BY: MIKE DOBUSKI
(NEW YORK) — Ford’s latest electric car isn’t a car at all. On Thursday, the automaker pulled the wraps off the E-Transit, an electric version of its popular Transit cargo van. It marks the second fully-electric vehicle Ford has unveiled within the past year, following the debut of the Mustang Mach-E crossover last November.
Yaroslav Hetman is Ford’s Global Marketing Director for Electric Trucks and Commercial Vehicles. He says electrification makes financial sense for commercial vehicle customers.
“You don’t have as much maintenance – no oil changes, no transmission flushes, none of that. You basically have more up-time.”
Ivan Drury, Senior Manager of Insights at Edmunds.com, notes that marginal costs matter more to the average commercial vehicle buyer.
“They know that if they can actually show through a pure data-driven model that these customers can save money over time – maintenance costs are less, breakdowns are infrequent, things of that nature – then you have a lot of selling points.”
Drury says the typical buyer of commercial vans may be more attracted to the E-Transit because it comes from an established brand.
“It’s not some upstart that is trying some new things out, or doesn’t have a lot of data to back up the things that they’re doing.”
The E-Transit also uses Ford’s “Pro Power” technology, which was first unveiled on the company’s hybrid F-150 pickup over the summer. Pro Power allows the vehicle to operate as an electric, 2.4 kilowatt generator.
“That means you can run an orbital sander and a miter saw at the same time while you’re on a construction site,” says Hetman.
Because the E-Transit does away with a traditional combustion engine, Ford has mounted a full size spare tire under the hood. Hetman also says the E-Transit addresses a common problem with EVs: the batteries eating into cargo space.
“All the battery technology – the battery pack itself, the motors – are fully underneath the floor,” says Hetman.
The EPA estimates the E-Transit can travel 126 miles on a single charge, which falls far short of range figures from other recent EVs, including Ford’s own Mustang Mach-E, which can top 300 miles. But Hetman says van operators consider range differently from the average consumer.
“A commercial customer says, ‘look, what are my use cases? What do I need? I don’t want to pay for significantly more margin than what I need,'” says Hetman.
He says analysis of more than thirty million miles of driving data from Ford vans currently on the road reveals the average distance travelled in a commercial van on a daily basis in the US is 74 miles.
“In other words, having a electric van that has six hundred miles of electric range is nice to have, but customers would not want to pay that much [for the extra range].”
Drury says Ford has to balance range with cost, but it will ultimately come down to consumers to make sure the math works for their needs.
“Initially, yes – that range number will have people scoffing,” says Drury. “But if you run a fleet, you know how many miles your guys drive, you know exactly what you need, and it probably does fit the bill.”
Another piece of the range equation, according to Drury, is charging speed. When the battery is running low, the E-Transit can gain back about ten miles of range every hour when plugged into the vehicle’s mobile charger. On a DC fast-charger, the van gains back 45 miles in fifteen minutes.
“There is the added inconvenience of having to plug these in every single night,” says Drury. “At the same time, is that going to kill this option over another one… if the numbers pencil out?”
Drury says Ford appears to be leaving open the possibility of a longer-range electric van in the future, depending on the success of the E-Transit.
“If they find that there is success with this, that there is high receptivity – but there is a call for more range…I can imagine them changing it.”
And according to Hetman, the E-Transit that was unveiled this week may not be the end of the road for electrified Ford vans.
“This is not the end-all, be-all solution from our end,” says Hetman. “We know there are customers that have longer routes and more capability needs, and we will have future announcements with more range and more capability.”
The E-Transit is expected to start just under $45,000.
Hear ABC News Radio’s Alex Stone report on Ford’s new electric van:
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