Plug-in hybrids promise serious benefits for anyone who spends lots of time sitting in traffic, but the technology hasn't taken hold in the world of commercial vehicles just yet. Ford is hoping to change that with its new Transit PHEV, which will be put to the test in London this year.
The Transit Custom PHEV, launched at the Low Carbon Vehicle Expo in the UK this week, is powered by an electric motor on the front axle. The underfloor liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery is good for around 31 miles (50 km) of zero emissions driving, and doesn't eat into the load bay and gives the PHEV a larger payload than pure electric vans of a similar size. When the battery runs flat, it can be charged by the EcoBoost gasoline engine under the hood for a total range of more than 310 miles (500 km).
Ford says this layout, known as a series hybrid powertrain, removes the need for a tricky transmission capable of managing electric, gasoline or a combination of both power sources, because the wheels are exclusively driven by the electric motor. The internal combustion engine acts like a generator, but it never directly drives the wheels. The system also allows for small engines in big vehicles.
The PHEV won't be landing in showrooms until 2019, but London will host a 12-month test of 20 vehicles later this year. The trial vans will couple their hybrid powertrains with a geo-fencing feature, capable of automatically tweaking the hybrid system so pure-EV power is used in mandated low-emissions inner-city zones.
According to Ford, commercial vehicles make 280,000 trips on a normal weekday in London, covering a total distance of around 8 million miles (13 million km). The company also says 75 percent of peak-hour freight traffic is made up of, you guessed it, vans. Making the switch to hybrid or pure-electric vans has the potential to deliver cleaner air in smoggy areas, and save money for companies with big vehicle fleets.