First Test: 2010 Ford Transit Connect Electric

Don Sherman

Ready or not, the electric propulsion age has begun. New battery-powered vehicles are about to travel where GM's EV1, the Tesla Roadster, and a few other low-volume demonstration projects dared to venture. Thanks to the availability of more efficient battery systems, electric cars you can actually buy are finally available.

The subject of this report is Ford's Transit Connect (TC), a compact panel truck that has won an enthusiastic following from those who need a means of efficiently transporting sports gear, motorcycles, and other play toys. The TC's practical side appeals to plumbers, florists, carpenters, and other trade specialists seeking a capable work tool.

Credit Ford for filling a gaping hole in the vehicular fleet with this excellent Turkish-built import, and for realizing that converting a few of them to electric propulsion is a sensible means of spreading the Transit Connect's reach.

To fill some obvious gaps in its knowledge base and to bring the TC Electric quickly to fruition, Ford partnered with Azure Dynamics, a Canadian engineering enterprise with ample experience in both hybrid-electric and pure-electric disciplines. Azure, which was born about a decade ago, purchased Solectria -- another electric-vehicle pioneer -- in 2005. To date Azure's concentration has been in designing and developing medium-duty commercial vehicles for service, delivery, and shuttle applications. The TC is the smallest application making the leap to series production so far but Azure Dynamics is also collaborating on the Aptera ultra-high-efficiency car project.

The TC is an ideal candidate for conversion to electric propulsion because it has ample room under its hood and beneath its load floor for the necessary gear. A Siemens liquid-cooled AC induction motor provides 134 peak horsepower, 80 continuous horsepower, 173 peak lb-ft of torque, and 117 lb-ft of continuous torque to the front wheels through a Borg-Warner single-speed final-drive unit. The motor, gearbox, a motor controller and inverter, and various pieces of ancillary equipment all live under the hood. Coolant pumps, climate control systems, and power steering are all electric powered. A cylindrical-cell lithium ion battery pack supplied by Johnson Controls-Saft resides under the load floor in the space formerly occupied by the TC's gasoline tank and exhaust system. In addition, there's a charge-connection port on the right side under the original gas-fill flap with a plug that can be used with both 120V and 240V AC sources. The claimed recharge time for the 28kWh battery pack is six to eight hours with a 30-amp supply.

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