Ford believes its hybrid Transit Custom PHEV will provide operators with a bridge between diesel vans and those that run solely on electricity.
The manufacturer has developed the Custom PHEV to deliver emission-free urban coverage while also eliminating the range anxiety it claims continues to give customers cold feet when it comes to committing to all-electric vans.
Ford of Britain’s director of commercial vehicle mobility Mark Harvey explains: “Customers were concerned with the electric vehicle compromises so the PHEV gives zero emissions in cities and no compromise on payload and cubic capacity.”
The Custom PHEV has a claimed pure electric range of 35 miles (NEDC, or 30.3 miles on the WLTP cycle) in the city, but with the back-up of its 1.0-litre petrol Ecoboost engine it can cover up to 345 miles.
Ford conducted extensive trials over a year with 20 prototype Custom PHEVs in London with a variety of potential customers, including local authorities, blue light services, construction companies, service technicians and last-mile delivery firms.
More than 70% of mileage in central London was undertaken in pure electric mode, according to Ford, falling to 45% in the wider greater London area.
Using feedback taken from the trials the manufacturer made changes to the vans such as increasing the power of the electric motor from 60kW to 93kW and cranking up torque from 210Nm to 355Nm. By removing weight from the prototypes Ford was able to increase payload from 750kg to a much more useful 1,130kg, on the base Leader version.
Other alterations included improving the power usage display on the dashboard, standardising the Ford Pass Connect connectivity package, reducing CO2 from 74g/km to 60g/km on the NEDC cycle (70g/km WLTP) and, from August, making geofencing a standard feature too. Early adopters can have the geofencing device retrofitted at dealerships.
The PHEV can be operated in four modes: EV Auto (which switches between pure electric or the 1.0-litre petrol Ecoboost range-extender depending on driving conditions), EV Now (which uses zero-emission battery power), EV Later (which uses the range-extender while storing battery energy for later), and EV Charge (which uses the petrol motor to both power the van and top up the battery).
We drove the Custom PHEV from east London across the capital to south London. The route passed through the London Congestion Charge zone from which the Custom PHEV is exempt thanks to its zero-emission capability.
Starting off fully charged, we were able to complete the outbound drive entirely in EV Now mode. Thanks to engaging ‘L’ mode rather than ‘D’ (Drive) on the gear selector, we conserved more than half the battery’s capacity. The ‘L’ stands for ‘lift off’ to describe a style of mainly one-foot driving where the van brakes sharply when the accelerator is released, feeding energy back into the battery in the process. By maintaining a suitable distance from the vehicle in front it is possible to dramatically reduce use of the foot brake. Once used to it this is a relaxing way of driving, enhanced by the smooth quietness of the ride in electric mode, although the Custom PHEV does make a noise described as a ‘choral’ hum to alert pedestrians of its approach.
Much like the standard Custom, the PHEV boasts exemplary handling, and refinement and in EV Auto mode, which we tried on the return journey, the switch between electric power and range-extender is almost indiscernible.
Less comfortable is EV Charge – in this setting the petrol motor chugs noisily and loses responsiveness as it works hard to power the van and recharge the battery.
The geofencing display icon is positioned next to the cupholder on the driver’s side of the cab. Using live map data, geofencing is likely to be mainly called upon to create virtual boundaries around low-emission zones, but the technology also allows users to create their own zones.
With the manual mode selection button deactivated, it automatically switches the van to run on electricity when it enters a geofenced area. When the van leaves the controlled zone, it then switches to the most appropriate drive mode for the next leg of the journey.
The module is programmed to retain a minimum 60% of charge for geofenced zones. As the vehicle approaches a geofence a green circle appears around the van icon, which becomes a solid green circle when it crosses the boundary into the zone.
Ford Transit Custom plug-in hybrid L1H1 Limited
Price (ex VAT): £42,950
Price range (ex VAT): £39,849-£42,950
Insurance group: tbc
Service intervals: tbc
Load length: 2,555mm
Load width (min/max): 1,390/1,775mm
Load bay height: 1,406mm
Gross payload: 1,110kg
Load volume: 6.0m3
Engine size/power: 999cc/126hp
Combined fuel economy (WLTP): 91.7mpg
CO2 (WLTP): 70g/km
The cleverly designed Custom PHEV presents a versatile option to urban operators not yet ready to go fully electric.