Chicago’s auto show has long had a dual nature. Although it is mostly centered upon passenger vehicles, commercial vehicles also play a large role at the show. Ford used last year’s event to launch its Transit Connect in North America, and launched two new versions of the vanlet at the 2010 show.
Perhaps the most significant of the two is the Transit Connect Electric, the company’s first battery-electric production vehicle. Converted by supplier Azure Dynamics, the van is propelled by a 55-kW AC motor powered by a 28-kWh battery pack mounted underneath the cargo floor. A full charge — which can take between 6-8 hours to perform, depending on voltage input — should provide roughly 80 miles of range, making the vehicle ideal for small deliveries within large metropolitan cities.
Unless you pop the hood or rip up the flooring, you’ll have a hard time identifying the Electric Connect from its gas-powered brethren. Cargo space is virtually unaffected, although commercial clients should note they’ll be forced to haul a little less weight in back. Although the GVWR won’t change, the addition of the battery cells adds roughly 600 pounds to the curb weight, which forces payload to shrink slightly to 1000 pounds.
Presently, the EV will only be offered as a cargo van, although Azure says it is working on a five-passenger version. Ford will manufacture gliders — vans sans powertrains — in Turkey, while Azure will install the EV driveline in Michigan.
Of the various roles the Transit Connect can play, the part of “taxi” seems to be the most logical. Not only is Ford’s darling of the livery fleet — the Crown Victoria — finally on its way out, but the Transit Connect offers plenty of interior space.
Most of that space, admittedly, is focused on the passenger. The tall position of the rear seats allows passengers to quickly slide in and out — no ducking or climbing involved — a feature improved by the tall dual sliding doors. Shoppers will appreciate the room inside; it’s amazingly easy to enter and exit with bags in hand, and there’s an extra 78.1 cubic feet — almost four times that of a Crown Vic — located in back.
There’s plenty for drivers to appreciate, too. A tall roofline grants plenty of headroom, while a shelf against the header panel facilitates extra storage. The front passenger seat can be folded flat to use as a writing surface or workstation, and Ford’s Work Solutions system is an available option.
Seeing as cabbies rarely take the same route twice, this isn’t a logical segment to apply Azure Dynamic’s drive technology. But for fleets that love alternate fuels or cities that mandate it, Ford will offer a prep package that readies the Transit Connect’s 2.0-liter I-4 to run on CNG or propane.