- UK’s bestselling van becomes petrol-electric plug-in hybrid
- Production version makes debut at 2018 IAA Commercial Vehicles show
- 300-mile driving range thanks to 1.0-litre turbo petrol plus batteries
The Ford Transit Custom PHEV petrol-electric plug-in hybrid van has been revealed in final production guise for the first time at the 2018 IAA Commercial Vehicles show, ahead of going on sale in 2019.
The Transit Custom PHEV (that’s Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle) is part of Ford's wider plan to launch 40 'electricifed' vehicles by 2022 - including 16 full electric vehicles.
We've been following its development since the start, and have all the latest technical details as well as official pictures of the production version, information on how it works and why it might benefit you.
As expected, the production version of the PHEV features the same facelifted exterior as the standard Transit Custom, which was updated in early 2018. It also has the newer model's much improved interior, although customised (if you'll pardon the pun) with displays relevant to the hybrid driving experience.
Ford is still being a little shy about the final technical specification - including the all-important driving range details. At the moment it's back to saying it will exceed 300 miles, with around 30 miles available on battery power alone. We'll know more once its been officially tested ahead of going on sale in 2019.
However, Ford has confirmed that payload will be in excess of 1,000kg (1.0 tonne) and given us the final capacity of the batteries: 14kWh, via a liquid-cooled pack of lithium-ion cells mounted beneath the Transt Custom's load area.
Ford also announced at the IAA that the PHEV will have three driving modes, allowing the driver to control how the electrical energy stored in the batteries is used:
- EV Auto - default setting that makes the decisions about energy usage for you
- EV Now - runs on batteries alone until they are empty
- EV Later - aims to 'maintain' the current level of battery charge so you can use it later
When not running on the batteries the Transit Custom makes use of a 1.0-litre petrol engine - but this only functions as a generator for the electric motor that actually drives the wheels, and never drives the PHEV directly. More details on this below.
As the name suggests, you plug it in. The charge port is located in the side of the front bumper.
Ford says it takes five hour to fully recharge the Transit Custom PHEV on a 240 volt domestic (three-pin) 10 amp power supply, dropping to three hours on a 240 volt 16 amp or 32 amp commercial supply.
Best put the kettle on.
Inside the PHEV there's a power/charge indicator where the rev-counter used to be, and a battery charge status gauge in place of the traditional one for engine temperature.
The trip computer has been reprogrammed with hybrid-specific displays, too, and there is dedicated driving range information for the battery alone and as a total with the petrol engine.
FordPass Connect connectivity is built-in, along with the latest Transit Custom safety aids.
In a bid to tackle increasing air pollution concerns about diesel engine NOx and particulate emissions, the Ford Transit Custom hybrid will use a 'range-extender' drivetrain with an electric motor powered by the combination of onboard lithium-ion battery pack and a petrol engine.
At the 2017 Cenex Low Carbon Vehicle event that petrol engine was confirmed as Ford's award-winning 1.0-litre EcoBoost – a tiny three-cylinder turbo petrol with an engine block that's so small it fits within the confines of an A4 piece of paper.
Yes, you read that right: the Transit Custom PHEV has a 1.0-litre petrol engine.
Exact power and torque outputs haven't been revealed yet. The Ecoboost makes up to 140hp on its own in some Ford car applications, but the range-extender set-up in the Transit Custom means the van will use it in a very different way.
For details of the Transit Custom PHEV's driving range, see below.
This range-extender approach means the Transit Custom hybrid uses the electric motor to drive the wheels at all times.
So while there is a petrol engine, this only ever acts as a generator of additional electricity beyond what's available from the batteries, and actually never turns the wheels directly at all.
Techically, this is known as a 'series-hybrid' range-extender set-up.
It'll therefore be down to the electric motor alone to provide all of the Transit Custom plug-in hybrid's actual performance. And we're still waiting on infomation about that.
The plug-in part of the PHEV name means that the batteries can be pre-charged using mains electricity before you set off.
In the Transit Custom, this battery pack will be big enough to deliver up to 31 vmiles of electric-only – and therefore zero-emission – driving.
However, unlike an all-electric van, such as the Renault Kangoo ZE (below) or Nissan e-NV200, the presence of the petrol engine means operators won't have the same issues with 'range anxiety' – the fear of being stranded if the batteries run out.
If you do run out of charge, the petrol engine takes over to keep the electric motor goingm, allowing you to keep driving, filling up at regular petrol stations whenever required.
Not only is there no need to stop for several hours to recharge, in the Transit Custom PHEV you will also be able to prioritise when you use the batteries.
Use the batteries as much as possible, and running costs should be lower, since electricity is much cheaper per mile than petrol or diesel.
More than this, you will also be able to 'save' the batteries for driving in future ultra-low emissions zones, where access for conventional petrol (and especially diesel) vehicles may be restricted - or even banned altogether.
Also announced for the first time at Cenex 2017 were details of the PHEV's driving range.
With the battery pack alone, Ford is aiming for a claimed zero emissions driving range of 31 miles (50km) – enough, it reckons, to cover the majority of inner-city journeys.
Add the Ecoboost petrol engine into the equation, and the additional electricity this is able to provide should give the Transit Custom hybrid a maximum combined range of around 355 miles between top ups.
That said, part of the reason for the London and Valencia trials is to further refine what's being called the 'sweet spot' between battery and petrol power.
Helping to make the most of every drop of energy, Ford is equipping the Transit Custom PHEV with 'geofencing' technology – which is 'capable of automatically modifying vehicle settings based on each van's current location'.
This should automatically enable the van to not only save battery power for when it's needed, but also engage it automatically in low-emission zones as well.
One of the problems with electric vehicles is that the technology is heavy – particularly the batteries.
Ford can reduce the number of batteries required by the Custom PHEV because it still uses a petrol engine as well.
As a result, though the production version has been confirmed to have a payload exceeding 1,000kg (it was less than this for the prototypes), the PHEV won't carry as much as an equivalent non-hybrid Transit Custom.
The load volume will be the same, however, as the liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery pack is positioned beneath the rear load floor.
We don't know where Ford plans to manufacture the new model, but design and engineering of the plug-in Transit Custom is being handled by Ford’s Dunton Technical Centre in Essex.
The only PHEV commercial vehicle currently available is the van version of the Mitsubishi Outlander SUV (below), which offers a much smaller load area than a proper mid-size van like the Transit Custom.
However, Chinese firm Geely also has plans to launch a plug-in hybrid van based on the same technology as the latest London Taxi under the London Electric Vehicle Company (LEVC) brand. Click here to read the latest details - and see spy shots - of this British-built rival to the Transit Custom PHEV.
At the 2018 IAA show, Ford also announced its own in-house rival - the Transit Custom mHEV. This is a mild hybrid system, so doesn't have any electric-only, zero emission range, but doesn combine diesel and electric power to save fuel. Read more about it in our story about the 2019 Transit Custom engine range.
Ford first broke the news about the Transit Custom PHEV ahead of the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which took place in Las Vegas in early January 2017.
The disclosure that London would be leading the trial of the plug-in hybrid van followed swiftly afterwards, alongside confirmation that the project would be supported by Transport for London and a £4.7 million grant from the government-funded Advanced Propulsion Centre.
Initial details of how it would work were subsequently announced during a live Q&A hosted by telly car bloke Quentin WiIlson at the CV Show 2017. This also revealed the first UK business signed up for the trial - though the full list was only made available at Cenex 2017 (see below).
The first examples of Britain's bestselling van to be equipped with an extension lead hit UK roads in late 2017, as 20 prototypes went into service with a number of companies around London.
Following this, Ford announced in May 2018 that the pre-production test would be extended to Valencia in Spain, where a partnership with the regional and city governments will explore the potential benefits to air quality the new technology will bring.
Valencia is one of Ford's major manufacturing bases in Europe, so no wonder its keen to fly the high-tech flag there.
How does the London Transit Custom plug-in trial work?
The London trial is intended to test the real-world capabilities of the PHEV technology. It began in autumn 2017 and will last 12 months.
No fewer than 20 Transit Custom plug-in hybrids are involved in the year-long test, and Ford is collecting telematics data on the way they are being used.
This data will include info on the savings they achieve in fuel consumption and emissions as well as the crucial charging patterns, which will then shape the design and engineering of the final production version when it goes on sale in 2019.
Why has London been chosen for the trial?
According to Ford, 'Commercial vehicles in London make 280,000 journeys on a typical weekday, travelling a total distance of eight million miles. Vans represent 75% of peak freight traffic, with more than 7,000 vehicles per hour driving at peak times in Central London alone'.
The grand idea is that if even a portion of those journeys can be undertaken under electric power, there will be a quantifiable impact on London’s air quality.
Transport for London's director of transport strategy Lilli Matson added: 'Cleaner vans, like those being used in this trial will be vital in helping the freight and fleet sector to reduce emissions and play its part in tackling the capital's air quality crisis.'
Who is taking part in the Transit Custom PHEV trial?
Ford has now confirmed the following fleets will be testing the Transit Custom PHEV; each will take a single van, except where stated:
- Addison Lee (courier division)
- British Gas
- Clancy Plant
- Heathrow Airport
- Metropolitan Police (two vehicles)
- Morrison Utility Services
- Speedy Services
- Transport for London (three vehicles)
These are all large fleets, as you can see. But Ford is adamant that the hybrid van will be attractive to owner/operators as well due to the reduced running costs – and its increasingly important green credentials.
All Ford is prepared to admit at this stage is that it will be more expensive than a conventional diesel model.
Offsetting this will be the reduced running costs, and access to the government's plug-in hybrid grant scheme, which currently pays 20% of the cost of such alternative fuel vehicles, up to a maximum value of £8,000.
Plus, if the touted ultra-low emission zones go ahead, a van like this may soon be the only way to deliver goods in an increasing number of UK city centres.
According to London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, ‘The freight sector’s transition to ultra-low emission vehicles is central to cleaning up London’s toxic air.'
He continued: ‘We will find the data from these trials an invaluable resource for the LoCITY programme, which encourages the uptake of low-emission commercial transport.’
Ford promises this plug-in hybrid combination will ‘help reduce operating costs in even the most congested streets’. It will also reduce pollution, as whenever the van is operating on electric power there will be no tailpipe emissions.
On top of which, electric vehicles are much quieter than diesel equivalents, making them more suitable for out-of-hours delivery services, which can in turn reduce congestion during peak periods.