You might miss the little white van, hidden in the back of a nondescript warehouse in the Detroit suburb of Oak Park, but it could kick off a significant revolution in the years ahead.
Later this month, the first 29 of those vans – or more precisely, those Transit Connect Electric vans – will begin to roll out of that warehouse, 14 of them heading for fleet tests in the U.K., the rest going to fleets here in the U.S.
The Transit Connect Electric is one of two battery-electric vehicles that Ford plans to bring to market in the next couple years, the other model being a lithium-powered version of the next-generation Focus. The program has been pushed back a bit, at least in terms of retail sales, giving the maker a bit more opportunity to test the new models under more controlled fleet conditions.
The Detroit maker has taken an unusually entrepreneurial approach to its initial battery car efforts, turning to two outside suppliers to help it get to market more quickly. The Canadian mega-supplier, Magna, is taking the lead role in developing the Focus Electric, while another Canadian firm, Azure Dynamics, is spearheading the Transit Connect battery van project.
“We can do it quicker and for less money,” explained Azure Dynamics Chief Operating Officer Curt Huston, during an interview at the firm’s suburban Detroit facility. The firm takes “gliders,” versions of the Transit Connect produced without a powertrain, and installs its own electric driveline.