SONOMA, Calif.—The US commercial pickup market is often dominated by the many variations of Ford’s F-series. But since 2014, Ford has had an alternative for commercial drivers who prefer something more van-like. That’s when the company started building Transit vans in Kansas City, Missouri. Since then, Ford has built a million of them.
Now, Ford has created an electric version of the Transit—or rather I should say versions, since the E-Transit comes in eight different body styles, just like its dinosaur-powered predecessor. In fact, the ladder chassis is identical, which means that the E-Transit is entirely compatible with the vast ecosystem of upfitters out there. Ford says to think beyond last-mile delivery vans, which only account for 10 percent of the commercial van market—a not-so subtle dig at startup rivals, perhaps.
And Ford’s not just here to sell your business an electric van, either. The company has come up with a whole plug-and-play telematics solution which will manage not just E-Transits but any other vehicles, electric or internal combustion, Ford or otherwise.
The most refined Transit?
The similarities with the “normal” Transits disappear once you look underneath the E-Transit; the large subframe holding the battery pack gives the game away. Even though the frame’s protective structures dwarf the actual battery, it’s so big that it still leaves plenty of wheelbase free.
For now, Ford is just offering a single pack size—68 kWh. This keeps the range relatively low, at between 108-126 miles (174-203 km), but Ford says the majority of its customers’ vans cover 75 miles (120 km) a day or less. The smaller pack no doubt helps keep costs manageable, starting at $43,295 for a cutaway model (think cab and frame but not much else). A basic extended-length, high-roof E-Transit costs nearly $10,000 more.
There’s no lockable frunk under the hood—unlike a pickup truck, a van doesn’t hurt for enclosed storage space. Instead, you’ll find cooling pumps for the battery, motor, electronics, and cabin as well as other ancillaries, like a heater and the onboard charger and DC-DC converter.
Things are different at the rear axle, too, which now sports an electric drive unit, offering 266 hp (198 kW) and 317 lb-ft (430 Nm). (An all-wheel-drive version is likely to arrive in due time, along with the option for a larger battery pack.) The electric motor isn’t the only new bit; there’s also independent semi-trailing arm rear suspension. Maximum payload depends on the body style but ranges from 3,330-3,880 lbs (1,511-1,760 kg) or 4,428 lbs (2,009 kg) for the cutaway variant.
The E-Transit is perhaps the most refined Transit Ford’s ever made. It’s still a big resonating box on wheels (unless you’re in the cutaway or chassis cab versions). But there’s no noisy, vibrating engine up front or an exhaust to blow. Instead, there’s just the faint whooshing from the rear as you add some throttle, and the ride is stable, thanks to the rear suspension and the mass of the battery.
An unladen E-Transit is more than quick enough for the tires it rides on, particularly in a corner. I can see why Ford limited power in Eco mode, which caps it at around 133 hp (99 kW), with short bursts above that on offer if you keep the throttle pinned. Acceleration from a standstill in this mode won’t jerk your head back, but it’s also not slow enough that you’d risk angry hooting from impatient drivers when a traffic light turns green. However, the voice coaching that tells you not to accelerate or brake hard has a different definition of gentle acceleration than I do.
Instead of paddles or a menu, a tap of the brake pedal is how you toggle increasing levels of regenerative braking. The highest level, together with L on the transmission, is the closest you’ll get to a one-pedal driving mode. But the E-Transit is an easy van to drive, whether you’re an EV novice or hypermiling graybeard. Forward visibility is outstanding, and the big compound side mirrors work well.
The charge port is concealed below the Ford badge on the nose and will accept a DC fast charge at up to 115 kW. That should return the battery to 80 percent in 34 minutes. A slower 50 kW DC charger should take just over twice that, and charging to 100 percent with a 48 A AC charger takes eight hours. Ford envisions that most E-Transits will be slow-charged, and Ford Pro (its new commercial division) will help design complete charging solutions for fleets.
Ford’s new telematics platform (Ford Pro Intelligence) will even track how much a work vehicle gets charged at an employee’s home in order to reimburse them for the electricity. The same software also lets the fleet manager know every time the van speeds or brakes too hard.
Globally, Ford will have the battery capacity to build at least 200,000 E-Transits a year by 2023.