The Ford Motor Company chose the recent Chicago Auto Show to unveil its long awaited Transit Connect Electric van. The all-electric light duty commercial vehicle is the first in Ford’s accelerated electrified vehicle plan that also includes the Focus Electric in 2011, as well as a plug-in hybrid vehicle and next generation hybrid technology due in 2012.

Ford developed the all electric van in partnership with Azure Dynamics using Azure’s Force Drive battery electric powertrain and Johnson Controls-Safts lithium-ion battery technology. Originally partnering with Smith Electric Vehicles on development of the project, the Tanfield Group ended the partnership in late 2009 to focus on its own electric truck models.

The Transit Connect Electric van is expected to have a top speed of 75mph and a targeted range of up to 80 miles on a full charge. Owners of the vehicle will be able to recharge either at standard 120V outlets or at a 240V charge station installed at the user’s giving a full charge in six to eight hours, with a transportable cord enabling charging at either.

Planning on having the zero emissions vans in the hands of operators later in the year, Ford says the Transit Connect Electric is ideal for fleet owners with well defined routes that travel predictable distances and have access to a central recharging location. The company goes on to say that aside from having the advantage of a lower cost of operation, the vehicles also offer lower maintenance costs over the life of the unit with fewer moving parts, as well as doing away with oil changes and tunes ups.

Also due to go into production later this year is the Transit Connect Taxi, with Ford announcing an engine prep package on all existing Transit Connect models – both base and taxi – offering conversion to compressed natural gas (CNG) or propane (LPG or liquefied petroleum gas) for the 2.0-litre Duratec engine. The efficient, clean burning fuels are popular amongst taxi drivers as they offer a lower cost of ownership. Environmentally, CNG and propane burn cleaner than gasoline, with CNG resulting in 30-40% less greenhouse emissions. Ford says the Transit Connect vehicle cargo area easily accommodates compressed natural gas tanks while leaving ample room for passengers and storage.

Both the Transit Connect Electric and Taxi vans offer 135 cubit feet of cargo volume, split rear cargo doors that open at either 180 or 255 degrees, and power assisted rack-and-pinion steering offering a maneuverable turning circle.

Although yet to announce price, the Ford Motor Company is expecting to roll out both the Transit Connect Electric and Taxi vehicles later in the year.