Ford Motor Company appears to be one step closer to offering a production version of its Ford Transit Connect battery electric vehicle (BEV) later this year as Azure Dynamics announced today that AM General would be installing the crucial electric drive components. Headquartered in South Bend, Ind., AM General LLC, the company responsible for building iconic military vehicles along with the civilian Hummer H1 and Hummer H2 models, was chosen to transform the Transit Connect, the Autotropolis 2010 Truck of the Year, from a normal work van into a zero-emission electric vehicle. Initial production will begin later this year with full-scale production commencing in April 2011.
The Ford Transit Connect will be shipped from its assembly plant in Turkey to AM General as a rolling chassis, which means it will be without a powertrain or exhaust system, while Azure will supply its Force Drive electric system from Oak Park, Mich. This partnership further positions the metropolitan Detroit area to become a leader in green technology with Ford Motor Company and Azure Dynamics both headquartered in and around Detroit (Dearborn and Oak Park, respectively) and the Transit Connect BEV's final assembly taking place at AM General's nearby Livonia, Mich. plant.
"Our hierarchy for facility selection criteria began by identifying a partner with the proven technical expertise and high quality standards that both Azure and Ford customers expect," said Curt Huston, Azure Dynamics Chief Operating Officer. "Secondly, we wanted a facility in Southeast Michigan that capitalized on the area's highly skilled automotive workforce and available manufacturing capacity. AM General fit the bill and we are delighted to add their capabilities and know-how to this revolutionary vehicle program."
Although more familiar with the production of government-purpose vehicles like the HMMWV (or Humvee) and the older United States Postal Service Jeeps, this won't be AM General's first time building a civilian vehicle. Aside from the obvious H1 and H2 SUVs, the company also builds the MV-1 for VPG Autos. Like the Transit Connect BEV, the MV-1 is also an EV.
"AM General is excited to be part of this new 'green' solution for the commercial truck market by leveraging our extensive vehicle manufacturing capabilities and our experience in alternative powertrain integration," said Rick Smith, President AM General Commercial Business. "We are also pleased to be part of a new production program that will contribute to the industry's important advances in alternative energy vehicles."
At the heart of the Azure Force Drive system is a three-phase, liquid-cooled electric motor that is powered by a 28 kWh lithium-ion battery pack that is stored under the rear cargo area. Like any electric vehicle, the biggest limitation is the driving range, but the Transit Connect BEV with Force Drive system is expected to have a range of 80 miles. The Transit Connect BEV will only be available to fleet companies which would be a perfect fit for small businesses with easily determinable, urban routes like delivery companies.
Despite its zero-emission capabilities, the all-electric Transit Connect will still have limited abilities due to a charge time that ranges from six to eight hours from a 240-volt source. The system is also able to charge from a 120-volt source, but Ford estimates that it could take at least 12 hours to charge the batteries from this common household outlet. For any company that follows conventional '9-to-5'? business hours, the 240-volt charging will work out perfectly to charge at night.
One problem that commonly arises from two companies collaborating on a vehicle like this is the concern about which company warranties what devices, but this has already been drawn out even before production. Ford will back the non-powertrain and non-modified components of the Transit Connect BEV (such as body, suspension and interior electrical) with a three-year/36,000 basic warranty, while Azure Dynamics will back the Force Drive system and other necessary components with a five-year/60,000 mile warranty.
There is no word yet on expected production figures of the 2011 Ford Transit Connect BEV or pricing. Later next year, Ford will launch an all-electric version of the Ford Focus to consumers which could use a similar electric system as the Transit Connect. The biggest difference between the Focus BEV and this year's Transit Connect BEV is that the Focus is expected to have an increased driving range of 100 miles.