Ford Motor Co. expects commercial plug-in vans and trucks to be as important to the emerging electric vehicle market as sales to consumers in dealer showrooms.
That's why the automaker is getting in early.
Ford began shipping its all-electric Transit Connect Tuesday, becoming the first large automaker to produce a commercial, plug-in van for the U.S. market in larger volumes.
The Dearborn automaker estimates that electric fleet vehicles will constitute about 50 percent of the total electric market over the next 10 years, compared to just a sliver of that market going to pure electric cars. Gas-electric hybrids, like those on the roads today, will account for a larger share of the pie, Ford believes, followed by plug-in hybrids.
Analysts, too, say electric vehicles are well-suited for fleet operators and they could make up a sizeable share of early adopters for plug-in cars and trucks. But some automakers, such as General Motors Co., plan to stick with consumer sales for now. GM believes it can make a bigger dent in the marketplace this way.
The $57,400 electric Transit Connect will have a range of 80 miles and come with a 10-year, 120,000 mile warranty, which reflects typical commercial use.
The automaker will ramp up full production of the electric Connect in April, making 600 to 700 vehicles in the first year, and start production in Europe next summer. Comparatively, Ford has sold about 30,000 gas-powered Connects. The vehicle was launched last year.
Ford is targeting small businesses and fleet operators who travel defined routes, tend to park in the same location and know how far they'll go each day. A typical commercial vehicle travels an average of 41 miles a day, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Until then, the market is wide open for Ford, and it could be a fast-growing one in the early stages of electric vehicles sales, said Oliver Hazimeh, head of management consultant PRTM's global e-Mobility Practice. Fleet sales could also be good for this fledging technology, helping to drive higher production volumes and reduce costs. It could also help speed up consumer acceptance of electric cars and trucks.
"It gives them the peace of mind that this is a viable technology," Hazimeh said. "It gives people a level of comfort to try it out or at least consider it."
[via The Detroit News]
Photo courtesy of Michael Gil and re-used under the Creative Commons license.