We Australians worship utes. They might be commercial vehicles, but we celebrate these cars like no other vehicles on the road. They’re not just a tool, but a quintessential part of Australian culture… These days more than ever, utes and pickups are the ‘must have’ car; a status symbol nonpareil.
Vans don’t enjoy nearly as exalted a position, however. Far from it. While commonplace on Australian roads, a van is a purely functional, boring thing – there’s no glory to be had driving a HiAce compared to a HiLux, for example. But it didn’t always use to be this way. In the 70s, vans were some of the hottest cars you could hope to drive. Panel vans (or ‘panos’) like the Holden Sandman or Ford Sundowner were iconic… And what about the legendary Volkswagen ‘Kombi’?
Now, in 2021, Ford – once Australia’s top car brand – wants to make vans cool again, and they’re doing it in a rather unexpected fashion: with electrification. Yesterday, Ford Australia announced that the first all-electric vehicle they’re launching in the Australian market will be an electric version of their Transit van, one of their biggest-selling vehicles both locally but globally.
The Ford E-Transit, as it will be known, is a real game-changer. Not only will it be the most powerful Transit in Ford’s range (making 198kW and 430Nm of torque), but its ability to charge and run power tools on the go as well as its big, Tesla-style tablet centre console makes it extremely convenient. Also like a Tesla, it can also be set up to run the air conditioning whilst it’s on charge so that when you start your shift in the morning, you’ll have a perfectly cool or warm car ready to go – a big plus for fleet buyers.
Oh, and because it’s electric, it’ll be able to haul ass like nobody’s business. Imagine being able to chop a Golf GTI or Falcon Ute at lights in a bloody Transit van… Mad. But it’s not just the car itself that’s cool. Ford choosing a commercial vehicle to be the first EV they’ll launch Down Under – as well as their plans to support buyers transitioning to EV ownership – might help this notoriously electric-sceptic country to finally start taking EVs seriously, which is a seriously good thing.
As we’ve previously written here at DMARGE, if we really want to make an impact in regards to global emissions – as well as see EV technology become mainstream – we need commercial vehicles to go electric. Even if we all start driving EVs or ditching cars for public transport, we’ll still need trucks and vans.
The events of the last eighteen months have certainly hammered this point home. Lockdowns during COVID-19 might have seen fewer passenger cars take to the roads but the number of delivery vans driving around our cities has absolutely skyrocketed, as we’ve had everything from groceries to gowns home delivered.
We might not think of the Transit as being ‘iconic’ like, say, the Porsche 911, Fiat 500 or the Toyota Corolla, but the reality is that the Transit is one of Ford’s most successful and enduring nameplates. They’ve sold over eight million of the things since 1965, making it the second-best-selling van of all time, behind only the Volkswagen Transporter. The E-Transit might not be as glamorous as a Tesla Model S, Porsche Taycan or even a Nissan Leaf, but for a marquee vehicle; a statement of intent, it makes a lot of sense for Ford.
Unlike some other brands, Ford hasn’t been afraid to take advantage of its best-known nameplates in the journey towards electrification. The E-Transit is evidence of this, as is the brand’s other two battery electric vehicles (BEVs) – the Mustang Mach-E sports SUV and the F-150 Lightning pickup.
Indeed, Darren Palmer, General Manager Battery Electric Vehicles for Ford globally, has told media that Ford wants to “hold the hand” of potential EV customers, leveraging their status as a familiar, heritage brand with well-established sales, servicing and distribution networks. They want to make it as easy as possible for drivers to warm up to the idea of EVs. Fleet buyers already love the Transit, so getting them into E-Transits should be a cinch. In that sense, picking the E-Transit as Ford Australia’s electric flagbearer is a masterstroke.
Because that’s what’s really cool about the E-Transit – if it can help normalise EVs on Australian roads, both in terms of sheer numbers and therefore presence but also in terms of dispelling the old myth about practicality – it will do wonders for the car market here.
The disappointing news that came alongside the E-Transit’s announcement was the news that Ford has no plans to bring the Mustang Mach-E sports SUV or F-150 Lightning Down Under. The F-Series isn’t made in right-hand drive, and while the Mach-E is, Ford Australia CEO Andrew Birkic was quick to point out that the global demand for the Mach-E means it’s “sold out” virtually everywhere.
The latter revelation is a bit of a disappointment. The E-Transit is one thing, but in ute-mad Australia, we can only imagine that an electric pickup with a similarly iconic nameplate would sell like hotcakes, both among commercial as well as private buyers.
That doesn’t mean electric utes aren’t on the horizon for Aussie drivers. Rivian (who Ford recently poured a US$500 million investment into, coincidentally) is planning to bring their all-electric R1T pickup Down Under. Tesla is also taking Australian orders/deposits on their futuristic Cybertruck, too.
Check out the Rivian R1T’s unique ‘gear tunnel’ feature below.
Another brand with a plan to bring an electric van Down Under as its first vehicle is China’s BYD with their T3, a similar-sized vehicle to the E-Transit. As for other electric vans on the market, Renault currently offers an EV version of their Kangoo small van in Australia, although it hasn’t been a big seller (admittedly, Renault has a very small market share here).
It’s not just vans and utes joining the EV revolution, either. A local firm, SEA Electric, has started mass production of electric trucks from Hino semi-knock-down kits, The Driven reports (a return to local manufacturing – what a win!) Mitsubishi delivery trucks are now in service with Australia Post, and a firm called Janus Electric is planning to trial electric trucks with swappable batteries between Sydney and Brisbane, The Guardian reports.
All we can hope is that the E-Transit helps kick off an EV commercial vehicle craze that’ll bleed into passenger vehicles and make it easier for Aussies of all stripes to drive EVs. Until then, we’re just keen to see just how quick the E-Transit is, especially when hauling a bunch of tradies. It’ll make traffic stops more interesting, that’s for sure…