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'This is a perfect little delivery van for fleets,' says Mike Elwood of Azure Dynamics. (Michael Vaughan for The Globe and Mail)
'This is a perfect little delivery van for fleets,' says Mike Elwood of Azure Dynamics. (Michael Vaughan for The Globe and Mail)

The Green Highway

Ford Transit's Canadian connection Add to ...

I've written about the Chevy Volt, the battery electric car with gasoline engine "range extender" and the Nissan Leaf, battery electric only, but there's a third electric vehicle now being sold to Canadian customers. It's Ford's little van. the Transit Connect Electric, and it wears the badge of both Ford and the Canadian company Azure Dynamics.

Azure Dynamics is in the business of converting delivery vehicles from gasoline-powered to hybrid or battery electric. Its biggest customer is Purolator Courier, which has bought a couple of hundred gasoline hybrid electric delivery trucks built by Azure on the Ford E-450 commercial chassis.

Ford decided somewhat belatedly to dip its toes in the all-electric market and chose Azure to come up with a battery electric version of its popular Transit Connect van. In 13 months Azure had the product ready and, along with Ford, sold a few dozen test vehicles. Now it's chasing orders more seriously and believe that this year it may sell 700 or more.

"This is a perfect little delivery van for fleets. They might cover a route of less than 100 km in a day and then return at night to the depot to get recharged. We give them that range and a top speed of 130 km/h if they need it," said Mike Elwood, vice-president of marketing at Azure Dynamics.

Azure is targeting the commercial delivery vehicle niche knowing that it's too small to take on the automotive giants in the car market. The partnership with Ford on the Electric Transit Connect could double Azure's annual revenue. Azure is not yet profitable.

On the electric car side of things, Ford has contracted another Canadian company, Magna E-Car Systems, a partnership between Magna International and Frank Stronach. Ford says it will have a Ford Focus Electric Plug-In on the market in the United States by the end of next year although both Ford and Magna E-Car Systems have been remarkably silent about their progress.

I drove the Transit Connect Electric in Toronto recently and it is smooth and comfortable and noiseless - also emission-free. The lithium-ion batteries from Johnson Controls are under the floor and do not interfere at all with cargo room.

No Canadian pricing was announced, but the price in the U.S. is $57,400. However, it qualifies for the $7,500 federal tax incentive, which gets the price to just less than 50 grand. That's about twice as much as a gasoline engine competitor but with the fuel savings you should get the difference back in five or six years, Elwood says.

"President (Barack) Obama wants a million electric vehicles on the road in the U.S. by 2015. The U.S. has an electric vehicle strategy. In Canada, we're looking for direction - not subsidies. We want the federal government to stand up and say here is where we're going, let's get it done," said Elwood, who is also chair of Electric Mobility Canada, an industry lobby group. EMC calls its plan Canada's Electric Vehicle Technology Road Map, which has so far been ignored by Ottawa.

Azure is building about a dozen Transit Connect Electrics a week at the moment and believes that the delivery van niche is where early adopters will go electric first. It's encouraging that Canadian technology is behind both Ford's entry into the electric truck market and next year's entry into the electric car market.

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