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Premiere: Ford unveils E-Transit, electric version of popular commercial van

Jordyn Grzelewski
The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. on Thursday unveiled the E-Transit, a battery-electric version of its Transit cargo van that marks the automaker's first commercial electric vehicle offering as it executes a strategy of electrifying its most popular and iconic nameplates.

The E-Transit — which has an estimated range of 126 miles per charge and a starting price of $45,000 — is scheduled for release in late 2021 for model-year 2022.

"We are creating a whole new digital business of services and data to unlock an unlimited set of solutions for customers, to help them reduce their cost, increase their uptime, improve their productivity and grow their businesses," Ford CEO Jim Farley said Thursday during a virtual reveal event.

Ford on Thursday unveiled the E-Transit, a battery-electric version of its commercial van.

Ford estimates the E-Transit could cost owners 40% less over the vehicle's lifetime compared to a gasoline-powered Transit, and notes that having 90% fewer components means likely savings on repair time and costs.

"Commercial and retail (customers) are different," Ted Cannis, general manager of Ford's North American commercial business, told The Detroit News. "In retail land, we buy it because we might use it."

Not so with commercial customers: "They use math and data to get their business more efficient, more effective for customers, and that's a big difference there. So when they're making this decision on the electric side, they're making a total cost-of-ownership decision.

Different body variations of the E-Transit.

Farley has touted the growth potential of expanding the services the automaker offers to customers, creating new revenue streams from data-driven services that customers purchase on a subscription basis.

The E-Transit will offer customers a slew of software and data-driven services to help them better manage their fleets, individual vehicles and drivers.

For example, it will be able to send reports to fleet managers on energy consumption and driver behavior, identify its driver, and provide in-cab coaching to improve driver performance, among other things. Fleet managers can monitor energy or manage vehicles using an app or on the web.

Vehicle-specific data from the E-Transit can give managers insights into charge speed and distance to empty, for example. Alerts will notify them if a vehicle that's supposed to be plugged in isn't.

The electric van also comes with the option for an on-board generator that provides up to 2.4 kilowatts of power.

Ford studied 30 million telematics miles to decide on the battery capacity for E-Transit. They found that the average van customer travels about 74 miles per day. The battery range will depend on the payload and configuration; Ford said it expects to release more range details later.

E-Transit owners will have access to several charging options, including to Ford's public charging network. It will come standard with a mobile charger, and a faster home-charging station will be available for purchase.

The maximum payload for the cargo van is 3,800 pounds, and for the chassis and cutaway versions is up to 4,290 pounds. The E-Transit is rated at 266 horsepower and more than 300 pound feet of torque.

The E-Transit is Ford's first electric commercial vehicle.

Ford's competitors in the commercial electric vehicle space include not only its traditional rivals, but startups such as Lordstown Motors Co., an Ohio-based operation that aims to sell electric trucks directly to commercial customers.

Ford believes it has an advantage, however, in the scale of their dealership network. The Blue Oval has ties to more than 1,800 commercial vehicle dealers globally, with 645 in the U.S. It says 90% are certified for electric vehicle sales and service.

It also sees an advantage in its decision to offer multiple configurations of the E-Transit, with three roof heights and three body lengths, and with different cargo, cutaway and chassis cab versions, making the vehicle available for a broader range of purposes.

"That is key to cover many, many different use cases," said Cannis. "And that's not what's happening with the other companies that are coming up," using Workhorse Group, which has a stake in LMC, as an example. "They’re focusing on one piece of truck and van usage only, which is parcel delivery. We are going to make this available to everybody to fit their needs.”

Ford is already a dominant player in the commercial vehicle space, with about 40% market share in North America, and is eyeing growth opportunities. The Blue Oval says it expects global demand for electric vans to reach 1.1 million by 2030.

Rhett Ricart, CEO and president of Ricart Automotive Group near Columbus, Ohio, said his commercial customers — including municipalities and delivery services — have been clamoring for an offering like the E-Transit: "The timing is perfect and the chassis on that vehicle has been proven over the years. ... They've already got it. I think electrifying it is exciting."

The E-Transit will be built at Ford's Kansas City Assembly Plant in Claycomo, Missouri, bringing a $100 million investment and 150 full-time, permanent jobs there.

Overall, Ford has committed to investing $11.5 billion in electric-vehicle development by 2022. The Mustang Mach-E SUV is due out next month. The electric F-150 pickup is slated for release in 2022. 

The E-Transit is just a starting point: "You can be assured that we are going to have a fully-electric commercial lineup at some point in the future," said Cannis. "We're starting with the big volume."

Twitter: @JGrzelewski