Analysis: Ford’s big electric push

Ford has gone from not really doing electrified vehicles to taking a sweeping approach to putting batteries into a whole range of cars and vans.

By far the most noteworthy announcement is the confirmation that there will be an electric Transit, which is due to arrive on sale at some point in 2021. When Ford confirms that its biggest name is going electric, it really means something.

The dates are noteworthy given Ford’s relatively recent tie-up with Volkswagen, and their combined plans to create commercial vehicles as a partnership. With the Transit arriving in 2021, and the Volkswagen eCrafter coming to the UK in right-hand-drive form in 2020, it begs the question as to how much the pair are already talking to one another. You would think it makes little sense for both companies to create models that compete directly against each other.

However, Ford insists that the electric Transit that it is creating is one solely of its own doing.

“This is an electric vehicle based on the current Transit, everything we are doing with Volkswagen is looking at the next generation of product,” said a spokesman for the company, who went on to confirm that there is no sharing of technologies in this product. “It will be a Ford,” he said.

Ian Porter, chief programme engineer for the Transit and Tourneo PHEVs, said that the battery 2.0-tonne Transit might share parts with the eCrafter, but only in the way that manufacturers sometimes go to the same outsourced companies.

“As we go through sourcing there may be some common companies there but there could be different ones, only time will tell,” he said, also ruling out the VW approach of putting a car-designed powertrain into a large van.

“In effect, they (VW) have used car technology on a commercial vehicle, which is faster to market but it is not something that we think is suitable for a commercial vehicle,” he said.

Given that the Crafter only went on sale in Europe in 2018, and the average lifecycle of a van is around eight years, this gives an indication to how long it is likely to be until we see the first VW/Ford alliance large electric van.

Until then, the current Transit will have to do, and Porter gave some insight into what customers are demanding, and can expect, from the eventual production version of Ford’s big battery-powered van.

On what would be an appropriate range, or what would be a bare minimum, for such a van, Porter suggested that the Transit would be able to go farther than the likes of the Mercedes Sprinter, Renault Master and the Crafter, which all offer real-world ranges of between 75 and 107 miles.

“The sort of range that they have is okay for a city-based customer and if we can open that up and make it more applicable for more customers that is going to make it more appealing,” said Porter.

Ford could also consider a similar approach to VW’s ABT e-Transporter, which is due to launch in 2020. The medium-sized van will come with a range of battery packs, allowing the customer a choice between having more range or having more payload. This news comes despite the fact that Ford is working with an existing vehicle that was not designed with electric in mind when it was created in 2013.

However, the fact that the Transit forms the basis for the StreetScooter – a bespoke EV used by the German postal service – gives cause for reassurance that it will be able to adapt the platform where necessary.

What of the smaller models, though? Renault and Nissan have had a head start on Ford with their long-standing Kangoo and eNV200, while VW is following behind with the ABT e-Caddy coming late this year.

As to whether this leaves Ford on the back foot, Porter said: “Fundamentally, we need to keep up, and as and when we want to talk about something, we will.”

He did question how many the rivals were selling, suggesting that Ford didn’t feel under any pressure to rush out a battery-powered Transit Connect or Courier any time soon. With a micro-hybrid version of the Fiesta passenger car also announced at the event where the electric Transit rolled out, Ford has certainly showed that it is willing to electrify its smaller models in some form. How long until the full range of the UK’s most popular CV brand goes electric remains to be seen.

Tom Webster