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Transit in transition: Ford going all-electric with minibuses

GETTING SMARTER: This is Ford’s latest minibus which, it is hoped, will generate its own internal power for heating and ventilation without affecting the vehicle’s road range. Image: Ford US

PRETORIA, South Africa – Ford has revealed its Transit Smart Energy Concept – a one-of-a-kind 10-seater minibus to explore maximising the energy efficiency and driving range of battery vehicles.

One survey showed 40% of people in Europe believed their next vehicle would probably be electric but were worried about range if cabin heating had to be used.

Research has apparently shown that aircon/heating can halve driving range in cold weather.

”Compared to goods transport,” Ford says, ”multi-occupant vehicles such as minibuses require significant energy to create a comfortable cabin temperature and so present a significant challenge to range.”


So the new Transit, during a demo at a ‘Go Further’ experience in Amsterdam, Netherlands, showed a range of 150km from a four-hour charge with the support of energy-saving and energy-generating innovations from solar panels and powertrain heat recovery.

Kilian Vas, Ford Europe’s vehicle architecture project leader, explained: “With frequent door opening, a large space to keep at a comfortable temperature, and a big payload a minibus presents the toughest challenge for maximising battery-electric vehicle range.

”That’s why we chose it for the Transit Smart Energy Concept,. Its development found a number of clever ways to save energy to improve the electric vehicle experience.”


It was developed by engineers at a Ford technical centre in Germany using the drivetrain tech tech in the StreetScooter Work XL commercial vehicle in a Ford Transit chassis with an electric drivetrain.

Innovations include:

A heat pump using waste heat from the drivetrain, outside air, and the air in the cabin to reduce heating system energy use by as much as 65% – which translates into a 20% range increase.

The power sliding side door can be programmed to open only halfway while the heating, ventilation, and aircon blower are automatically temporarily deactivated.

READ MORE Ford features on Carman’s Corner

Heatable ”business-class” seats and surfaces let passengers control their local temperature, reducing the energy required for the large cabin.

Six rooftop solar panels send charge to a 12-volt battery to power seat heating, cabin lighting, and electrical systems, including wireless charging for mobile devices.

A polycarbonate divider between the side door and seats further reduces heat loss during entry/exit.


Ventilated double-glazed windows insulate against heat loss and mood lighting adjusts according to cabin temperature – red for warmth, blue for cooling – subliminally influencing passengers’ perception of cabin temperature.

The rear floor and roof insulation  will contain heat loss.

The driver can monitor the temperature of each seat and power-savings from a tablet screen in the centre console while screen behind the driver let passengers track location,  describe local points-of-interest, and receive news and weather updates.


Future iterations of the concept are planned to enable the driver to control heating and cooling of individual seats, and deactivation of unoccupied seats. Automatic passenger detection, inspired by existing crash-bag deployment technology, will also feature.

Ford expects road trials to start before the end of 2019.


Ford SA’s smart mobility specialist Kuda Takura told The Corner:  ”The Transit Smart Energy Concept isn’t available in South Africa but is still a shining example of Ford’s commitment to new strategies to enhance the efficiency and driving range of battery vehicles.”

  • Earlier this year, Ford announced that every model from the all-new Focus on will include an electric option.  From Fiesta to Transit a mild-hybrid, full-hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or full battery option will be offered.

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