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Electric vehicles (EVs) are seen as a key component in America’s carbon-free energy diet of the future, and Ford is ready to step into the role of supplier. But before you putter down to the dealership in your gas guzzler with down payment in hand, take note: Ford’s first mass-market foray into all-electric vehicles is the Transit Connect EV, a delivery van available later this year — to large fleet customers only.

While a delivery van may lack the sexiness of a Tesla Roadster or the mass-consumer appeal of a sedan like the upcoming Chevy Volt, fleet vehicles are actually an ideal place for Ford to begin the shift to an alternatively-fueled future. Fleet vehicles rack up a lot of daily miles, often along preset routes that are not too terribly far from the motor pool, making range less of an issue and enabling easy charging regimens. And while the up-front cost is higher — a possible deal-breaker for individual car buyers — the operating cost is significantly cheaper, making EVs ideal for large commercial clients that can really see the benefits of reduced costs associated with maintaining large fleets.

The Transit Connect can fully charge in 6-8 hours on a 220-volt hook-up, and gets about 80 miles from a single charge. A 28 kilowatt lithium-ion battery mounts underneath the body, leaving 135 cubic feet of cargo space in the back. At peak the electric drivetrain churns out some 134 horsepower, which in turn gets the Transit Connect rolling at an unimpressive top speed of 75 miles per hour.

Which is perhaps another good reason for Ford to roll out its first EV only to fleet customers at first; the performance, while fine for a box van, might be underwhelming to those used to the brawn of American trucks and muscle cars. By getting the technology on the road, Ford can evaluate real-world performance before coming out to the larger consumer market, allowing the company time to tighten up any unforeseen problems and perhaps tweak overall performance in small ways.

In the meantime, the Transit Connect EV can seriously green up fleets across the country. Ford’s current client list includes corporate behemoths like UPS that log countless road hours each day, so you can imagine the number of carbon-powered miles that could be saved over time if even a fraction of Ford’s current clientele phases EVs into their fleets (are you taking notes, U.S. Postal Service?)

And if a 135-cubic-foot delivery van sounds like the perfect addition to your home garage or small business fleet, don’t let the moratorium on non-fleet sales dampen your spirits; the Transit Connect EV will be available for individual purchase sometime next year.

Autopia

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