New 2019 Ford Transit hybrid van: review and full details

Plug-in hybrid power gives new Ford Transit hybrid a 30 mile electric range, plus a back-up petrol engine

Leon Poultney
Jan 17, 2019

Electric vans are clean and cheap to run, but need charging on longer trips; diesel vans have the range but are expensive to fuel and face restrictions in future zero-emission zones.

The answer, would seem to be a plug-in hybrid van that can be charged to provide up to 30 miles on electric power. A conventional engine then takes over for long-distance trips.

Ask any one of the Ford engineers working on the Transit Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) project and they will reveal their amazement that no other manufacturer has attempted this before.

"The demands of a commercial vehicle mean that current pure electric options can't meet customer expectations of range, performance and payload," says Ford's chief program engineer Ian Porter.

"But the beauty of a hybrid system is that users can reap the benefits of all-electric motoring, such as when entering low emissions zones, but can also fall back on a 500-mile range."

The hybrid van, offering the best of both worlds, is expected to go on sale towards the end of next year, promising drivers much-improved fuel economy. The batteries are fitted under the floor, so it has exactly the same 6 cubic metre capacity as the diesel-powered Transit Custom that it's based on.

The price - and lease costs - will be higher than the standard van but drivers will save on fuel costs and London's Congestion Charge, as the van's low carbon dioxide emissions will make it exempt.

On the note of the Congestion Charge Zone, Ford has announced that this Transit will have ‘geofencing’ technology. This means that fleet owners will be able to specify areas which their Transits will automatically switch to electric power, independently of what the driver is doing. For example, the current fleet of models testing in London uses this system to change to fully electric mode in the Congestion Zone.

Ahead of the launch, Ford has been testing prototype versions in London. The 1.0-litre petrol engine underneath the bonnet that acts as a generator to charge the on-board battery packs a 50kW electric motor that drives the front wheels.

It is a series hybrid, meaning the engine doesn't actually drive the wheels (hence why it is so small), but instead charges the batteries when software detects they are becoming depleted.

Like most other hybrid and electric vehicles, the Transit Custom will also top up batteries with energy that’s normally lost during braking, while a 50-litre petrol tank means the battery packs boast the same effective range as the Transit's diesel counterparts.

"Of course, the Transit PHEV won't be at its most efficient if only used to run up and down the UK's motorway system," says Porter. "The system is at its best when users have a variety of daily use cases, and it particularly benefits those individuals that regularly deliver into large cities with emissions restrictions or cover lots of regular, traffic-clogged miles where the electric powertrain comes into its own."


2019 Ford Transit hybrid price, sale date, first deliveries

  • 2019 Ford Transit Plug-in Hybrid price unknown (estimated)
  • 2019 Ford Transit Plug-in Hybrid on sale date autumn 2019 (estimated)
  • 2019 Ford Transit first deliveries late 2019 (estimated)


Ford Transit hybrid review

Forget the White Van Man, because with the introduction of plug-in hybrid technology in its commercial vehicles, Ford is aiming to persuade its owners to adopt a Green Van Man mentality, without changing their driving habits.

Jumping behind the wheel of the new Ford Transit Custom PHEV will feel extremely familiar to most commercial vehicle drivers, as it’s based on the existing Transit Custom platform and appears no different (from the inside and out) to its combustion engine counterparts.

Only the additional flap that houses the charging technology gives the game away, while the addition of battery packs and an electric motor has surprisingly had zero impact on its load capacities.

However, while we have driven the Transit Custom Hybrid, the model we tested fell very much into the 'pre-production' category, so it is difficult to tell exactly how the finished item will feel.

The steering had an unnatural weight to it and even lead engineer, Ian Porter, admitted that the experimental 50kW electric motor from Bosch was too weedy to match the brawny grunt of a traditional diesel engine, so we can expect a larger unit in production models and other small gremlins to be ironed out.

The 1.0-litre Ford petrol engine, which acts as a generator to top up the batteries when they get low, is whisper quiet and the hybrid technology seamlessly juggles between delivering power, conserving it and generating electricity without any input from the driver. There's also very little to indicate when the petrol is called into play, bar a distant hum from beneath the bonnet.

It's a doddle to drive, and once a more powerful electric motor is introduced, it will likely be impressively quick off the mark, too.

Plug the Transit PHEV in over night and the batteries house enough power to shift the vehicle and its loads for around 30-miles on electricity alone, while clever driving modes allow users to save battery life for later, making it the perfect vehicle to slide into low emissions zones without having to pay the pesky fees when required.

Granted, the project's engineers admit that certain use-cases and driver habits will limit the benefits, with those regularly undertaking high mileage motorway journeys that rarely venture into busy cities probably not able to get the most out of the powertrain.

But for those with lots of drop-offs and the pains of stop/start traffic to contend with, the plug-in hybrid Transit could be the answer to many woes.

Ford Transit hybrid: London trial

Ford handed 20 pre-production vehicles over to real users in the London area, including the Metropolitan Police and Speedy couriers.

"All of those involved allowed us to collect data from every vehicle, so we could get detailed insight into how the vehicles performed, their weaknesses and more importantly, user behaviour," says Porter.

A test drive of this prototype vehicle confirmed that payload and load capacity are unaffected by the extra equipment, while the driving experience is pleasantly quiet and relaxing thanks to the lack of diesel engine under the bonnet.

Performance isn't as swift as expected, but this is something Porter and his team are already addressing.

"One of the major negatives we found coming through from the trials was based around performance, with most participants demanding greater power when under heavy load and more sprightly acceleration from a standstill to 30mph," Porter explains.

As a result, Ford has already announced that it will introduce a more powerful electric motor in the production model (expect it to be almost twice as powerful as the current 50kW unit), while the team is aware that a top speed of 75mph could be too sedate for some van drivers, so is looking at best balance of performance and fuel consumption.


Lessons learned

With growing pressure on diesel engines in busy cities, Porter and his team feel that now is the right time to introduce an electrified alternative that can deliver on zero emissions without compromising range and capability.

"We understand that the technology won't suit all business uses but the trials have already seen some fleet operators manage to use electric propulsion for 96 per cent of their journeys in London's Congestion Charge Zone and 65 per cent of journeys in and around Greater London, which is exactly what we want to see," he adds.

"Vans make up 75 per cent of freight traffic in inner London and this equates to 7,000 vehicles per hour at peak times. With plug-in hybrid Transit, we can improve air quality in the city, while simultaneously overcoming the major concerns of our customers and not increasing the financial pressure on businesses," Porter explains.

The Transit PHEV will now begin trials in Valencia, where Ford hopes to encounter new challenges before putting its vehicle into production, while it will continue to hone its pre-production vehicles here in the UK.

Although unconventional, this real-life testing has allowed Ford to speed up its pre-production phase, as well as keep development costs down so not to place a financial burden on the end customer.

There is no official word on UK pricing but Porter claims that any additional cost over the diesel Transit Custom will be recouped by anyone heading into Congestion Charging Zones on a regular basis, while those able to plug in on a regular basis will also reap the rewards of lowered fuel bills.


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