A Tale of Two Electric Vehicles Getting Made

By · December 10, 2010

December is the month that EV enthusiasts have been waiting for. The Chevy Volt is rolling off production lines at G.M.’s Detroit-Hamtramck facility, and the first Nissan LEAF will be delivered tomorrow in San Francisco. As we anticipate the reports coming from new EV owners, we're also waiting to see if the next wave of automakers—from Fisker and Coda to Smart and Mitsubishi—execute their plans with as much exuberance and professionalism as G.M. and Nissan.

That’s what makes Ford’s announcement this week about the first production versions of the Transit Connect Electric delivery van seem, well, a bit sad. Check out the two videos below—one of the Chevy Volt getting made, and one of the Ford Transit Connect EV being assembled. The contrast between the two shows just how far and fast the electric car movement has moved in recent years.

The making of the first Ford Transit Connect Electric delivery vans in the U.S.

Production of the Chevy Volt.

Okay, it’s not really a fair comparison. The Connect Electric is more of a quick demonstration project for Ford, as they work toward release of their more serious EV contender: Ford Focus Electric.

The Transit Connect Electric is hand made from gliders that arrive in Michigan. The electric drive system then is installed by A.M. General, the company best known for building military humvees and for creating the Hummer line. For the foreseeable future, the $57,400 Transit Connect Electric will go strictly fleet customers, such as A.T.&T and New York Power Authority and Southern California Edison. Even at full production, scheduled for April 2011, Ford will only produce 600 to 700 vehicles per year.

Using EVs in fleets makes a ton of sense, and the Transit Connect Electric looks like a great vehicle. I had a chance to drive one at the Chicago Auto Show in February, and it offered a nice ride in a compelling package. Its 28 kilowatt-hour provides about 80 miles of range—just right for many local delivery routes.

But the low-volume by-hand process of assembly, at least at this stage, reveals that the Ford Transit Connect Electric is more experimental than a serious production vehicle. Moreover, it shows how the field of upcoming EVs is very uneven. The Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF have now set a new higher standard for every other automaker—big and small—to follow.

Car companies, take note: From this point forward, merely producing an EV is no longer enough to earn public respect. It has to be a vehicle that is made with the same level of commitment and resources as any other car on the road.

New to EVs? Start here

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