Ford’s $11.5 billion investment (through 2022) into electrification has birthed its first in a series of planned work vehicles. The E-Transit takes everything that was good about the gasoline-powered Transit van and makes a few sacrifices in the name of progress while also offering a handful of useful features made possible by its 67 kWh battery.
One of the biggest items being surrendered is range. Ford estimates the E-Transit to have an operating area of roughly 126 miles between charges, which isn’t great. However, the company claimed this would be sufficient for the kind of applications it envisioned customers would be using it for and noted that reduced range helped the vehicle come in just under $45,000. Longer-range versions are planned, as well as an all-wheel-drive variant, and Ford has added a few features to the E-Transit not available on the gasoline-driven unit.
All models come with the latest Sync 4 infotainment system and a massive 12-inch touchscreen. For added convenience, this includes a 4G LTE modem and supports over-the-air software updates — which are definitely going to become the norm (for better or worse). As a byproduct of your data being thrown around, Ford will offer an in-cab driving coach. This system can be paired with the voice command feature, allowing a digital assistant to lecture you on your speed and braking performance, or transmitted to fleet managers who want to come down hard on employees that aren’t performing to their liking.
Additional connected services will allow customers/businesses to monitor the charge status of the vehicle, track its location in real-time, pre-condition the cabin while charging (to help preserve range before setting off), and other solutions that skirt the line between helpful and creepy. The manufacturer also noted that it intends to make these features commonplace across the lineup, starting with vehicles intended for commercial use.
But what about the driving experience? Well, the standard Transit is your author’s favorite product in the Ford lineup — now that the company has decided to stop selling sporty hatchbacks. Its 320 hp/400 ft-lb, 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 actually makes the van genuinely enjoyable to drive (if you’re into managing weight transfer) when unburdened by cargo. But the E-Transit’s single electrified motor (at the rear) is more congruous with the base engine at just 266 horsepower and 317 pound-feet of torque. No reason to complain there, especially since it’s to be paired with a newly independent rear suspension.
That makes the EV a mixed bag and hard to rationalize over its gasoline-burning equivalent. But Ford has a few tricks up its sleeve. The Pro Power option allows customers to jack into the cargo area to run their tools or anything else that needs less than 2.4 kW of juice — though we have minor concerns about how a full day of work might impact its range. Meanwhile, the lack of a traditional engine has allowed the automaker to mount a full-size spare under the hood.
Ford anticipates the E-Transit to have a maximum payload capacity of 3,800 pounds (4,290 pounds in the cutaway format). But official metrics are dependent on a bit more testing, as is the maximum range. Size also plays a factor here. The van will eventually come in eight configurations, including three roof heights and three lengths as well as a cargo van, chassis cab, and cutaway models. And the heavier/bigger the customer opts to go, the smaller that 126-mile estimated range becomes.
Again, Ford has tried to frame lackluster range as a good way of keeping pricing down. It’s something your author has seen numerous manufacturers do with the latest EVs and it would be a lot easier to swallow if they were priced anywhere near their internal-combustion cousins (minus the government incentives). The popular retort from the industry is that electric vehicles provide more “uptime” to owners by nature of needing less maintenance. That, in addition to their nonexistent gas bill, is supposed to provide a lessened cost of ownership over time. Hoping to drive that point home, Ford is offering an 8-year/100,000-mile warranty on the van and claimed maintenance costs would be 40-percent lower than a standard 2020 Transit over the period.
“This makes E-Transit ideal for commercial customers who know their drive routes and often work in urban environments,” said Ted Cannis, Ford North America general manager of commercial business. “Affordability is key, and our customers buy only what they need to get the job done. E-Transit provides ample range at a price that makes the transition to electric easy. And Ford is just getting started.”
Assuming you’re willing to buy into the uptime arguments and don’t cover a lot of ground for work, the E-Transit could end up being a good fit. But we’re envisioning most orders going to fleet managers overseeing drivers with largely urban routes. The van is set to arrive at dealerships in late 2021 and should carry an entry-level price tag right around $45,000.
[Images: Ford Motor Co.]