AT&T will buy Connect Electric vans

AT&T announced about a year ago that it would spend up to $565 million to introduce 15,000 alternative fuel vehicles to the company’s fleet over the next decade, starting with CNG vehicles. AT&T’s first electric vehicle, a Smith Electric Vehicles Newton, joined the fleet last November. For the run-down on the Transit Connect Electric, including our first drive report,

he Transit Connect Electric will operate like any other Transit Connect, except that running costs should be far lower than versions that burn CNG or gasoline (or, in Europe, diesel fuel). Turning the key, as in a standard vehicle, brings up the dashboard lights and turns the van on. At this point, the range and battery state of charge gauge come to life. While the Transit Connect Electric has an official range of 80 miles (depending on drive cycle), when we sat down in the driver’s seat, we had just under 50 miles on the range gauge and just over half of the battery left in the state-of-charge indicator. This seemed a bit high to us, and reminds us that companies that opt to add some of these vans to their fleets shouldn’t rely on these indicators until they’ve had some experience with just how quickly the last 20 miles might drop away. We’re not saying drivers will get stranded, just that we’re heard an ounce of prevention makes a lot of sense.

The Transit Connect is small, but there’s a lot of practical room in back. Furniture stores probably won’t want to invest in a fleet of these, but we can see telephone repair crews and food delivery companies seriously considering them. Scott Staley, chief engineer of HEV/FCV technology development for Ford and the leader of the technical team from the Ford side, rode with us and said the whole reason the Transit Connect Electric exists today is because customers came to Ford and expressed an interest in an electric delivery van. Fleet operators like the post office and AT&T are the most interested in the electric van, he said. For companies looking for something a bit larger, Azure does offer Ford’s E-450 chassis vans and shuttle buses upfitted with the Balance hybrid electric drive system. 

Driving the city-sized Transit Connect Electric, though, proves just how well all of the bits fit together well and it feels like you’d want a production EV to feel. This isn’t a highway-ready long haul vehicle, but for scooting around corners and fitting in with traffic, the Transit Connect Electric performs as expected. The 0-60 is about the same as the gas version, for example, and the electric version has the same 39 foot curb-to-curb turning radius.

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