will grow alongside growing sales of larger, more customized vehicles. Ford took a serious look into the two-wheeled area of mobility electrification around five years ago, and those earlier e-bike efforts have begun bearing fruit in the form of the company’s Spin micromobility branch.
If you’re thinking that a customized E-Transit, e-bike mashup is only a matter of time, that’s a good guess, so stay tuned for more on that.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Photo: E-Transit electric vehicle courtesy of Ford Motor Co.
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